Do you remember at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when all the adventures were over and the four hobbits were finally able to return back to their homes in the Shire? Do you remember that scene where they all sat down together in that little country pub, with their little pewter mugs, and watched all their little friends laughing and joking and carrying on, completely oblivious to all that the four of them had been a part of on the other side of Middle-Earth, and they just sort of looked around and nodded at each other, like they didn’t know what they were supposed to do now that they were back?
Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking about that scene a little bit lately, and when I do, I feel a sort of kindred bond with those four little Halflings. I realize that this is probably in large part due to the fact that I was homeschooled (which, for some obscure reason, seems to mean that I am obligated to have an innate unshakeable desire to identify with the saga of Middle Earth), but I think it’s also because our situation right now is fairly similar to theirs (though my feet aren’t quite as hairy).
When we were in Papua New Guinea, we saw and experienced so many new things: Our friends lived in houses made from sticks and leaves, all their work was done without the aid of machines, hygiene was more or less an unknown concept, and violence and theft were taken for granted as being normal. We learned a language. We cut timber in the jungle. We built our house in the bush.
Then we came back to the States for this maternity leave. And even though we love America – love its food, love its safety, love its convenience, love that no one stares at us when we go to town – we sort of don’t know what to do with ourselves here. And other people often don’t seem to know what to do with us either. We’re just that “young little family that went to that weird place and did stuff in the jungle with tribal people.”
Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s been really nice to us since we’ve been back. No complaints on the friendliness-front. It’s just that it seems like the majority of people we’ve been around don’t know how to relate to what we’ve experienced, and (this is the part I wasn’t expecting) that seems to make them very uncomfortable around us when we try to talk about it.
It’s weird, but in the two months we’ve been home, countless attempts to share anecdotes from our time in PNG have been met with awkward silence and a change of subject. Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of times that we’ve shared a story from PNG and the listener has actually engaged with it enough to ask follow-up questions and pursue the subject. (Of course, I guess there’s always the chance that I’m just a REALLY bad story teller.)
Again, this isn’t meant as a complaint. It’s just a very strange feeling, being back in our home culture and realizing that the most socially convenient way for us to fit in again is if we act like the last 8 months didn’t happen. Of course, that’s less than ideal, since these last 8 months have been so meaningful and life-changing for us. So, I guess we’re just in an awkward place in life right now.
Maybe I need to write to some nerdy homeschool co-op and find out if there’s some other J. R. R. Tolkien work that explains how Samwise Gamgee assimilated back into Shire-life… 😉