Call it a stretch, but I think Benjamin Button knows a thing or two about Rotary Exchange. I’d seen the movie a couple of times before, but when I watched it while waiting for my flight back home, I really felt like he understood what these years are like.
The minute we land, we jump into a life that is completely new to us, and only us. Just as Queenie took in Benjamin, we are also taken in by our hosts, and we begin to refer to them as “family”, “mamá”, “home”. We have to learn how to communicate all over again, using hand symbols and pointing when the words we want to use are yet unlearned- and unfortunately we realize that sometimes even small children know more than we do. Just as Benjamin was amazed by life around the corner of the house or even just the sound his fork made when whacked against the table- the most mundane things to everyone else are amazing, ridiculous, sometimes even hilarious and we constantly look to satisfy our curiosity in everything. With everyday, we figure out the patterns in the way things work a little more. As Benjamin retold the quirks of the characters living in his home- I couldn’t help but remember the quirks of the characters living in Formosa; the way Vito would sing in the car and talk about Hillary Clinton everyday, or how Maya would apologize for everything- even if it were just helping us, or how those four older men would always be playing chess and listening to Tango music while walking into town in the late afternoon. Gradually instead of being amazed by things that are new, we are instead comforted by things that are normal. We accept that we are always going to be different from those around us in ways and that time will pass differently for them, but we make the most of it- often (especially if we’re blonde) it works in our advantage. As we grow and mature, we are given the chance to explore and see more of the world and to celebrate special moments and holidays, and we take up any and every opportunity that arises. But then all too soon, we become well aware of our end date, and how quickly time is passing by. We then find ourselves ending our journey, reflecting over everything we’ve done, seen, and tried- and realizing our perspectives have always been unique but that, in reality, that has only made the experience all the more incredible.
I really do feel like I lived a lifetime in Argentina this year. Not that time went slowly, but just because it still doesn’t seem possible to me that everything I’ve done down there was done in just under a year. Argentina was unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. It was the best country I personally could have been sent to, I have no doubt about that, and I love it with all of my heart- the good and the bad. But to say that leaving that ‘life’ behind was “hard” would be un understatement. And I know it will probably be a long, long time before I’m able to put into words just how amazing this past year was and what it meant to me.
All I can say is that I’m grateful this whole process doesn’t end at those hard goodbyes. Despite a few complications and delays in my return, it was still before I knew it that my plane was landing in Minneapolis/St. Paul. My ear to ear smile as we flew over lakes and green trees must have been obvious, because as the man next to me looked up from his SkyMall magazine, he knew right away to ask, “You coming home?”. I couldn’t even walk at a steady pace from my gate to baggage claim, knowing I was just minutes away from seeing my family again. Finally I just gave in, and ran. I can’t even put into words the excitement and pure joy of coming (okay, sprinting) down the steps at MSP airport and into the arms of my parents, brother, and two very best friends. That reunion will always stand alone as one of the happiest moments of my life.
I’ve now been home three weeks- and time has flown by faster than imaginable. My summer list of memories grows with every hour, and I already can tell it will go down as one of the best. From sharing stories of our year around bonfires, piling up with all the girls on my swinging porch bed, impromptu kickball games, and ding-dong-delivering homemade fudge to friends on sunny summer nights… to shopping in the cities with my mama, skiing with my brother at sunset out at the cabin, Loaded Questions nights in the basement, road tripping to Omaha, or screaming my lungs out on the Power Tower at Valley Fair- I’ve had plenty of fun to keep myself busy (especially on top of two part time jobs).
It is crazy, however, that despite so much fun, I still miss Argentina so much. I can’t say I wasn’t warned about the reverse culture shock. Being from Northfield, I’d say I had more people warning me about it than most, but it has still caught me off guard. I made the mistake of thinking that if I made it through the first week and a half without much of a glitch, I would be smooth sailing for the rest of the summer. But I think it’s just something everyone has to go through, as brutal as it may be. Brad Pitt really did say it perfectly in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button when he said “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realize what’s changed is you.” I know I’ve changed this year, it would be a shame if I didn’t let anything I experienced this year affect me. Honestly, these changes and transformations are one of the very coolest things about Rotary though, and in the moments where I feel like this past year was just a dream, it serves as proof that it really did happen. It serves as proof that I really am that lucky, that my life- or rather, my lives- really are that wonderful.
“Its never too late to be whoever you wanna be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of.”
-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button