One year ago today, I stepped off a boat that crossed the Atlantic and walked right onto American soil after twenty-seven months of living in the Kingdom of Morocco. It’s hard, almost painful even, to recognize it’s been a year. A year of what? A year of job-searching and soul-searching – probably more of the latter. A year of readjustment and reverse culture shock that was never quite what I thought it was going to be. A year of solitude, which at times was the quiet I needed it to be and at other times was a quiet that haunted me. A year of writing culminating in the form of a rather lengthy, heavy novel that was a way to process where I’d been and where I was headed. In that sense, it was more of a journal than it was fiction, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been more happy to complete something creative I’d put my mind – and eventually my heart – into the way I did that book.
I’ve had rough years before, sure, but I’d never had one like this, one that literally casts you out into the sea and exclaims, “Swim or don’t.” There were days, I remember, when I was crossing the Atlantic, where all I could see surrounding the ship was water for three or four days straight, and I knew when I stepped onto American soil that some part of me was still at sea. (Literally and figuratively: for weeks, I had sea legs).
When you feel like you’re stranded in the ocean like that, you spend a lot of time, I think, just floating on your back, staring up at the sky, and asking where your ancestors are way up in the stars, old light made new the moment you’ve seen it. When you wash up onto land finally, weary from the swim, it can be tempting to believe you washed right up onto the same shore you were cast out from. There’s both fear and rejoicing in that. But it’s not the same old beach. And you realize that pretty quickly when you realize there’s a lot of people out there toe-testing the water, going, “Hmm, I could swim that; doesn’t look so bad.” They may even jump into the bay and believe they’ve battled tidal waves. They know nothing. Only when you’ve washed up on the other side of the gulf, slowly getting your bearings straight, do you realize just how, well, silly they are. I do wonder how much more we’d love each other if we were all forced to jump into the sea and try to make it to the other side. Just our knowledge that so few of us make it ought to be enough reason for us to love one another passionately, earnestly, and with sacred admiration.
And so, if you’d asked me two or three months ago to describe 2013, I would have answered with a series of expletives. Now that I’ve washed up on the other side, soaked in a little sun, and brushed off the sand, I see it differently. Maybe it’s cliché to say that the hard years are the most important. I certainly don’t want to face anymore of those anytime soon, and yet, I’m now on my own two feet moving forward into the forest that’s ahead. It’s a whole other unknown world. But it’s dry land. And once you’ve weathered the sea, you carry nothing but gratitude and strength going forward. No matter the dangers you’ll face in the forest, there’s always nothing but gratitude and strength for what has already come to pass.
And for that, this year, you won’t find anyone more thankful to be good, to be alive, to be on his own two feet, than me.