I haven't looked at my pictures since I got home. I had this realization tonight as I confronted the fact over yogurt with my cousin, that I have been avoiding thinking too much about Malaysia, about this year, since I've been home. Yes, I have been answering the surface, general questions I am asked in passing, and even realized on certain occasions that there are holes in my life now, things that are missing. But, I haven't thought long and hard about the day-to-day year of my life that just happened. I think it is my defense mechanism, to divert my attention rather than to face a lot of feelings that come with transitions, with saying "goodbye".
I have found on many occasions in the past 6 weeks, that I am deeply unsettled by events and words I encounter. I can't always name why, and that frustrates me. Reentering groups of people, finding that a year of life hasn't just happened for me, but for everyone, has brought with it simultaneous excitement and anxiety.
In a word: life is gray. And I don't mean gray in the sense of gloomy, but I mean gray in that it isn't black or white. It isn't only joyful or only sad. It isn't only calm or only anxious. Yes, this applies to my life right now, but one thing I have learned this year is that life is gray. Simultaneously, positive and negative exist, and we cannot always separate the two. Who remembers these sweet things that were trendy in the 90's?
The yin yang is pretty good description of how I see life right now. Used in Buddhism, it describes light and dark, existing together, sometimes even within the other. Our YAGM group had the chance to learn some history and practices of Chinese religion while we were in Hong Kong for one of our country retreats, and this is a lesson that has stuck with me since. In our world and in our lives, there exists both great joy and great sadness, together. Am I happy to be back with my family and friends in America? Of course. But at the same time, I absolutely miss the life I had come to know and love in Malaysia. Both feelings exist together, at the same time.
Looking back at how certain words have unsettled me since being back, I think it is because we are oversimplifying life. We are quickly characterizing and categorizing as only "good" or "bad", and not giving space to acknowledge the presence of both. I don't miss Malaysia because it was an ideal, happy-go-lucky land of joy. I miss it because I lived in the joy and the pain at once, because it was a real year of gray life. Looking at life as gray, I think, slows our desire to jump to generalizations, grants our desire to give and accept grace, and to love more freely.
Tonight, I looked through my pictures. I saw the faces of my family, my friends, my students. I felt extreme gratitude and extreme pain. And that is where I'm at.