When you first join the Peace Corps, and they sit you down Day 1 in a foreign country, they warn you that your emotions will be like a roller coaster. There will be days when you’re up, and days when you’re down. And some days both, several times.
Personally, I don’t like that analogy. Roller coasters will make you scream, laugh, or puke. But they’re fun, especially the frightening parts.
No, emotions in a foreign land are more like the ocean. They are always present. At times they may be so gentle and quiet you forget that they’re there at all.
There are days when that gentle lull crashes so beautifully and peacefully that you drift away to a content and pleasant place. You can lay there and float to dreamland, as if on a cloud. The white noise is easily forgotten, but its constant soft presence unconsciously calms and soothes.
Like the ocean, the tides of emotion are bound to change. It’s slow, sometimes. You don’t notice the change. It creeps up on you, inch by inch, becoming more powerful and noticeable. That lullaby from before gradually becomes louder and louder until the crescendo rocks your very bones. At times like this, being in the ocean of emotion is very tremulous.
The waves are gigantic, slowly pulling you out into the abyss of the deep unknown. The more you fight to get to the safety of the shore, the greater the pull of the undertow becomes. Wave after wave, you are sucked under, unable to breathe. Your chest lights on fire and panic sets in as your body is thrown in all directions. You have no control over yourself. And as soon as you are able to emerge to take a breath and gain your bearings, another one descends upon your head. The only way to get back is to let those waves, those immense emotions, drag you where they will until they spit you out, crashing you into the sand.
Scrambling away from them, you find a safe distance and then collapse like a rag doll. Your muscles are like jello. Even if you wanted to move, both your body and mind are so exhausted you wouldn’t be able to. You lay there for a while, catching your breath and mentally checking that you’re still whole. The bumps and scrapes, over time, will fade and be forgotten.
You fear the ocean for a while, with its ability to drown you into nothingness. You swear that you will stay away. But you can’t. You can hear the interaction of the water and the sand. You try not to look, but eventually you unconsciously return to the shore and sit, watching.
The tide begins to recede. The waves shrink and the pull has disappeared. You debate for a while, then call yourself a chicken for giving up. So, up you get and slowly you begin your journey back to the water. You slowly make you way back in, ankle to knee to waist, until you laugh as you realize that there’s nothing to fear. You decide to dive in whole heartedly. You laugh as the waves raise you up. You become more confident in your ability to master them. When waves arrive that are too large to go over, you expertly dive under until they have passed. Your friends join you in times like these. Competitions begin and enjoyment is felt all around.
Like these waves, though, this time of excitement, of supreme joy, disappears until you are back to the quiet lullaby, the gentle rocking.
You know that the cycle must continue, that the fear and pain and inability to breathe will return, but at that moment every muscle in your body has released a sigh and relaxed. The sun is warm, your towel is dry, and you lay down to come peacefully down from your emotional high. Maybe you try to read a book for a while, or even to write one. Everything you see is beautiful. You listen to the laughter of children testing the waters of their own ocean, and you smile slightly. Your eyes close and you let the sounds flood you until you have drifted.
And just before your consciousness fades for a while, you think to yourself, ‘I will overcome everything when it arrives, but for now, it is time to be calm.’