I’ve just landed in Bahrain and I feel a deep sense of shame. Not at being in Bahrain, that’s pretty exciting – I feel shame for my behavior on arrival as I cleared immigration. You see I’ve been to Bahrain before, though it’s been a few years – and I am fortunate enough to travel frequently around the Arab Gulf… but I’m afraid this marvelous frequency has made me complacent – and complacency is no good at all.
I can remember visiting friends in Germany a few years ago who went into great detail telling me about their plans and preparations for a trip they would be taking to the US. Even though the trip was roughly 6 months away, it was already occupying a fair amount of their time and conversation. They shared planned itineraries, what they would do on the flight, what they were packing, what they were looking forward to… it was impressive. By contrast, I would visit 7 countries between seeing them and when they would actually take their trip, but I had to concentrate intently to remember the names of those countries, let alone expound on details in the way my German friends could.
Some of the reason for all this is that with repetition things become normal. We have to normalize things to some degree otherwise life would be exhausting. Think of something you do everyday, like brushing your teeth. Imagine if every time you undertook this mundane task you did so with the wonder and excitement of someone who’s never brushed their teeth before. You’d eventually be exhausted, and you’d probably exhaust the people around you by getting that excited at least twice a day (as recommended by dentists) and sharing this excitement on social media, over the phone, or in person. (Maybe we should start socially inviting friends over for teeth brushing parties, just a thought.) So we normalize routines to save energy and be efficient.
The danger is that if we get the balance wrong, we can normalize too much and lose out on the wonder of the moment – or find ourselves vastly unprepared. As I landed in Bahrain, I made my way to passport control and slid my passport to the waiting border guard. The official in front of me flicked through my document and asked for the address of the hotel I’d be staying in. Ummm… I didn’t know. Panicking slightly, I dug into my backpack on the floor to find my phone and try and look up an address… I had to connect to the wifi, fill out a form to get online, scroll through emails… all the while holding up the queue of people behind me. The officer waited patiently as I fumbled about and finally got him the required information.
Then he asked how I would be paying for my visa… what?! I forgot I had to pay to enter Bahrain! I had to drop back to the floor and rummage through my backpack for a wallet. Would they accept Emirati currency? I didn’t have any Bahraini currency yet? Was a credit card okay? All the while, the line of people behind me looked on with exasperation.
I hate holding up the line. I loath being the slow down in a system. Had it not been for the fact that I probably would have gotten arrested, I would have run screaming back towards the plane I’d just disembarked, and begged them to take me back from whence I came – I don’t deserve to travel anymore, I’m a line-holder-upper!
My complacency held up a line of innocent civilians… but it can have even further reaching ramifications. It’s easy to become complacent with people, places, and events. Because of our tendency to normalize (which, in balance, is healthy) we can far too easily take people, places, and events for granted. Growing up as a TCK, I picked up the notion that every “hello” is just a “goodbye” waiting to happen. Nothing, nobody, and nowhere lasts forever.
If anything, that means I should know it’s worth the discipline and investment to consciously choose the balance between what I allow to become normal, and what I choose to keep remarkable, sacred even. We have the power to decide what will normalize and what won’t. We don’t often devote thought to the process, instead allowing it to run on auto-pilot, but I think we’d all benefit from a little more intentionality as far as preserving the remarkable. Life is short, and as many TCKs and expats know: every “hello” IS a “goodbye” waiting to happen, so we should be encouraged to treasure and be intentionally present for what happens between those two markers – don’t let normalizing rob you of your moments… besides, we really do need to keep the line moving at passport control.