Touchdown. I’d finally made it. After hours flying, getting stuck in a fluke meltdown of UK air traffic control and making countless desperate phone calls to QANTAS, I’d made it to my first destination. It was time to pull out the printed Google maps (not being certain of having internet on arrival) and make my way home. With everything deposited, it was time for adventure.
As I wandered the cold and damp streets of bustling Edinburgh, it was the wind pushing me along. It caught in every nook of my warm coat, lifting me. As I sped up with the force of the wind, I couldn’t help but feel that I was soaring over my new home like a bird gleeful resting their wings on the zephyr.
Freedom. It’d been two months since my 3rd Year finals and all the stress that entailed. Two months since moving to the countryside. A week since driving back to my parents’ place, where I deposited much of my material possessions. I had one suitcase, and international bankcard and nothing weighing me down. The next two months would be filled with my favourite thing – orthopaedics – with curious wanderings to boot.
My responsibilities were few. Turn up, be useful, don’t get in the way too much. Do my dishes, clean up after myself. My days were filled with surgery and learning about the details of procedures. My evenings were filled with exploration and multiple cups of tea in my cosy home.
Before I was ready, it was time to move on. Time to tuck my wings back and hop aboard a tin can with a wingspan much larger than my own. It was time to migrate.
I was forced to nest a little longer than I’d hoped on the East Coast of the US. Even wild birds are halted by polar vortexes. But I eventually made it to the perfect weather for people with wings. San Diego. The city where water is land and land is water. Where it is almost always sunny, and where 20 C in winter is still a little cool.
The orthopaedics was incredible – I saw so many things that had never crossed my path before. I learnt more than I could have ever asked. And I was constantly challenged. One quickly adapts to 3:30am alarms and 5:15am ward rounds, where I was always surprised to find most patients awake and expecting us. Each day was filled with teaching, new perspectives and a sense of being exactly where I belonged.
And then it was time to move on again. Spreading my wings, there was a pit stop back in the land of my childhood before launching off to Australia’s West Coast.
And everywhere along the way, I’ve been faced with the same question, “Where are you from?” And you know what? I actually don’t know how to answer that question. I spent my childhood in one city, and moved every five years within suburbs all located a stone’s throw from each other. I moved for medical school and have spent a good portion of the years since travelling. Travelling mostly for medical reasons – placements, electives, conferences and everything in between. There were a few years where, when averaged, my weekend trips for conferences were every two to three weeks even when studying full time and working as well.
“Where are you from?” they ask me. “I live just down the road,” I respond, and they look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. “But that accent…” they say, as if that might explain things. Oh. That. Yes, that doesn’t really explain it either.
So where am I from? Where are we all from? Is it where we grew up – our childhood home, our first school? Is it where our stuff is – the precious memories contained within? Is it where our loved ones are – the people who keep us grounded and make us feel whole? Or something else.
Home. Where I’m from. Wherever I’m sleeping tonight. Wherever I can sit down with a cup of tea and not worry that I’ve washed off my makeup. Wherever I can take ownership of the kitchen. Where there’s a local grocery store, a gym and a few people I can call friends.
And when you travel often, you find those things. You spend the first day in each new town talking to new people, buying tea bags from the grocery store and figuring out where everything is in the gym.
And then you fly away again.
Touchdown. We’re here. We’ve made it home.