30 June 2012

Epilogue - What Everything is Made Of

The sun bakes the mountains of Macedonia into a blue haze off in the distance. Many kilometers behind me, it shines peacefully down over a wide expanse of fields rife with plants waving in the gentle breeze.

Yesterday was St. Peter's Day, the traditional beginning of the harvest season in Bulgaria. It is a beautiful, blazing summer morning. I was up at dawn, packing the last of my things, making sure I had forgotten to pack nothing except what few negative memories I had of my year in Bulgaria and my trepidation at the most challenging of journeys I was about to embark on.

Out in the fields of the great, beautiful, mountain-rimmed expanse of the Sofian Plain, perhaps, a few women in traditional costumes have gone out to reenact the ritual of the beginning of the harvest, singing their mournful duets back and forth to each other, the ritual an empty vestige of what once was, a defiant survivor of an age past.

We reap what we sow. Life has a way of taking what we choose to pour into it--energy, apathy, joy, sorrow, defiance, resignation, love, hatred, passion, interest--turning it around and backward and head over heels, blending it into a mystic elixir, and presenting it back to us as the cumulative content of our life. The last two months have been painful and trying for me, but they have not diminished--in fact, perhaps they have enhanced--the experience I've had this year. It has been a year of growth and trials and discovery and accomplishment. I have experienced more than my share of twists and turns, which have been, perhaps, fitting for a year spent in a foreign land as the result of a lark and a dumbly blind eye to fear. I have tried, at every turn, to spend my time well, to make the most of what this year has been--an opportunity - an opportunity to discover and meet people and change myself and become things that I have always wanted to become--and I have been repaid in kind. I have begun to see that the content of life is, to an extent, self-determining.

Nothing in this world has value except for that which we assign it. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about mundane things, like money or gold or houses or water or cars or trees or air. It is the use or the consequences of all these things--and how we interpret them--that determines their value. Things that we want and need are valuable; things without which life would be little different than it is now are not.

Life is about people. One thing that is valuable in this world is the relationships that we forge with our fellow Travelers In Life. Not to delve into a series of wretched platitudes, but human relationships are the closest things we have in this universe to something that is intrinsically valuable. Knowing other people allows you to know yourself. Loving other people allows you to love yourself. Finding and meeting and discovering other people opens up a world of self-discovery that can change your life. And the greater the challenge it is to do so, in whole and in part, the greater the rewards that lie in it are. We reap what we sow. Relationships, like Life In General, are largely self-determining.

I have been many people this year. We are all many people over the course of our lives, and we will continue to be so, on and on until our precious time on earth runs out. We live our lives under many different identities as time marches forward, and we see the world through many different lenses as we learn and grow as people. This year, I have lived through many different stages of my life and had many different relationships with many different people. Shakespeare, in one of his most overquoted gifts to the English language, said "All the world's a stage,/And all the men and women merely players;/They have their exits and their entrances,/and one man in his time plays many parts." The last line of that, though it is the one that is most often overlooked within this torrent of insight into the human condition, is, to me, the most profound and important one. It speaks to the many different roles we all fill, sometimes all at once, and this is of the utmost consequence to our relationships and our personhood.

I found myself, this year, through the vehicle of a titanic, momentous journey, because I had so much searching to do. In the last few months, I have again lost myself a little bit, but the journey I'm about to embark on will be less momentous and less extensive than the one I have just completed because, now that I have already found myself once, and become, at least temporarily, the person that I wanted to be, I have much less searching to do in order to find myself again. The person that I now want to be has changed by degrees from that previous incarnation of my hopes for myself, but the distance between who I am and this new vision of who I need to be in order to be satisfied with myself is much smaller than the one that confronted me previously.

I am ending this year the way I began it - leaving for someplace exotic and exciting and new, someplace about which I know nothing, in order to find myself once more. Travel, it would seem, is a productive way to discover things about the world and about other people and about yourself. Maybe it is the isolation inherent in it - no matter who you may be with, you are far from home, outside of your comfort zone, forced to grapple with your surroundings and to come up with a new identity that will suit you and allow you to cope with a new version of the world around you. That's certainly what I'm prepared for, and my hope is that it will bring me back to a place in which my life is complete and whole and centered and the richness of the world once more hides around every corner, behind every door, beyond every sunrise.

I close my eyes and I'm back there. And there. And there. I think about what this means, and I think it is that I really, truly love LA and that it has genuinely become home. Separated from it by thousands of miles, I can't stop thinking about it, and I suppose, if I am frank with myself, that I haven't this entire year. The urge to run back there, to resume the life that I led, has grown stronger and stronger as the weather in Sofia has converged with that in LA, as I have attempted to repair the cracks that the last couple of months have put in my life, as this year has drawn to a close and the time for leaving has grown ever closer. It was just a year ago that I had to go through the process that I have gone through in the last several weeks, only last year's was much harder. I was a lesser person, and the content of my life had come to a triumphant head, and it was a place of comfort I was leaving. It is easier to leave this place because of what lies ahead and because of the person I have become, but there is still a very big part of me that wants to stay.

It has truly been a privilege to know everyone I've known, gone everywhere I've gone, and done everything I've done this year, and I mean that, sincerely, earnestly, without the saccharine sentiment that typically accompanies these sorts of statements. It has been, above and beyond any of the details and pitfalls and triumphs and personal changes I've gone through in the last 11 months, an overwhelmingly positive year. I have discovered, for the first time, that I have an enormous amount of influence over what happens to me, contained in the simple facet of my attitude towards life and all the situations it has a way of throwing us. We reap what we sow. We drive down the highways of our lives with nothing but our personhood, our ventures, our relationships, our faults, our joys, our loves, our passions, our identities, and all the rest, using them and adapting them and changing them to try to make as much sense as we can out of the Universe.

I will, after some indeterminate amount of time, return to the country that I had the privilege of calling home for the most formative year of my life. And it, and I, and the world will be changed, and I will have to do whatever I can to make sense of those changes.

I will adapt one of the greatest closing monologues in film's history to sign off to you now and for good. So I ask: 

When will I be going back? And who will I be?


  1. Bravo, Nate. Good luck, good fortune, good health, and God bless.

    -Jamie Dahman

  2. Beautifully written. Glad to hear you are thinking about LA. We went to Manhattan Beach today. It was glorious.

    Please travel safely!!