January 7, 2013 by Louis Ritzinger
Well, its been a little while.
Let me preface this entry by stating that I have done my best to record my thoughts and experiences in the most straightforward and truthful manner possible. It is, of course, impossible to keep a travel log such as this without neglecting certain (in fact, most) events – as I’ve said before it often feels as though even getting beyond the surface is an impossible task. My limited time and ability has restricted me to documenting only those events that have struck me as strange, interesting, illustrative, or unique, and for that reason were on my mind as I sat down for my weekly ritual of struggling to convert experience into words.
These limitations having been acknowledged, I have gone about this task without any (conscious) agenda other than providing a candid window into the experiences of a student of South Asian history, culture, politics, and language, living in the region for the first time – and perhaps sometimes to use these experiences as a mirror with which to reflect on the quirks and intricacies of life in America. As anyone who has spent a decent amount of time living abroad will tell you, it often takes the perspective of living within a foreign culture to really see just how strange your own is. While I have not shied away from expressing my opinion on issues on both sides of the world, I have done my best to describe the things I have witnessed in the most unadulterated, truthful manner possible.
Except for one little detail.
In my last entry, I wrote that I would be heading to Hyderabad for my winter break before moving to Delhi. This was an entirely false statement, and one I made knowingly, but for a good cause – just hear me out.
Many of you reading this blog were probably aware that my plan was not, in fact, to spend a few weeks in Hyderabad with my friends from Lucknow – in fact, many more than I initially intentioned, to the point where I’m actually quite surprised the ruse lasted as long as it did. But, my most loyal blog-readers (my parents) did not. And that was important, because it really would have ruined the surprise of me showing up at home in Christmas Eve.
In a nutshell, my brilliant scheme of (well-intended) deception went like this:
-Tell parents/siblings that I was planning on going to Hyderabad for winter break.
-Tell parents/siblings that my phone would not work in Hyderabad (for some vague, yet semi-plausible reason) and that I was unsure how often I would have internet access.
-Book plane tickets back to the US
-Fly back to US. Stay with my wonderful girlfriend, Rachel, in Delaware for a few days. During this time have a Christmas party with both of our friends.
-Be very careful not to go on Skype/Facebook unless it was a feasible hour in India.
-Take a train from Wilmington to Bridgeport on Christmas Eve. Get picked up by my friends. Make a quick stop at Bagel Delight for a much needed bagel with whitefish – the comfort food I have missed most while abroad.
-Get dropped off at home.
My mom, a nurse, was working the day shift, so I had the added bonus of waiting underneath the Christmas tree for her, while my uncle informed her that another package had arrived and was in the living room.
It was touching. There were tears, etc.
My time at home was wonderful, and just what I needed. I spent time with the family, took my dog to the park, saw friends I had not seen in months, and ate food I had missed. Things in Newtown were more or less the same as they always were, except of course they weren’t. Memorials dotted the side of main street all through the center of town. I couldn’t help but notice that many people seemed lost – their faces blank, their eyes cast onwards, as if searching for something off in the distance. I took one trip down to Sandy Hook Center – although I’m still not entirely sure why. I suppose after being so far from everything I felt the need for some tangible connection. The street was clogged with cars, many from out of state, full of people who had come to pay respects of various kinds. Some added to the increasingly enormous shrine of candles, pictures, and stuffed animals that stretched along the sidewalk. Some prayed. Most just seemed to be there, unsure of what to do next. Perhaps, like me, unsure of why they had come in the first place. They stood in one spot, then shuffled to the next. Looked up and down. Those with little ones held them tight. I recall it feeling very surreal – dreamlike. I had to keep driving by – now even less sure of what I was doing there. I felt like a voyeur.
Given the recent events that have transformed Newtown from a New England any-town into a household name, I was simultaneously more grateful to be returning home, and more anxious about how it would make me feel. Watching the news unfold from India left me with a deep sense of disconnectedness. My friends here all showed me the very best kindness and sensitivity as I struggled to come to terms with what had happened and we all, as people, felt that sense of helpless confusion we cannot help but feel as our minds fail to make sense of the senseless. It is strange, but in those first few days after the shooting I wanted to be home more than I ever had. I wanted to talk to people who knew the place as I did. Who could relate to me not only in mourning the loss of those 20 little children and 7 adults, but in mourning the loss of our town as we had known it. Newtown will continue to be a beautiful, caring, and warm community in which to grow up and live. Indeed, there is plenty of reason to believe that the events of December 14th will, by the outpouring of collective grief in their wake and, more importantly, through the long road of support and rebuilding ahead, make it more so. Tragedies have a way of bringing the important things into focus – of taking our minds off of the pettiness that too often muddles the relationships of neighbors. It is one way we can grow from them.
It will not, however, be the same place it was before. Yes, the media coverage will fade, as it already has, and life will once gain regain a sense of normalcy. For those who have lost loved ones, of course, normal will always be a relative term. What happened, however, cannot be undone. It will stick with every one of us, and whenever I think about my home town it will be there. Like a stain.
I arrived back in India on December 31st, just in time for New Years in Delhi – a subdued affair given the recent events here, as well. As I write this I am aboard a train, heading north from Goa to Mumbai with my close friend, Raleigh, a fellow Newtowner whom I have known since the second grade. We’ve had quite the vacation this last week or so and still have a few days left – I’ll be providing the highlights next week!
Think of this as my own little transition to normalcy.