september 8-9, 2010 11:45pm

No matter how exciting and adventurous it sounds, telling people you are going to Pakistan is no easy task. Friends think you are nuts. Family thinks you have, as they always predicted, completely lost it. Parents ask you not to talk to their college-age children for fear that your “crazy ideas” might rub off on the adventuresome spirits of their already wayward offspring. Grandparents call to tell you they haven’t slept since they heard of your pending travels and the ever-tacit implication is that they probably won’t sleep until you return. Emotional blackmail like this is not un-common. Other friends, once so eager to hear about your other foreign adventures refuse to talk about this one at all – which makes any conversation at all, kind of difficult.

The worst thing, though, about telling people you are going to Pakistan, is “The Look.” Most of the time it flashes across faces in an instant and is immediately masked by words of cautious encouragement or not-so-subtle warnings issued in tentative tones. In that split second before the words though, there is just “The Look”. I hated that look. I feared it. I hated and feared it so much that I would avoid telling people all together that I was going to Pakistan at all. I’d put off seeing “The Look” as long as humanly possible.

“The Look” is a delicate mixture of complete bewilderment and disbelief knotted together with a twinge of sympathy and trepidation. “The Look” is normally accompanied by an uncomfortable pause and their frantic search for a proper response. You can almost see the thoughts buzzing between their ears as they pick at their dinner plate, sip their cocktail or suck down their beer. “Maybe I didn’t hear her correctly” “Where are you going?” “Pakistan.” “Right. That’s what I thought she said. Is this something I am supposed to be excited about? She seems excited about it. Certainly terrorists and bombings and massive flooding and perpetual political corruption aren’t things that warrant too much enthusiasm. Maybe there is something I missed in the news. But maybe not. Maybe I didn’t miss anything. Maybe she is just going. I don’t want to offend her by saying the wrong thing. So maybe… ah, um…”

By this time, a whole half of a second later, you are also frantically lining up the list of stories, justifications, explanations or defenses that you can lay down to ease their worries and calm their apprehensions. Because let’s be honest. That first “Look” doesn’t convey excitement, beg for a map of your route, ask for the link to your twitter feed or address to your blog. It doesn’t wonder about the amazing people you will meet or the incredible things you will see.

It’s not mystified by the great unknown nor does it care to see and explore it.

It’s not like you just told them you were going to spend a nice holiday road-tripping to California with your college roommate. No, you just told them you were going to Pakistan: (cue dramatic music and effects) “the world’s most frightening state” In that split second, behind their eyes, you can see them trying to figure out a way to empathize with your obvious, yet ever-restrained, excitement while also searching for an appropriate way to tell you to brush up on your international news and current events before springing something like that on them again.

And that is The Look. You become very familiar with it, yet never entirely comfortable in it’s presence. It tugs on that part of you that knows they are right. This is a crazy idea. And that much seems obvious to everyone except you. The wheels begin to turn. Slowly at first, then faster. “Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe they are older and wiser. Maybe not. Maybe they are just more in touch with reality…” And on and on and on. “The Look” reminds you that that somewhere you have left an unburnt bridge to that comfortable place inside of you that doesn’t ask hard questions or seek out new problems. It just worries itself into a gradual paralysis. It doesn’t explore, doesn’t act, never risks and always wakes up with it’s eyes still closed. It is the place that tells you everything is fine and there’s nothing that one person, especially you, can do to change it even if they wanted to. It is the part of you that protects what is already safe, requires little and demands nothing. It has been fueled for too long by jobs that are uninspiring, bosses and teachers that are discouraging and experiences that have been disappointing. On levels too numerous to count, “The Look”  tells you to hesitate, tells you to retreat, find a different route – an easier, more well-traveled route. It suggests a road trip out West and hears that the Pacific Coast is lovely this time of year.

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