Whenever I travel, I go through the same before and after timeline as the time leading up to my trip grows shorter.  I not only think about where I will be in one week, one day, etc. but also how quickly it will all be over.  For example, at this exact moment one week from now, I will have just landed in Amman, Jordan, to begin a week of travel that includes a visit to a place I have longed to see for years - Petra.  And two weeks from now?  I'll be on my way home.  Two weeks and one day?  Back home, journey over, bag still unpacked, memories still fresh in my mind like a perfect blanket of snow, not yet trampled on and churned up by errands, laundry and getting back to work. I envision this before and after countdown in my mind to remind myself that while it might be a very big deal for me to be fulfilling an extraordinary dream, there is plenty more beyond this experience, and much to look forward to in terms of how my experiences on this journey will affect everything I do when I get back home.  My first trip to Japan taught me the art of standing still and observing to figure out what I needed to know (in that case, how to find the train I needed to go to another part of the city).  After I visited Cuba, I experienced an entirely new level of awe at the availability of something as mundane as Band-Aids in the United States (as Cubans have access to free health care, but there are no neighborhood drug stores where things like Band-Aids are available for sale.)  During my trip to New Zealand last year, I returned with greater clarity on a number of personal issues, the result of having a good chunk of quiet solitude in my friend's lovely beach house.  While I love the feeling of anticipation before a new excursion, I also look forward to what is in store for me after I get back home.

It is tempting to look at these out of the ordinary experiences as spaces of time when I'm really living my life - when I am pushing my limits, stepping out of my comfort zones and making dreams come true.  And while these experiences certainly shape who I am and have an impact on my life, they are but one layer.  If I use a house as a metaphor, weeks like the one I'll begin seven days from now are more like the ivory vintage lamps in our bedroom or the artwork on our walls.  They are accents to a larger piece, and certainly not as vital as a strong foundation or a well-built roof.  If I've done my work, their main purpose is to add beauty and flair to an already unique, fulfilling, marvelously imperfect structure - the story of my life.