13 September 2017

5 Experiences that Weren't What I Expected

1. Working in a library. This was my job in college. When I first started, I thought it be boring. Actually, a library is an amazing place to play pranks. You can fill the printer with princess tea party-themed paper. You can slip random books with embarrassing titles onto the interlibrary loan shelf. ("Oh, you didn't mean to place a hold for Sex Positions 101? So sorry.") You can hide those little anti-theft strips in people's coats and backpacks when they're not looking. The fact that a library is supposed to be a quiet place makes a commotion all the more interesting.

2. Traveling abroad. In the church where I grew up (or, "the meeting", as we called it), short term missions trips were not all the rage that they are in larger denominational churches. In fact, I never heard of short term missions until well into my teen years. As far as I knew, missions was a thing you did for life, and it was mostly done by middle-aged and old people, not teenagers. They went packing off to Borneo or the Kalahari Desert and were never seen nor heard from again. Their photos hung on the big world map in the church hallway until they yellowed and dried (or until kids in the Sunday School had poked the picture so full of holes with thumbtacks that it wouldn't stay on the wall anymore). At prayer meetings, we prayed for them in their war-torn lands and spoke of them in hushed, funereal tones, the way you would speak of someone on their death bed. In a very real sense, I suppose many of them were.

With the concept of international travel always so cloaked in mystery and misinformation, I grew up being terrified of it. Upon learning that my undergraduate TESOL program required me to do a cross-cultural practicum in a non Indo-European language speaking country (no getting off easy going to Canada or Mexico), my first reaction was to feel sick to my stomach. This was it. This was the end of me. I should pack my worldly goods in my coffin and bid my family a final farewell.

Of course, it was nothing like that. I went to Japan (which, admittedly, made for a more comfortable first-time experience), and was instantly hooked. Not just on the country itself, but on life abroad in general. It wasn't scary at all. I learned a lot -- about myself, about my field of study, about other people. I discovered new loves: vending machine coffee, rice paddies, choux cremes, okonomiyaki. And the people, of course. I even had internet access now and then. All in all, a great experience.


3. Professional fireworks. I got two surprises out of this one. The first one is (contrary to popular belief), pyrotechnics is much safer than it sounds. My dad was into it for quite a few years before I came of legal age to participate, and many nights I went to bed worrying about him while he was off doing a show. I worried that something would blow up at the wrong time and place, that he'd come home minus an arm or a hand -- or maybe not come home at all. Then I began doing shows myself and discovered, to my pleasant surprise, that the whole business really offers little cause for concern. Fireworks, like all other good things, should simply be handled with care. And if a shell bursts a bit too close for comfort, you're probably okay. In most cases, some part of your body has to be touching it in order for it to injure you. But of course you won't be touching it, because you're a smart person.

The second thing is, once you give it up, you'll never again go to a firework show just to watch. It's too unbearable to sit and be a spectator.

4. Skydiving. Frankly, I was expecting this to be more of an adrenaline rush. But in fact, it was nice and relaxing in a pleasantly boring sort of way, like spending an afternoon at the library. I think this was partially because I didn't have to do any of the work myself; I could just sit back and let it happen. (First-time skydivers are strapped, tied, buckled and tethered to an expert upon whom they must rely to execute every step of the process: the jump at 13,000 feet, the release of the rip cord; the instructions about what to do with your neck so that it doesn't break.) Although I had to sign a 37-page waiver promising that I wouldn't sue Skydive San Diego if I died, skydiving is actually a very low risk activity, statistically speaking. And partially, I think it was because working with explosives for half a decade had tapped out my adrenaline receptors just a little bit.

I would absolutely do it again, though, given the chance (and only if I happen to find a decent chunk of change under my sofa cushions -- say, about $250 or so).

5. Marriage. Now that I'm married, everything I was ever told about marriage makes no sense to me. It baffles me how the church manages to paint the holy estate of matrimony as both Shangri-La and the valley of the shadow of death simultaneously. On one hand I heard, "It's the best thing that will ever happen to you!" and also "It's the hardest thing you'll ever do!" So far, I haven't found either one to be true. Both the promised fireworks and the promised doom and gloom failed to deliver. Marriage, inasmuch as I can tell from only two years of experience, is simply learning to share your life with another person... all the time. Meanwhile, not much deep down at the core of you changes. The things that were true about you before you were married continue to be true afterward. You don't lose any of your quirks, fears, passions, joys, or irritating habits. You simply find someone else to share them with. (If you're a considerate spouse, you try to share as few of the irritating habits as possible.)

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