A month into my travels, in Prague, I dreamt that a red fish leapt out of a hole in the ice, landed at my feet and offered itself to me as a meal. On my last night in Europe, I dreamt I was the fish, diving off of the ice back into the cold, blue sea. Something inside my psyche has come full circle.
Is it possible to tell you how transformational the past 3 1/2 months were? How can I explain to you the ways that my heart has been broken open and simultaneously filled with love and sadness for the world? Twelve countries, 35 cities and villages and countless friends made…moments of frustration, fear, shock, of deep love, adoration, awe, freedom, understanding, sadness, grief, bliss, exhaustion and even confusion. I lived through all of that; it was such a gift. But still, after so many months of living out of a backpack and my savings rapidly disappearing, it was time to come home.
It took nine hours to cross the Atlantic Ocean and fly from Belgium to Chicago. I sat in a cool gray chair, my back complaining about being folded into a 90 degree angle for so long, and I took a deep breath. Casually, I glanced around the airport, realizing I am no longer in Europe. People are speaking English and I can understand everything everyone is saying. The voices suddenly feel overwhelming, like a rising hum from a beehive right inside my ears. My eyes land on a series of flickering images moving across the television screen hanging from the ceiling. There are people running and screaming with looks of terror on their faces. Big letters beneath the image read “LAX Shooting”. Unbelievable.
The culture shock starts rolling in like a river of fog and suddenly I’m crying, feeling so uncertain about having returned to this country – this country that is so damaged; not damaged like the cities in Europe that were bombed to rubble during WWII, but damaged from the inside out, like a leaking heart. Why are we killing each other?
In addition to the shock I feel about the state of my home country, I feel the weight of the pressure I place on myself to succeed, to be more daring, to DO something with this life I’ve been given. I don’t know where that pressure was while I was traveling, but it must have gone on sabbatical because I didn’t notice how overbearing it was until I returned home.
This transition home has been difficult, as I knew it probably would be. I remember traveling when I was still in university and although it was tough to come home, I knew what I would be doing when I returned: studying. I had the safety net of school and the identity of being a student to fall back on. Now, I’m just Abby. I have dreams and goals, but more importantly, I have passion and a depth of understanding I didn’t have before I left for Europe. I have this excitement about all I’ve learned and seen and I don’t know where to channel it. Somehow, in the last few days, I’ve felt a bit frozen – hardened like a statue with one foot in Europe and one foot out, straddling the divide of two different paradigms. I keep feeling like I need to process, let the experiences integrate, but the need to keep moving is there as well. For so long now, I have been in “travel mode,” packing and unpacking, planning the next move, hopping on trains, hopping off, exploring, every day a new experience, every turn a mystery and every place full of the unknown. I existed only in the moment. This is what makes traveling so beautiful and what makes adjusting to past confines and even physical place, feel so strange, like trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole. My edges have changed shape and I don’t want to force anything to fit anywhere anymore. I just want to glide, flow, trust, move forward.
I think no matter who you are or how far you have traveled from home, the return has a certain alchemical quality to it, which can be both rejuvenating and relieving but also magnetically regressive, like you are a rubber band snapping back into place, bringing with it old habits and past mindsets that you long outgrew. As I move through this transition, I have promised myself to write…to write about the process and also the stories, the gems of wisdom handed to me through travel, the beautiful souls who I met along the journey and the contrast between cultures in Europe that I experienced firsthand.
I also made a list of actions I can take to maintain positive thoughts and keep myself afloat of the winter depression I feel lurking behind the rain clouds in Oregon. I have always found it helpful to brainstorm ways to stay healthy, especially when in the midst of a transition. When I am down, I refer to my list and am reminded that I can access joy and wellness in any moment! Some of my favorites from the list are:
#8 – Don’t look back! No regrets!
#10 – TRUST
#12 – Walk more, drive less!
#21 – Plan adventures in the U.S.
#24 – GET EXCITED FOR THE POSSIBILITIES!!!
I will leave you with a quote that gives me strength in moments of self doubt and a photo that a friend took of me in Krakow, Poland. I was so dang happy in that moment in time! It is beautiful to be reminded of it and to feel that same happiness bubble up in me in this moment too. I know I’ve said it before, but I am so incredibly grateful for all of the experiences and friends I made on my travels! I hope to carry that joy with me wherever I go and to take time to celebrate the achievement of a life dream, which has been this trip for me.
“You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link. This is but half the truth. You are also as strong as your strongest link. To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of the ocean by the frailty of its foam…that which seems most feeble and bewildered in you is the strongest and most determined.” -Khalil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’