After 3 1/2 months of foreign travel, I touched down at Toronto's Pearson Airport last week and found myself immersed in the familiar mad scramble.
Only it didn't feel familiar. Expressionless souls raced past me with earbuds in, others were madly scratching at their phones. The urgency was jarring after months in the Republic of Georgia and rural Wales, two places that lag behind North America in economic progress, but remain far richer in another resource: time.
The next morning at Starbucks was no better. Three cashiers were swiping debit and credit cards and shouting orders as the long line crept steadily forward. All I wanted was three regular coffees, but it took so long to spit my request out – I had forgotten the secret language of 'Bucks – that the cashier became visibly frustrated. Outside, in a crush of pedestrians, a bump sent one carefully balanced coffee to the ground. I wasn't annoyed as much as surprised, and a little saddened. I felt like an observer, peering in on my own culture.
And it made me think about that fleeting and oft-ignored intersection of home and away. We tend to view travel as everything that happens between departure and return. But the magic that comes with stretching our minds and horizons doesn't end the second we step in the front door. It lingers, and if we pay attention, such moments often provide the most pertinent insights of all.
In the days after returning home – whether from years of vagabonding or a summer at the cottage – our hearts and minds remain, at least in part, on the road, still lightened by freedom and possibility. And it is on this cusp, between vacation and routine, between exotic and familiar, that for a brief moment, we glimpse our home through the eyes of a stranger. For just a moment, we see, with atypical clarity, all the beauty and perils, the frailties and the wonders of the world we inhabit.
Of course, we have changed. Whether intended or not, anonymity, freedom and time have reshaped us. We have shed skin, hopefully jettisoning the unwanted, tired and sick parts of who we had become, in the process revealing a deeper, truer self. Resolutions have arisen: to live more healthily and love more deeply; to worry less and laugh more; to cleave clutter from our lives, homes, and hearts; to cut back on the Timbits.
And amid the whole swirling experience, this question: How do we weave all this, all the ephemeral moments and all we have seen and felt and learned, into the starched and unbending routines of home?
If such seeds are to take root at all, it happens during re-entry, during the short period of clarity upon our return, when the dreams and plans borne on the road are projected against the unvarnished view of home. Too quickly it is over. We slide back into our old lives and, for the most part, take up our old ways.
A week has passed since our return. I flew again, from Cranbrook, B.C., to Vancouver, and noticed no undue urgency among fellow passengers. I ordered from Starbucks, successfully.
Does this mean 31/2 months of travel have already washed away? Maybe. Or perhaps I have hewn a piece of that Welsh and Georgian stillness, and tucked it inside, ready to draw on when needed.
Special to The Globe and Mail