Every morning the sun rises, and every evening the sun sets. Such is the basic assumption of human life on this planet. But today, I left that surety in LAX along with all my other assumptions. Today, I boarded an airplane and followed the sun to South Korea.
The previous day I had finished packing for my one-year teaching contract in the Korean public schools. My material life sat shoved into one large suitcase, one small suitcase, a backpack, and a purse. Those bags were the limit of what I knew about my future life on Jeju Island. Into them I had slipped every bit of home that I could fit—my sheets, a few pictures of the beach, shoes large enough to fit my bigger-than-Korean feet. I called my bags “home” and grew claustrophobic, trying to fit into them a barrier against homesickness, an antidote to displacement.
There was no question that my last morning in the US would begin at sunrise. As the sky lightened I donned my hoodie, then walked out along the Alamitos Bay toward the ocean. I wanted a ravenous and wild landscape to wring out my emotions, to find in the sea-spray in a catharsis of mourning. I wanted to ache for the home that I was leaving so that I could carry my longing to a new ocean. I wanted to feel.
But I never made it to the ocean. Instead, the bay stopped me with its smooth grey water building into high pink clouds. I watched a heron walk through its reflection, followed the wakes of three swimmers diverge across the pink water. My eyes traced the pencil-point of sky between an empty dock and its reflection.
Then the sun rose, slowly and ceremoniously, looking like a moonrise through the thin sheet of clouds. And as I sat on the sand I realized that I didn’t feel any of the wildness that I had sought. I felt warmed, and completely at home.
And then it hit me—an obvious truth—that the sun itself was something I would take. A sky of gold transported by my sight to the other side of the world. The world beyond lightened within my imagination, turning homey beneath the sunlight, constant, welcoming. I could welcome displacement within that light, challenge loneliness with a sunrise.
My plane took off from LAX below a hazy, pencil-rubbed sky. We broke through the coastline and turned north, leaving Long Beach behind us scissored from the clouds. The Channel Islands appeared, one by one—Catalina, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, the distant San Miquel. We passed over Santa Barbara, passed the Butterfly preserve. Then came the Pacific, shielded by layers of clouds that just gave a glimpse of the wildness beneath—whitecaps large enough to see from my window seat, pearly white reflections beneath the clouds.
We descended into Incheon airport just as those clouds turned white-gold in the evening light. From above the country looked incandescent. I traced the sunlight through the valleys of vapor below, the same sunlight that had filled in my sandy footprints twenty hours before. My skin warmed beneath the tilt of light from the glass, easing my disquiet, searing me with the reminder that this was the same world, the same sun, the same home.
As the plane dropped below the cloud layer I kept that vision snug inside my mind, all through the labored walk through the airport, the bus ride to the university where I will complete training, the check-in and the cold shower.
Now I sit on the enclosed balcony of my dorm room trying not to wake my roommate. Outside, the damp hills and damp city are lilting into a grey light. Outside, a new day has begun.