Do you remember when you learned to tie your shoes? Ride a bike? Blow a bubble? Whistle?
I can answer a definitive yes to all of the above questions (or at least most of them), because as a kid we're learning something new constantly, relentlessly, and we're proud of that fact, if not boastful. Look what I can do and look what I did and watch me do a wheelie. Aren't you impressed? Aren't you envious? Aren't you freakin' jealous?
And our brother/sister/mother/grandmother/therapist will nod and smile and say "That's nice, dear", in the same way that the lady resonds to her son while visting Niagara Falls in Superman II, where the kid is proud of the fact that he's holding-and-letting-go of the rails directly over the Falls, which leads to him falling, which leads to Superman soaring down below the mist and catching him, which leads to the brilliant, almost muted throwaway line from the crowd of cheering onlookers that is so strange and out-of-place that it works, barely heard beneath the soaring music: "Of course he's Jewish."
We graduate elementary school and junior high school and get our driver's license and finish high school and graduate college or university and get our first job and then...
That's what struck me the most after graduating university: life. There was no more ladder to look forward to. Before, there'd always been another September to begin the whole process of achievement and accomplishment again. Upon leaving the world of higher education, there was only, well, tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Followed by that magnificent experience known as Wednesday.
The best, most concrete thing I've taken from living abroad is the satisfaction gained from acheiving and accomplishing simple things. Living abroad, you become a kid again. You feel good when you make it out of the airport in one piece. When you figure out how to use the Japanese train system, how to purchase a ticket, how to read and understand the Tokyo subway map, you feel like Magellan discovering, um, what ever Magellan discovered. (I skipped History class that day. And okay, yes, you got me, I still haven't quite figured out the Tokyo subway map, but have you ever seen that motherfu--er? It looks, I swear, like some berserk-Picasso model of DNA that exploded in a thousand random routes.) And after spending a week in Phnom Penh, you feel like you've graduated into the I-can-do-anything-and-go-anywhere club. After spending two years here, you've graduated into lunacy. You resort to crack or crystal meth, or writing a blog.
So, be aware. (And beware.) Be aware of the things you learn. Be thankful of them. Be conscious of the unknown methods and manners of life that slowly, almost insidiously become habit, then second nature. Second nature is nothing more than 'I don't get this's evolution into 'It's not really that difficult'.
And second nature should always be suspect, as it can lead to contentment, and lethargy, and reflex. Not necessarily evil in and of themselves, no, but it's good to be a beginner and an amateur, and better to stay that way. It means there's always another September to begin all over again.