Alterity on the Ground

A wise friend tells me that the best way to get over jetlag is to sleep at the normal hours, but that doesn't help me much with jetlag-induced insomnia. Can't say I've experienced it before, but since I'm too tired to read Plato and too awake to do more than toss and turn, how about a first blog post of the trip?

There is something fascinating about the first few hours, or perhaps even days of one's first venture far outside of one's comfort zone. The body shuts down and goes into survival mode. It's the fight or flight response, a state of heightened awareness tempered by exhaustion, and if I recall my Psych 101 correctly, part of that response is a temporary shut down in the digestive system. Fact: I like to eat. But when faced with the unfamiliarity of another culture, however close to our own, and the uncertainty of awkwardly navigating various modes of transportation to get from point A to point D, the absolute last thing in my mind, except perhaps as a weary mental note, is whether I've eaten or not.

You learn a lot when you listen to your body.

One of the myriad fantastic things that Jerome Miller observes in The Way of Suffering is that we always find ways to patch over ruptures in the fabric of our everyday reality, all of those little or large tears that point to the deeper fact of our lack of control and the indifferent world outside of our small, secure space. We don't dare look them in the face ("Only that now you have taught (but how late) my lack / I see the chasm."), because we fear the unknown and what it might do to our concepts and our percepts.

That's how I could sit at Gate A17 and hold back the ocean of tears that arose at the aching prospect of saying farewell to my sisters for over five months. Keep looking past the ache, and it's not there. That's how I could step off the plane and get through immigration (without being detained, hallelujah!), maneuver through Heathrow, and then navigate the Underground more or less calmly and rationally (excepting that moment at Canada Waters when I totally missed my stop and prevented some poor woman from getting on the tube) without collapsing after a long week, a red eye, and a meager four hours of sleep. If you don't let the sensation of walking in an alien place get to you, then maybe it isn't really happening after all.

The problem is that if I don't let the alterity of the situation affect me, then I might as well have taken a semester off to hang out in West Chester. I might have even learned more that way. It's how we respond to the ruptures, daring to near them, even embrace them perhaps, that really opens up our minds and our worlds.

On the other hand, this insomnia thing? Not a good time to listen to my body. So the real moral of the story is: be alert enough to listen, and be wise enough to discriminate. Or something like that.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty good writing for a sleep deprived writer! I don't think I ate at all between Sydney, LA and New York, I was so nervous. Just relax, its gonna be marvelous!