In a previous post I talked about turning points and how when I started college I didn’t feel I had significant life experiences that had re-directed my path. With all the unique experiences I’ve piled on in recent years, it’s pretty easy to craft narratives about how such-and-such experience shaped me in this way and another shaped me in that way. Those kind of narratives leave out a lot of details, though, and I think more than any one experience being totally transformative, my experiences build on each other. Some of them just propel me down a certain path more swiftly than others.
My semester in Egypt as an undergraduate is not something I talk about much these days. I had a relaxed summer job right after it, which allowed me to reflect and define my time in Cairo. If you asked me in the fall of 2008 about my semester abroad, I would’ve told you that I had learned much about patience, friendliness and openness. Today if you asked me I’d say that I took challenging and rewarding classes and had a lot of fun with my friends/roommates but that it was a much different way of experiencing a country than the way I try to do now. It doesn’t seem too significant to me now, given all that I’ve done in the meantime.
Yet, a few minutes ago while reading an old email where I confidently described what I’d taken away from my Egypt experience I felt envious of my former self who could sum it up so neatly.
I can’t do that about the past two years. What did it all mean? How did it shape me? Where does it lead? I don’t know. My mind is all a jumble of unusual shapes and unfamiliar colors—like a Dr. Suess book after a spin through the blender.
Maybe in a few years I’ll have a concise narrative to explain it all, but sometimes I appreciate unearthing memories that remind me that though “turning point” narratives emphasize events as the primary causes of what happens in our lives, there are also other factors. For instance, tonight I came across this part of a conversation I had while studying in Egypt:
5:27 PM: i wanna go everywhere.BUT5:28 PM i get annoyed with the kids who are trying to travel to like every possible country while they’re here “so they can say they went there”i want to go everywhere to experience it5:29 PM not to use it as a form of prestige
In that passage I can see a kernel for the way I chose to travel and live after graduating from college, but the feelings I described are not something I could fit into a “turning point” framework.
In a time of confusion about how my recent experiences have affected me, it’s re-assuring to remember that my path is also shaped by unnameable things within me that I carry throughout all experiences.