Sure as the gift certificates for McDonald’s hamburgers I would receive as a kid every week for reading books in elementary school – in pure Fresno fashion, not only were the few of us who actually read rewarded, we were given a stipend of pure fatty goodness that could be sure to kick the chocolate milk of today’s campuses to the diabetic curb – it was rare that I would miss the release of a GoGo’s album or an episode of Facts of Life. I didn’t know at the time that Lisa Welchel would grow up to be a fundamentalist Christian, that Mrs Garrett was nearly a drag queen or that my obsession with Jo was indicative of future epiphanies. In high school it was China Beach, followed by Six Feet Under and a late twenties realization that the greatest sitcom still written to date involves four old ladies, a floral couch and a table full of cheesecake. My undergraduate degree is in cinema and television, but outside of these few obsessions, I’ve never been one to spend much time salivating over a TV Show. That is, until one day a few years ago I entered the living room to find John fixated on the tube. On it, a young toned woman in a sweaty, dirty wifebeater climbed a tree trying to outsmart a plume of angry, black smoke. Followed by a polar bear in the tropics, I didn’t know I was LOST until I found myself immediately mesmerized.
Groundhog Day and the premiere of the final season, which I will be missing, seems like the perfect time to spell out this analogy. Twelve years ago, when “surfing the net” was a relatively new thing, I stumbled upon a page while sitting in my EVK dorm room for a university ship that sails around the world – a chance encounter that seemed almost premeditated by the universe. A high school band trip had taken me to Canada and freshman shenanigans had brought about a few last minute strolls down to la revolución in TJ, but outside of that, the idea of traveling to not one but ten foreign countries seemed so outrageous, so unreal.
When I returned from that voyage in 1998, I remember having a near panic attack at the grocery store. At that time, we weren’t chatting online or blogging everyday – we had been literally disconnected for 4 months, with nothing but a one page AP wire keeping us abreast of world news. Until then, I had never realized how crazy it was to have multiple varieties of produce, mostly out of season. To have aisles and aisles of colorful, pre-priced boxes and no bargaining power. The mall was big, classes seemed pointless, and as I tried to reassimilate back into youthful Los Angeles life, the only place that seemed comfortable and “normal” was my shower.
As an adult working for Semester at Sea, I’ve experienced a similar acculturation challenge upon return with the heaviness that more time on this earth brings you. I’ve had people I’ve known my entire life suddenly accuse me of being elitist, family members unable to engage with me beyond small talk, and a feeling of outsider in a world that was once so comfortable and familiar. Since the beginning of television, there’s always been that throwaway line or mindscape of a discontent character wishing they could up and leave their life and “just travel around the world.” I’ve found, as you suddenly become the manifestation of that otherwise surrealistic fantasy, it’s not only difficult to sometimes fit back in where you came from, it’s hard to move forward. It’s hard to know what to say and when, to know when and where the circumstance is appropriate for reflection, and for those around you that have been feeling stuck in their daily lives and harbor that fantasy of escape, to not take it personally when their inhibitions require distance.
As I sit in the Faculty Staff lounge, wondering what Kate, Sawyer and the others are up to, I am reminded of the connection that ties me to the Dharma initiative in a way that I will hopefully understand even more once the answers are, hopefully, revealed. There are times at sea when you reminisce about all of the things you are missing and count down to the day you can return to your old home (well, for those that have them), life and people. The food, the sounds, the smells, it all seemed so perfect until the day you soon walk back through that door and realize that though not much changed in that time you were away, you changed. The conversations involving multiple countries and regions now sound ridiculous and out of context, driving is not as fun as it used to seem, time is no longer nebulous and negotiable, and as you long for an immediate reconnection to that far away world you just left, you soon realize that you will spend the rest of your life trying to find your way right back to it. Like the island, the ship is never in the same place or the same time, and will never make any sense to those who have not lived it. The people you met there are the only people that will ever really understand that you, and as they haunt your dreams for years to come, you will stop at nothing to get right back to that mysterious world that had sucked you straight out of your old, comfortable reality, and soon catapulted you into an ever-transforming enigma along with a group of people who would soon give new meaning to the idea of extended family. Was it fate calling or mere chance that brought us all together? Time will tell, but for now, as we jump from Feb 2 to Feb 4 in sheer Daniel Faraday fashion, it sure feels good to be home.