At this point in the party everyone’s four or five deep, perhaps because, as co-workers, we’re not usually out of the office together, but more likely because we’re a bunch of neurotic writers. The get-together is a goodbye for a senior editor at our magazine who’s leaving Los Angeles for someplace actually affordable, and many at the party are friends of his that are strangers to me. I strike up a conversation with one of them — this pretty redhead in a black slip — and we get to talking about our pasts. She asks me what I used to do to before working at the magazine, and that’s how the question came up:
“So how was the trip?”
This is where I pause for a moment, probing her eyes for clues.
Even though I’ve been asked about “the trip” hundreds of times since returning to the United States, it’s still difficult to answer. Typically, I choose from three stock responses:
A. “It was great.” (then change the subject)
B. “It was an adventure.” (then give a 2 min recap of the “craziest thing that happened”)
C. “It was life-changing.” (before going full-bore into the emotional ups and downs of the journey)
And, well, it’s a surprisingly tough call to make – anticipating how deep down the rabbit hole your asker wants to follow.
Two years riding a bicycle from France to China with a friend was hands-down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It completely changed who I am, defining my attitudes towards everything from country, to relationships, to family. When I was “out there,” months at a time in the hinterlands of developing countries, I learned empathy, I grasped privilege, I probed religion and selfishness; I saw the truest expressions of evil and goodness; I was beat up and tormented and lonely and had to construct myself from the ground up into the person I am today.
Returning home to California, I knew that it would be difficult to readjust. I also wondered how to possibly convey the extent of what I just went through.
Anyone who has weathered a period which was deeply challenging or ground-shifting knows what I’m talking about – whether it was time spent abroad, coming out of the closet, a religious (or anti-religious) experience, combat, an identity crisis – but then how do you convey the totality of what that meant to you? And what is considered socially acceptable in a casual conversation?
One thing I have learned: it is dangerous to expect too much.