“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.”
Well, this line from The Lord of the Rings has definitely taken a hold of me. It usually comes to mind every time I return home to spend time with my family (especially if I’d recently re-watched the movies) as the whole situation seems unreal, at least for the first few days. Being a student abroad, in a big, buzzing city like Amsterdam and then going back to the calmer life of a Mediterranean island does require some time to fully transition and get back into your old patterns. All the new people you’ve met the past year, all the laughs, the successes and failures, the experiences, the heartbreaks, you must leave all of them behind. One does not simply walk into their previous life. (And yes, be prepared for even more LOTR references.)
Being used to the Dutch mentality of freedom and openness makes it trickier as well, as small islands like Cyprus are more tight-knit communities and thus might suffer in these aspects; personal freedom is harder to achieve when you live in an area where people tend to stick their noses in your business and are talking behind your back (while always keeping up the appearances when talking to you of course). For me personally this is a minor inconvenience, as I have learned – the hard way perhaps – not to be too concerned when criticized. And I say the hard way as I was probably extremely concerned when receiving criticism from others when I was younger, and then it would negatively impact my psyche. Sometimes this small-town mentality is built into the culture of a society, for example if you grow up in a place where people are constantly judging themselves according to their neighbour, you could easily fall into the trap of acting like that as well. So yes, experiencing a minor culture shock (to say the least) is a common occurrence when returning home.
Besides the wider societal differences, there are also the personal changes that students face. I mean, it can’t be just me and Frodo, can it? Entering the house you grew up in once again, memories abound, sleeping again in your childhood bed, perhaps slightly small for you now, your feet sticking out, your parents treating you like a prince, breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, dinner, meeting with some very old friends from high school, primary school, kindergarten, not being able to believe how much they have changed, from grey-haired to white-haired, tattoos all over, protein-shaken, depressed, anorexic, in love with three kids two dogs and a cat, a nice car and hating their in-laws…
But then, what then? You have spent time with your family, saw all those unwanted distant relations, you caught up with old friends, you read that dusty book you had on the shelf since last summer, you played that old game on your rusty old console that is miraculously still working, even though its fan sounds like an airplane taking off… After the initial shock has settled in and you have managed to blend in somewhat you realise that your life is now at a standstill, you find yourself counting the days till you go back to your ‘real’ life. If only you could emulate Bilbo’s disappearing act… So, in the absence of the One Ring, you start texting all your friends who stayed back, they in turn start urging you to change your ticket and return sooner, baiting you by posting photos together with the rest of your fellowship and having fun without you. You feel your mood start getting worse, you take it out (undeservedly) on your own family who all this time were waiting for your return, you book an early ticket, you leave once again… Yet, leaving from home requires returning to it in the first place… And you hardly did that, did you precious?
Despite everything, I know that returning to my beloved Shire this summer will be a totally different story.
Yes, you guessed it, it is corona related. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been back home for almost a year. And along with a ton of other things that I have now started to appreciate, being able to go back home is another one. So what if you feel that your life is at a standstill? The whole world has been at a standstill, for more than a year now. Let yourself be spoiled again, have some taters, recharge and relax, it’s been a tough year.
I know that this time I will hug my parents a little bit tighter and I will be home for longer, even if I don’t stay for that long. How? Because this time I will be there consciously instead of hurrying to go back. Time to cast all else aside – and into the fire if need be. No more ruminating on the past year or wasting time complaining about the state of things back home. Time to embrace the difference in mentalities, transition as fast as possible and finally enjoy some peaceful moments. After all, life is fleeting, and I believe we have all learned that in the past year.
Also don’t forget that it’s summer now, and summers at the island are simply the best (more on this in my next article!). So, instead of constantly thinking of taking the ship from the Grey Havens, I’ll take a break and visit the beach one more time.
And when I put my bare foot on the golden sand, I’ll draw a deep breath because I’ll know that, well, I’m back.