How Places Change You

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the way places change you.

Every place has a rhythm. Every place has breath and movement. Places pull you and push you like waves in an ocean. An ocean wave can cradle and rock you, hold you while you float, ears underwater, eyes at the sky. Waves can whisk you up and roll you onto the sand. Waves can gently pull you out to sea. Perhaps you would fight hard against the waves in one direction or another. Perhaps you would take advantage of the rolling sea and stand up with your friends to ride it. Perhaps you would sink below the surface where the waves are hardly detectable. Still, the rhythm of the water stays, and your movements in it are an extension of the waves themselves.

I feel it most when I am in a new place, of course. The timing of the continental breakfast, the minutes spent watching and then finally catching a train, the length of lines at a new grocery store, the dipping between pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk, even the cadence of a new accent, even the duration of a meal with your friend– these rhythms play out in ways that can cradle you, whisk you up, or pull you out to sea.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years practicing learned rhythms of places I have lived. My sort of hospitality is a mix up of chai afternoons in Kolkata, tea and candies in Armenia, lunches after church in Texas, and the times in my life when I have entertained strangers and been so much better for it.  The length of time I spend in an introduction to a new person, the way I shake hands, the salutations and questions I ask, they are all influenced by the long greetings of Burundian refugees in Abilene, Texas, and the ‘namastes’ of Kolkata, the fervent ‘Vonc ek’ of Armenian speech.

I often wonder how much I am moving in a place and how much a place is moving me. Do you ever feel that way?

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