Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I study the deluxe road atlas. From my sister Betsy's log house on the outskirts of New Salem, I'll head south on State (Ohio) Route 188 for 400 yards (just past the graveyard where my great-great grandparents are buried), turn right on New Salem Road and proceed for half a mile, turn left on Canal Road and take that about 10 miles. It's mostly agricultural with farms and barns and the corn nearly waist high just before the 4th of July, all interspersed with attractive homes on five acre spreads that make me jealous. When Canal eventually intersects with SR 37, I will turn right and head north. There's when I will really feel like I'm heading north by northwest, back to Chicago, and by extension, back to the Far East.
Homeward bound? This is where things get sticky. I was raised in an idyllic land of broad fields and enchanted forests, small towns and friendly neighbors. As an American, I was told that we had the "best damn country in the world." It would have made sense to become an insurance salesman, a radio deejay or local coach and teacher. What dangled before me was the typical American dream: cool career, job security, good pay, a house with a yard, a boat in the lake, the successful family, all the other fineries. As a kid though, something pushed me to take another route, the path least taken. The effort I made with studies was encouraged, and respected enough, but my choices (a fascination with exploring the world's cultures and peoples, English language and communication teaching, living across Asia) seemed random to some, outlandish to others, mostly improbable.
Where has it all taken me, nearly 30 years since I graduated from college? To a 1600-square-foot condo in crowded Singapore, albeit with a job I love at an educational institution whose mission I believe in. Still, I'm at heart a country lad, and I do miss the aromas of a Midwest summer, the stars above cool June evenings, and my many family members who would just as soon run barefoot across fresh cut lawns and entertain on the back porch as drive fancy German cars and shop in London.
Where am I then?
In but not of, or of but not in.
That might seem to put me at a loss when compared to others. I don't own a muscle car, a trophy home with an expansive yard or a boat in the marina. I do have an education, a cluttered resume and a career, several credit cards and bank accounts, but not enough money to ever think of retirement and not enough sellable traits to mount my name in lights or to include my John Henry in an esteemed authors' index.
My social network is not measured by the club meetings I attend, the clambakes I'm invited to or the pictures of friends I have on Facebook. But I do count as close buds folks from worlds that my kin in Ohio have never been exposed to and whom my students in Singapore think only exist in movies. (That's not a boast but a function of my history and lifestyle.)
I might be set in my ways, but I do try my best at empathizing with different perspectives, at listening to others, at enduring the little aggravations with a sense of hunmor.
I believe, too. In goodness. In positive thinking. In fellowship. In progress. But I have few illusions. The graveyard down the road from Betsy's is filled with what remains of the best of intentions, the most heartfelt passions, lives with exquisite virtues and values. Names on stones big and small, polished or placed on plaques in the dirt, are all now just that: names.
No matter what side of the lawn I am on, no matter what I own and where I visit and how I teach, there is a spot waiting for me in cold anonymity.
Before then, all I can really do is drive carefully, and enjoy the ride.