April 12, 2011

Maybe It's Me: Nowhere, Everywhere, and Self-Discovery, or, Being Left

When I started playing with the idea of travelling I was frequently advised against it by the majority of “adults” in my life. They warned of the irresponsibility of deserting my responsibilities and of the difficulty there would be in reimmersing myself in my own life once I returned from gallivanting around. They talked at me, advising that I reconsider such a frivolous notion. It’s okay o take a vacation somewhere, but to buy a one way ticket to another continent? To move to a foreign country that speaks a different language? That’s just not what people do.

Or is it?

There was an entirely different faction of grown-ups around me that encouraged the idea. These were the kind of people who valued independent thinking; who realized the harmful effects of just going through the motions and never truly experiencing all that life has to offer. Which, by the way, is a lot. “Do it now,” they counseled. “It gets harder to travel the older you get.”

I didn’t appreciate this sentiment until I was in fact older. It really does take a lot more energy and will-power than people realize to reject the opinions of others, the fear of failure, and abandon your car, job, home, relationships, creature comforts, routine – essentially your entire life – behind in search of yourself somewhere other than where you are now.

It’s an incredible feat to swim against the current.

And the older you get, the deeper your roots go; every day that goes by you settle just a little bit more into the life you’re living, which it makes it incredibly difficult to just get up and go.

This hit me as I watched my younger sister board a bus to nowhere, everywhere, and self-discovery. A sharp pang of wanderlust stabbed me in the heart as terrified and hopeful younger version of myself detached herself from the world she was accustomed to on her way to a experiencing an adventure only she’ll ever really know about (trust me: only so much can be said in words, most of what we go through as individuals is something “you really had to be there for.”)

Most of what I learned about life, love, and myself were through my travels; not by some class, a book, or second-hand information. Sun bathing nude on an island where I was the only one who spoke English, late night conversations about global policies in a house full of foreigners while living in the ghetto, writing away my days in a posh mansion on the countryside, flirting with lesbians in order to get free food, holding a “Free Hugs” sign while drunk on the highway way, and celebrating beloved holidays in a completely different culture are all things that as benign as they sound dramatically altered, educated, and endorsed the person I was and became.

I wouldn’t trade any of those moments for a college education, a bigger bankroll, or a life of normalcy.

It’s been a long time since I’ve jetsetted anywhere. I’m sad to admit that my feet have been firmly planted in one place for far too long. It’s usually me saying goodbye, not being said goodbye to. So, it was especially bittersweet to watch my younger sister climb the stairs of that bus and head off into the great unknown: not only I was jealous of her, I was overwhelmingly heartbroken to see her go. She was one of my best friends and to lose her for any length of time is not good for my soul.

I don’t like many people. I’d rather be alone. But the few people I do love, I love more than anything. So it’s especially hard when one of them leaves. I want to know that these few people I’ve invested in will always be close – to me, to my heart; and sure, one could say that they always will be as long as I keep their memory alive somehow, but when one does leave – by death or geography – it feels like a part of myself is being pulled taut, like a rubber band about to snap.

And it’s no good for a sensitive soul to be pulled in too many directions.

But I know it’s good for us to be able to reinvent and recharge ourselves. I don’t think it’s healthy for people to be stagnant, uninspired by the world, or uninvolved with their own lives. Running away isn’t always the answer; sometimes meeting new people or trying new things can do the trick. Other times, removing ourselves entirely from the cast of characters, scenes, and plots that embody our life’s stories is the better alternative. This allows us to either find what we never knew we needed and wanted in ourselves and in our lives elsewhere; or it helps us to appreciate and see what we never saw before in the life we left.

If we’re lucky, it does both.

But what happens when we can’t escape? When we can’t just uproot ourselves with a deep-breath of resolution and a heave-ho? When there are no new people to meet or the new things we try seem lackluster at best?

How do we survive the opinions of others; not only the fear, but the actual act of failure; the car payment; the job we don’t like; the home we’ve materialistically expanded into like it’s an offshoot of our own personalities; the relationships that constantly need maintenance and grooming; the things that we desperately rely on to put as at ease; the same old, same old familiar habits of our every day existence?

Although I can’t see it now, maybe it’s me but I’m sure there’s as much to be learned about life, love, and oneself from leaving everything and everyone you know as there is from being the one left.

But for now, I’m a lot more unsure about my known than about someone else’s unknown.