“My friends who have been studying Yoga for a long time say you don’t really see the impact that an Ashram has had on you until you leave the place and return to your normal life. ‘Only then,’ said the former nun from South Africa, ‘will you start to notice how your interior closets have been rearranged.’ Of course at the moment, I’m not entirely sure what my normal life is. I mean, I’m maybe about to go move in with an elderly medicine man in Indonesia –is that my normal life? It may be, who knows?” (202)
This quote really stuck out to me while I was reading because it made me think about the huge transition that Liz making, not just with her travels, but with her entire life. While you’re reading about her months in Italy, India and Indonesia you forget that Liz had a home and a family and that after the last leg of her trip in Bali she will be returning to her normal life. The problem is, she doesn’t have a “normal life” to return to. When Liz’s trip is over and she presumably returns to the US she will be starting over. She is free to find a new house, a new hometown, new friends, etc. She doesn’t have to (and definitely shouldn’t) return to the same life she had in New York. This can be a liberating, but also terrifying experience. How do you go about creating a new life? What do you base it on?
In Liz’s case, I think she is fully aware of the personal changes that she has undergone in each step of her trip. I think that Liz, to use the words of the nun from South Africa that she met at the Ashram, realizes that her “interior closets” are being rearrange constantly in her journey of self-discovery. But Liz isn’t just returning to her old life as a changed woman. She is faced with the task of constructing a new life around what she has learned on her journey; she is taking her rearranged interior closets and remodeling her life around them. She can’t return to the “home” she created with her husband or with David now that she is a new person. Liz is finally growing up and discovering who she is as an individual and this realization really necessitates the creation of a new life, of a personal homeland.
This same idea really applies to all of us as college students. Our time at Loyola has changed each of us. I know that I felt the changes that college had sparked in me within the first few weeks of college. I remember returning home for Thanksgiving break freshman year and seeing my family and friends after only being away for a few months. Everything was different. My family noticed changes in me almost immediately. “You seem more mature!” my Mom would say to me. Well I don’t know how true that was but I really was a different person: neater, more talkative, more goal-oriented and noticeably self-sufficient. In the three years that I’ve spent at Loyola, these same traits have developed in me, and become a part of my character. Just as many other people have said throughout the semester, Loyola became a home for me. My time here has already changed my identity completely. Sure, I brought a little bit of home with me to college (through pictures, music, decorations, food, etc) but more importantly I’ve realized that I’ve brought so much of college back home with me. It has become part of my life. My tastes in food, music, movies, and books have been completely transformed. I’ve developed a new and much more personal relationship with God than I left home with 3 years ago. I feel like my life is headed in an entirely different direction than I saw myself going when I graduated high school. And in a way, as Liz’s Yoga friends in the novel pointed out, it is hard for me to notice how much I’ve changed until I return home and remember the person I used to be.
But looking ahead to my college graduation next spring, and hearing about the plans of this year’s graduating seniors, it’s easy to see that we are all in the same boat that Liz is in at the end of her journey. After graduation, we don’t really have “normal lives” to return to. We can always visit our parents, maybe even live with them for a while but it’s still time for us to start our own life and create new homelands for ourselves. Even though it’s intimidating we have to choose a lifestyle, a job or career, and a place to live. We will meet new people, and decide what place family and friends will have in our developing life. After graduation we join the “real world” and we have the task of defining what the “real world” is for us. Who we are in college has a huge bearing on who we become after we graduate and on the type of life we pursue. My college career has certainly changed who I am, and often made me question my life without providing me with any answers. I don’t fully know myself, nor to I expect to by the end of next year, but what I have learned and experienced while in college is already steering me toward the life I will create for myself after graduation. And the questions that college has left unanswered for me will undoubtedly guide me on my path through life.
Throughout this course we have dealt with the relationship between change and homelands, among other things. I think that most of the characters that we’ve met this semester have had to deal with change. Either they have undergone personal change or they have had to face irreparable changes to their physical homelands. Their “interior closets” have been rearranged and it is then up to them to choose or create a new homeland for themselves. Sometimes characters’ reactions in the face of change are not favorable, as with Okonkwo who commits suicide because he is incapable of adapting to his changing homeland. And in some cases, like with Jasmine, the idea of creating a new identity and homeland becomes an escape. Gilbert’s book really crystallizes the idea of embracing and cultivating change in the name of creating or discovering an interior homeland. In the face of change the characters we’ve encountered have had to reevaluate their idea of homelands and I believe that, like these characters, our class has made each of us re-examine our notions of homelands and our place in them. I know that this course has made me rethink my personal ideas on home, family, faith, and racial/cultural identity–something that I really wasn’t expecting. This class was a pleasant surprise and a very enriching experience for me.