Monday, August 24, 2009

Lagging Behind, Racing Ahead

With the way that transportation works today, changes in location happen suddenly. It took me a grand total of eleven hours to get from Greece back t0 the states, and I didn't even feel the whiplash.

But When I lied down that night to sleep in my own bed, my internal clock hovered uncomfortably somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, abandoned and alone. With not even the faintest idea of where it was. That's why I woke up while it was still dark outside for three nights in a row, and then gave a sigh of relief when I finally slept until seven in the morning. Because it meant that my internal clock had finally found its way back home.

If only briefly, I envied the people who traveled across the Atlantic before there were airplanes. Those who woke up with the sun each morning, never having to ask themselves if the time they knew it was in the back of their minds was incorrect. Since the journey was long, they had time to adjust. Because now, whenever we reach a new destination, we tend to feel like we're still at the last one.

After I arrived home from college in May, my dreams each night still seemed to take place at school. I had packed up and removed all of my belongings from my dorm room, and completed finals in all of my classes. And then, after a short hour and a half drive, I was home. But each night, I was transported back to the same room I had lived in, the same routines, and the same anxieties. Gradually, people I knew from Baltimore, my home town, started to make appearances at college in my dreams. And that's how I knew I was adjusting. . . if only slowly.

My parents' house has, only recently, begun to feel once again like my home. And in a few days, I'll be leaving again to head back to school. I know that the short drive won't give me nearly enough time to get used to the idea that I'm gone from here, and I'm going to live somewhere else now.

But maybe I'm already adjusting. As I walk through the house, gathering up my belongings and placing them in a big pile mentally labeled "to be packed," I think back on what I've done this summer, what my surroundings will look like when I get to school, and the like. I wonder whether this year will be harder or easier than last year, and why, and whether I'll dream about home once I'm there.

So traveling as quickly as modern transportation allows doesn't quite allow for adjustment time. Maybe we've learned to move too fast for our own good. Or maybe, changes have always happened too fast, whether a change means getting on a plane and ending up somewhere else, or stepping off a ship that you've lived on for weeks to finally walk on the ground. Change is jarring . . . for anyone.

But we adjust anyway, and often, we adjust well. So all we can do, while in transition, is remember that half the adventure is in being a little confused and off base, as we race toward our destinations.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Among the Ruins

I spent the past two weeks traveling in Greece with my family, and all in all the vacation was lovely. But the ruins of ancient Greece that we visited captured my thoughts and imagination in a way that made it difficult to look away.

Walls, foundations of houses, and lone columns that once supported enormous temples and palaces adorned the landscape like they had grown there with the rest of nature. After all, they had stood for much longer than the olive trees among them. And each site told a story.

I grew to enjoy finding a place to stand among the ancient stones, often somewhere that may have been a road, or a room, and imagine what someone may have seen here thousands of years ago. Someone who called this place home. I imagined, based on what I've learned before, a very different world: sights, customs, and smells that we just don't experience today. And yet, a human experience that in essence is very much the same.

I had somewhat anticipated that the ruins would be like this: a captivating, somewhat fun portal to the past. But something key, and very obvious had never crossed my mind before the trip: the ruins became ruins when they were destroyed, by one means or another.

Sure, some of the buildings were worn down by wind and rain over the years. And some had collapsed during earth quakes. But for the most part, conflicts between people brought down these walls.

Mycenae, a hilltop fort with breathtaking views in all directions, was likely destroyed by invaders, thousands of years ago. Aside from what was buried in tombs, the foundations of houses make up most of what still stands. But then, what end can be expected for the place where Agamemnon returned as a war hero, only to be murdered upon arrival? The history of this region, like any, is filled with years and years of bloodshed and war.

Olympia, where a sacred truce was called every four years so that the city states would stop fighting and their athletes could compete against one another was ransacked when the Roman Empire embraced Christianity. When we visit today, we cannot see some of the most beautiful statues and architecture, because they were burned, as symbols of paganism. Never mind the many hundreds of years over which all that made up Olympia was built, and the peace and respect for one another as fellow humans that it represented.

I prefer to envision these ancient wars and conflicts through the destruction of art. Because to picture them through the destruction of human life that they must have encompassed would be too ugly to fathom.

It's said that in many ways, ancient Greece is a foundation of our society today. And despite obvious differences, we, like the ancient Greeks, produce art and culture that is incredibly beautiful. And from time to time, we tend to destroy the beauty that we create and are.

As I turned to leave the ruins at Mycenae, the image in my mind of walking these streets while the houses on both sides still stood, became filled with invaders marching up the mountain, terracotta walls in flame. And I knew that somewhere, in the present, that kind of fear was someone's reality.

And then, with a reminder of why we should always strive for peace still fresh in my mind, I pulled my camera out of my bag and took a few more pictures. Because plenty of beauty still remains.