I’m sitting on a train right now, headed south towards Delhi. My cousin is next to me and the train is pretty full. We’ve just spent about 8 days in the Himalayan foothills and are getting ready to fly out on the 6th and 7th. It’s been mostly a mixed trip for me. I haven’t slept well at all, some nights not falling asleep at all, and most others getting only 1-2 hours at a time. I’m not sure what is causing my restlessness but it feels persistent, I’m worried it will stay with me back at home.
I’m not sure what I wanted to get from this trip, or really what it’s purpose was, but it is coming to a close and I feel glad I came here but it feels like a new beginning, perhaps. This trip was about seeing the mountains and riding trains, both things that I enjoy but aren’t what draw me to India. Seeing sights and experiencing India as a tourist has been a good first reconnection point. The stakes for visiting were low, the expectations blurry and undefined and the commitment minimal. I feel like this trip has been inadequate is many ways but necessary at the same time. Without it not being what i wanted i wouldn’t know as clearly what it is I want.
I want to connect with the people, with a project, to develop a connection and some sense of meaning with this culture and part of my identity. Traveling like this is not my ideal scenario and numerous factors have led me to feel like this experience has been like me watching from the third person. I’ve had little human-human interaction and developed no relationships with Indian people here. I can blame my lack of sleep, altitude induced headaches and an uneasy stomach but the bigger impediment was my lack of confidence that a connection is something I want. It is. I want to learn Hindi, i want to feel comfortable in spaces here, i want to spent time getting to know what parts of this culture/these cultures resonate with me. I think I want these things regardless if my searching (for my first family) leads to reunion. It has been hard for me to separate the two, although one of my earlier therapists, someone who i ended up breaking up with, helped me recognize there were two aspects of my relationship with India. The one that is caught up in the mess of abandonment, relinquishment, surrender and loss of my first family and the other more focused on my place and identity culturally. I’ve never felt ownership over any part of Indian culture or felt like I could claim it as my own, particularly without having made some connection to my first family. I feel my desire to explore Indian culture as a desi is now clearer to me and feels like a new space. A space that will hold conflicting and even contradictory beliefs.
Midwestern, adopted, Desi, in no particular order.
I feel I’ve spent so much energy, so much time and so much hope that I’ll find a mold or a group that I can look into and see myself reflected back. There are fragments of this reflection in places and spaces I’ve come to know and new ones I’ll find along the way. It hurts and it sucks to feel like there isn’t a space to fit or feel yourself, whatever the hell that may be, but learning to accept the spaces I’m in now and why I’ve come into those spaces is important. A common theme in my therapy, with Dr. R, is that I tend to articulate and define my life in terms of lack. I see that I am different and that difference feels separating and that separation is incorrigible. I felt that my upbringing was one I experienced love as conditional upon my behavior.
The narrative I created for myself went as follows:
Unconditional love only exists in the space in which I belong. This, Yellow Springs/Ohio/Earlham/The U.S., is the space in which I don’t belong because I am different. This difference means I am not unconditionally loved. When I think about defining what is meant or what i mean by unconditional love, i end up blubbering about wanting to feel like i am able to be whatever i need and that expression won’t result in social sanctions. I’ve created fantasies to help hold this perception of lack in place. Because I’m different, Indian, I will only feel loved when I am in the appropriate environment, i.e. my birth culture. That is the only place in which I can feel true acceptance and love.
But what is unconditional love? Without an internal definition it is easy to deny myself and my relationships this status of acceptance. Unconditional love is not love or acceptance without expectation. It is faith in another person, trust and vulnerability that they will mean and do their best. It is not perfection. It is not conflict free. It is not easy. It may mean different things to each person in a relationship. It is acceptance. It is hope. It is faith.
Dispelling the myth/fantasy of belonging or acceptance within Indian culture allows a reframing of my perception of lack. If sameness is not what confers unconditional love then difference does not have to beget it. I can allow myself to be loved unconditionally by my own definition. Allowing myself to be loved and to love are one in the same. Allowing myself to love others means I have to know what love is, how to give it and how to receive it.
This trip has not taught me all of this. Therapy, conversations with friends, family, sporadic writing, even more sporadic searching, romantic rejections and the like have brought me here.
I feel calmer in my anxiety. I don’t feel like everything will be alright or that these revelations will bring me peace or joy. They will likely bring me closer to those I hold dear and make decisions of who to bring close even harder. Maybe I’ll worry less about the potential pain of loss, of energy spent and safeness in isolation. Stop defining myself as who I am not and how I don’t fit in or belong and as what I have to offer.
I’m not entirely sure what comes next, but it feels much clearer to me now that digging in and exploring a connection to India, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing search, seems right. It feels very comforting to have this trip completed, it was a long time in the making and put off what felt like dozens of times. I’m glad to be home, but already feel anxious about returning, whatever that may look like.