What Is This Life? (WiTL)
Early this week I returned from 25 days of traveling abroad. The first part of our journey was spent exploring the landscapes and western coastline of Turkey, steeping ourselves in ancient history. Italy was next. Naples and the Amalfi Coast, soon followed by Venice, Florence, and Rome. It was an ambitious adventure to say the least.
There is vacation. And there is travel. Travel is voyage driven by curious zeal, a soulular reach for adventure its whimsy lies outside of the tangibilities of reason. As opposed to vacation, travel's medicine lies not in the destination but in the journey itself. Everyday norms are challenged. Ways of being collide with cultural divides. Plans are thwarted, and ever-changing itineraries loom large. Travel is a rite of passage where outcome is uncertain yet wholeheartedly embraced as somehow essential to who we are becoming. Travel is a voyage outside of expected comforts, into the unexpected self.
And let's be REAL... travel is a privilege. The majority of people in the world (many of whom I know) simply can't afford to travel. Vacations can be carved in and around weekends and holidays... but travel requires an elasticity of time, money, and physical stamina. The fact that my partner and I are childless, able-bodied, and blessed enough to have been able to voyage in this way... this is a gift that I am doing my best to shamelessly receive. Gratitude has been my constant companion, every step of the way. And yet, it's also worth noting that travel is a largely romanticized notion, reveled in by outside observers... idealized through glossy photos and carefully-crafted captions. Facebook albums represent only picturesque moments captured for digital display, never doing justice to the journey.
My favorite images show you only rainbows... while travel is a mighty storm to be braved. Full-spectrum beauty is reserved for those willing to pass through the thunderous elements along the way. Said another way: 16 cities visited. 14 hotel check-ins. 8 flights. 6 train rides. Roughly a dozen bus rides + a rental car driven on the treacherous streets of the Amalfi Coast (thankfully Chris is a road-savvy New Yorker). Add to that countless hours walked, missed trains/bus stops, and language barriers to boot.
Travel well and stress & splendor will collide. Growth is delivered through dichotomy. Irresistible moments: such as the silence of a pastel sunrise over the canals of Venice, the otherworldly beauty of Pammukkale's breathtaking white landscapes, or a Turkish New Year's Eve celebration (it's unrivaled... much like the marinara sauce at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it). Travel serves up each gift with a slice of humble pie, challenging and refining our sense of what is rightful and norm. Try getting a taxi driver in Istanbul to drive you less than two kilometers; it's a virtual impossibility (so what if you have luggage, not their problem). Feel helplessness and heartbreak as you watch a stray dog and two whiny eight-week old puppies cry and itch their skin raw while Pergamon locals stroll by with casual indifference. Spend your first couple of hours abroad hurling in the perfume-laden airport water closet (aka: bathroom) due to a bumpy 10 hour flight and some bad cheese (let's just say Paris wasn't my favorite stop... city of love and lights my ass. Again, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it).
Bitter blends with sweetness to make the flavor real and right.
Was our voyage always an easy one? Hell to the no.
Was it worth it? Most emphatically, YES.
Early on in the trip, a personal mantra emerged:
What is this life?!... this, the unanswerable question that best encapsulated the beautiful ugly totality of my experience. Four words that unexpectedly spilled from my lips as I took in a sunset along Positano's majestic cliffside; she left me gasping and gaping at her beauty. And again I uttered them (this time I added a couple more syllables for good measure... WTF..iTL?!!) as we stood stranded on an unmarked road in Rome. Exhausted, lost, and angry we walked two miles with all our baggage in tow.
Four words that captured both awe-inspiring gratitude and perpetual befuddlement... thus offering me a way to maintain good humor and conjure the humility and grace required to accept all the unexpected gifts being thrown my way. WiTL? These four words, like the bells at Campanile di Giotto in Florence still ring in my ears... reminding me to be thankful and to fully inhabit the full spectrum of my experience. There and then. Here and now.
I am beyond fortunate to have been blessed by such an adventure... rest assured, that is not lost on me. And yet I must admit that the absolute greatest gift has been found in the return home. Mundane comforts are now miraculous gifts waiting to be opened.
Sharing with you is one of them.
Thanks for reading. xo