I’m constantly nostalgic for places I just left. Even when the moments themselves were less shiny than my clinging brain has polished them to be, there is a sense of loss, a sigh of longing for a feeling I’ve cultivated and attached to a place and a time that isn’t this one. It’s funny, the way each moment seems to appreciate in value the longer it falls into the past, even when its true worth was to be reaped in the instant of its occurrence. But I glance behind me and there stretches the Chugach Mountains dotted with countless days spent among them and mango smoothies in Thailand and the steep roads winding around a mountain in Peru with one wheel of the van nearly off the cliff, our breaths caught in our sleep-deprived throats as we fight the urge to look, and my seat in the bus climbing up a winding mountain pass in Southern Spain suddenly seems familiar.
The afternoons that dragged on, the points of frustration and pain and discomfort that then seemed suffocating now look… not inviting, but necessary, cushioned with a kind of motherly fondness now that they’re past and polished. Because in those moments in South America or Shishmaref I was certain that learning wasn’t really happening, or at least at great cost of near-misery in that minute. But steadily, inevitably, irreversibly, my frame of reference reached and continues to grow, letting in these new experiences in an ever-expanding web of realizing that maybe instead of the center I’m just another speck of silk extending my toes and fingers to form one side of one hexagon in an infinite connected expanse.
It’s okay not to always enjoy. Away from home and set on “a good time,” we can feel that real life is on hold and that vacation-burden dictating that every breath be an ahhhh of pleasure may instead leave pockets of guilt because we must also inhale. Gratitude can be constant and present even in the pinpricks of missing the train or heaviness of realizing that this is all that real life has to offer and we might as well nestle in.
We travel to expand our worlds and build our compassion and also to love our homes, to know where we come from and who we care for and to feel, deeply and in a place we previously couldn’t access, the ache of not belonging and the ease of when we did. We watch as each little thread of experience that arrives without our directional needle-eye but allows us to believe ourselves the guide align themselves in a pattern that does indeed resemble the skin we woke up in today. Somehow, even when they were unbearable, we look with our crusty, morning eyes at threads already irrevocably woven and smile sleepily, because we know everything was going to happen anyways whether we pretended we were in control or not.Today I ran along the Seine and yesterday, all of a sudden I was under the Eiffel Tower and before that I finally figured out how to use the WiFi in Spanish airports and between those two I found myself at the center of a capoeira circle in Lisbon, flinging my body around like a smiling fool because I had nothing to lose and something about the drumming and chanting words I didn’t know felt nourishing and for a second I was overwhelmed by gratitude to be in that body unabashedly and I knew that I was there because the whole world knew I’d be fine. My biggest breaths of wonder have been in the trees or the mountains, but near the river in Lisbon I nearly cried at three young men dancing in the street in their maroon crewnecks, reveling in the undeniable beauty and pure urbanity of it. Sometimes I just wonder what the hell I’m doing.
I just read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön (highly recommended to everyone) and am thoroughly on her Buddhist bandwagon. I’ve been working on practicing tonglen, the practice of, instead of avoiding pain at all costs, breathing in my own suffering and the identical suffering of everyone else in that second, and breathing out contentment and joy so that other people might experience some of that happiness. I try to remember it in the hard times and the light moments when everything seems to be going my way (they’re not all too common) because we can only exist in both. Yeah, I got spiritual in the last week.
I’m ready for my mom to come and take care of me (T-minus… 10 minutes? She should arrive any minute now) and I’m grateful for this time to grow, because that’s really my only choice. The more I learn and center and breathe, I find ways to peel open and expose my inner layers to their mirroring ones reflected in the rest of the world, and continually realize that there is always further to go but the only reality is now.