The Most Valuable Thing You Own

Last year for Christmas, my friend Hannah got me one of those prompted journals where you answer one question every day, for five years. The idea is that you write every day, and see how you grow and change over time. One question for the month of October that really made me stop and think asked What is the most valuable thing you own. This question stopped me in my tracks because I have been thinking about the value of material objects ever since I watched the documentary from the Minimalists back in February.

As I sat looking around my apartment, I thought about all the things I rid my life of before moving to Korea. I tried to put a value on the things I brought with me, but I just kept thinking about what it took to get to where I was. The weeks I spent cleaning out my apartment were agonizing, not because letting go of things is hard, but because realizing just how much I let things pile up in my life was a hard pill to swallow. Letting go of so many of my material possessions was freeing. I imagine that many people feel that freedom when they stop putting stock in the things they own and start measuring their life by how much they’ve lived.

So I sat on the question. I thought about what mattered in my life, and about the concept of ownership. Yes, I own things, but my things are not a reflection of the life I have lived. I thought about my experiences, my memories, and my own personal journey toward fulfillment. In many ways, I believe I own those things more than anything in my apartment, because those things can never truly belong to someone else. I can share my experiences and tell my stories, but they will never truly belong to anyone other than me.

 

February 2, 2016

Contentment. It washed over me as the mild breeze drifted through the air and the sun’s rays illuminated the field of withered brown grass before me. Thought still the midst of winter, the smiling faces and cheerful chirping heard overhead all seemed to indicate one thing: spring was near.

While I was miles away, but if I closed my eyes, I could have convinced myself that I was back on the streets of my hometown, younger and feeling as though I had already already outgrown its winding river and back alleys at sixteen. It’s funny how distance and time makes us yearn for the comforts of home. The familiarity of jagged pavement beneath our feet and the quiet bustle of a small cement town.

The winter wind, light and tinged with the warmth of late spring is a reminder of the days passed. The first time you drive on your own, with the windows down and your childhood friend in the passenger seat, laughing loudly over the latest pop song on the radio. That sound will always stay tucked away in the back of your mind. For a moment, you can feel the muddy ground give way to the spikes of soccer cleats on the first warm day of the spring season, and the camaraderie you share with your team carries you through another grueling practice.

These memories seem so far away, almost as though they belong to someone else. Walking through your hometown, it no longer feels like home. Stretched and too small. New faces inhabit the spaces that were once yours, but you know, deep down, they were never yours to keep.

Without Roots

I think it is inevitable that as we grow, we always believe the people and places we love will grow with us. I think back to 2015, a year full of authentic optimism, a year when I truly believed I could and would call the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania my home forever.

Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at my own naivety, my lack of foresight for how drastically my life would change.

***

Waking up on the cold February morning, I felt as though I were being suffocated. The walls closed in around me, pressing ever closer as the mountains began to push in on the edges of the valley where I found myself.

No.

That was only me. Growing, breaking through the bounds placed on me by this place. I knew I could not stay. There is no outlook for that life, no imaginary future that comes to mind. Only the image of a life lived far beyond the mountains here.

I can always feel it, when I’ve outgrown a place. The weight of isolation pushes down on my chest, forcing every breath, each step labored.

I often wonder if anyone else feels this discontent, or if I am alone in it. I wonder if we all outgrow the places we have been, but perhaps some people choose to stay, despite the weight. The weight is just something they become accustomed to carrying.

Or perhaps some people are truly happy where they are. Only some of us are predisposed to a restlessness that keeps us from rooting, from remaining planted.

Homesick for Homecoming

After almost six weeks of living in Korea, I experienced by first bout of homesickness. While it only lasted for a day, it was still enough that it was front and center in my mind throughout the twenty-four hours.

There are a lot of different events that can trigger homesickness for people. For some, it’s being surrounded by people speaking an unfamiliar language. For others, its being outside of the bubble we’ve grown accustomed to, such as certain foods, TV shows, and surroundings. And probably the most common: not being able to see friends and family for extended periods of time.

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For me, homesickness came creeping in when I was online and saw photos and videos from the Homecoming football game at my alma mater. I had attended homecoming every year for the past five years, but this year, I was on the other side of the world. Even more, many of my friends would be heading back for the event and Misericordia is on a winning streak, something I never witnessed in my time living in Northeast Pennsylvania.

The homesickness was unexpected, and came over me suddenly. Even in the months leading up to my move to Korea, I didn’t experience any second thoughts or doubts, I knew I was making a good choice for myself. I was more than ready to leave Misericordia and Northeast Pennsylvania behind without a second thought. But there were times, though few, that I enjoyed being in Northeast Pennsylvania. Homecoming Weekend was one of those times.

If I learned anything from this small encounter with homesickness, it’s that it is inevitable. There will always be something, however small, that makes us miss the place we came from. But the anticipation of homesickness, knowing that it will happen, should not keep us from taking chances and pursuing new experiences. After all, it isn’t just the positive experiences that help us to grow, but the painful ones, as well.

Morning Musings from an American Expat

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I don’t know when I became a morning person. Somewhere between the late nights of twenty-one and the overworked semesters of senior year at twenty-two I began to rise with the sun.

There is comfort in the morning. Its cool breeze wraps around me as I pull my blanket tighter around my shoulders. My mug sits warmly in my lap, the steam raising the bitter sweet smell of coffee to my nose. The pale rays of sun that break through the morning haze stream through my open window while the birds cry out their morning ballads, beautiful, full of longing desperation. At such an early hour, there is only peace.

The only sounds of human life come from the occasional car that races down the small side street with urgency. As the day goes on, the street will burst into life, voices swelling toward the sky speaking in a tongue I do not understand, and have certain difficulty producing on my own.

And yet, despite the walls of communication I cannot seem to climb, I am home.

Home.

That is what this place is now. The small, white-walled studio tucked away from the main road in Jinju. It is still something I am getting used to.

Home. 

I am a stranger in a strange land. And yet. I feel more comfortable here than I ever did in that one-bedroom back in Wilkes-Barre, surrounded by the things I owned, but did not recognize as pieces of my life.

Home.

I have spent years trying to figure out where home is. What home is. I do not think that home is a place. I am even more certain that home is not a person. At least, not another person. Perhaps, home is within us, somewhere we can seek comfort and understanding, somewhere we can find gentleness and peace, but only after we have come to accept our own failings and faults. Maybe the reason so many people never find home is because they never find a way to love themselves, to forgive themselves for the things they failed to do, and worse, the things they should not have done, but did.

And maybe that is why it took me twenty-four years and a journey around the world to find home. Because it wasn’t until I woke up on a quiet morning in South Korea and whispered I love you to my imperfectly perfect being, that I found peace.