Time compresses and leaps in starts and fits. A six month lease in my early twenties felt like a lifetime of commitment. That was six months of high-stakes productivity. Songs to be written, places to see, experiences to have. Who knew what city I’d be headed off to next? (high mileage Mercury Sable permitting.) Now a three year contract felt like a blink. In my thirties, I’ve settled into a rhythm of teaching and running that melts the days away. It all adds up to something, but the rewards aren’t as immediate or palpable as they were. Breakthroughs are more infrequent, but there’s something about a routine. Feelings fluctuate between boredom and comfort as the days tick off.
In high school, I could never fathom the sense of time in Homer’s Odyssey. Seven years stuck on an island? A windstorm that causes a year-long setback? It felt flippant with time in a way to which I couldn’t relate.
I’m definitely not comparing myself to Odysseus–I’m just a teacher with a guitar, a pair of running shoes, and a dog that makes uncomfortably long eye contact; not a bow, a sick boat and a loyal crew– but there is something relatable to his journey. The pull of home that caused him to brush paths with heroes, gods, demigods, monsters and new lands. That same pull has led me all over the world during my eleven years abroad.
As an international school teacher, it feels like I’ve spent a lot of time on detours. Late nights grading, planning activities schedules, talking to insomniac students in the dorms. These are the small detours. And then there are the big ones like taking on teaching social studies full time despite background and training in English. The tasks and pathways have shape-shifted depending on my many roles, but they’ve been constant. We tell ourselves that these are extra lines on our resumes, that they’ll serve us in the future in some regard. These detours are never exactly what we are looking for but eventually add up to a career. Every decision has compromise embedded in it, but some can feel like a big step in the wrong direction.
As my move back stateside approaches in June, my image of what it will be like grows blurrier. Recently it’s become clearer that running needs to be halted. Nerve pain and ankle issues are telling me to stop. The long distances have slowly pounded my lower vertebrae together to a point that my running form is painful and tottering. I can get through a workout, but the run spent holding my breath and hoping that this isn’t the run that pushes my body over the edge.
Running was supposed to be the backup plan next year if nothing turned up in the world of teaching, but that isn’t seeming to pan out either. Although I have enough experiences in education to fill over a decade, none of them seem to be the right experiences. I’m missing this or that. Applications and interviews have so far been dead ends.
I’m starting to have to pull the frame back a bit. Maybe teaching and running need to be shed for the time being. These giant parts of my identity need to be let go in order for the journey to continue. It’s nerve-wracking and sometimes terrifying to put both on hold. These two mainstays in my daily routine are melting away to leave behind who knows what?
Setbacks seem like detours until you’ve reached where you needed to be. Journeys sometimes only make sense once they’re done. A voyage is never a direct one, and sometimes you’re closest to progress when you feel the farthest away from it. Steps along the way can seem like detours in the moment, but end up comprising the core components of a necessary voyage to home.