“When in the end, the day came on which I was going away, I learned the strange learning that things can happen which we ourselves cannot possibly imagine, either beforehand, or at the time when they are taking place, or afterwards when we look back on them.”
― Karen Blixen,
Two week countdown begins….
The start to this year wasn’t so great (understatement). I fell down, metaphorically and actually (hello pavement, this is my face) but I am on the move headed for some island breezes. Escaping the brown winter. A broken nose (you can barely tell now), the stomach flu, life troubles be damned. Traveling is a funny thing. I have done some master class grown up things since the dawn of the new year. Been sensible at my day job, cleaned out some emotional habits that did none of us any favors. My feet have been in my cow town but my mind has been climbing mountains. Looking forward to toasting what’s to come this weekend. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. And an airplane ride doesn’t hurt the process either. Thank you readers and good friends. Here’s to 2016. Just a few months late.
“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise, we harden.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Even if I didn’t write about them, I did have some lovely adventures and I love a sunset all over the world. Here’s 2015’s collection.
California for some calm and a birthday, Mexico for some chalupas and time with my cub, Michigan for a coney hot dog and some love, Cape Cod as a constant, rounding out the year with cafes in France, Costa Rican coffee and life in my cow town too.
Happy happy new year to all my loves.
Many moons ago, my mother told my father that if he was going to Europe to work for three months, well, then, despite being over forty and a new mother to two small girls, she was going as well. And so, the die for my life was cast. At 18 months old, I boarded a plane bound for Florence, Italy with my mother, her heart for adventure beating so strongly. Know she’s never ever going to be the one left behind.
An endlessly curious observer of the world, her bravery has opened so many doors for my sister and for me. She left home for college when her father wanted her to just get married to nice boy, she got a job when she was not supposed to, she dated a wild artist (everyone knows this, it’s part of her tale), and when it looked she was never going to get married, she found her soul mate in a man who lived his own adventures, with a brain that would never tire her and who made her laugh.
Love is funny, so many kinds. My parents had an unlikely love story. They loved others who brought them both to their knees and then they found in each other the kind of love that is the foundation of everything, solid, unquestioned and constant. It’s taken me years of my own loves to understand what I lived with as a child. It’s taken me even more years to understand how there’s a part of me that was forged with an iron clad certainty, so completely loved and honored, that I never accounted for it. My parents loved us so clearly, without conditions, I never even noticed what an amazing start I had been given to this crazy life of mine.
There’s lots to say about what makes a mother great. They bring us into this world (with some help, not down on dads – my father was an incredible man) and they pick us up when we fall, they celebrate our wins, hold us tight, fill us with wisdom and then let us fly free from the nest. From what I can tell, there’s no right way to do it, lots of ways to do it wrong, but most of the time, the amazing mamas of this life, well, you ladies, you get it done and we take that magic and we make our own.
I don’t have children. I chose that path for a million reasons and none. Living a life of no regrets isn’t easy and the lack of a child might have been the one that I would have struggled with the most. The good bad news is that if I had spent my last decades consumed with what wasn’t happening, rather than being present for what was, well, there’d be lots of tears today. I hope I have triumphed over my own struggles to reclaim my past, my present and yes, my future. I live today in the present, celebrating the many small people that are part of my life and getting from them the promise of tomorrow. It’s not your garden variety motherhood but it’s pretty awesome and hopeful and so I’ll take it. My own sister’s journey to being a mother is pretty remarkable and her cub, well, he’s pretty much the best thing that ever happened to us. I can share a bit of that blanket of goodness and well, it’s enough for now. Never say never though. I am at least wise enough to understand my path is always surprising me.
On this Mother’s day in the USA, I honor the woman who is a sailing, kayaking, martini (gin never vodka) drinking, wisdom giving woman, who took me out my first door and so many more, who has given me the keys to unlock the world.
Love to my mama, on this hallmark card of a holiday, because even when I am rotten (and I still can be, so rotten), every day is actually mother’s day over here.
Saw many a t-shirt throughout my time in Nepal: a little up, a little down, little seems an understatement considering men and a few very intrepid women have trekked to the top of this mystical magical Himalaya mountain time and time again to seek the top – something like 4,000 success stories, hundreds & hundreds of tragedies.
While in Kathmandu, I was able to hear Maya Sherpa (she is a female sherpa to summit Everest and a number of other peaks & this past spring the 1st Nepalese Women K2 Expedition 2014: Women Climb for Climate Change). Climbing is in her blood, spiritually, emotionally and undeniably part of her culture and as a woman, she spoke of always wanting to climb, being driven from childhood to seek the top of the world despite being born a girl. Her story is one of someone who never accepted the limitations of her gender and persevered.
Climbing today with oxygen canisters and “ice fall” doctors setting up ladders and safety line may be much easier than the expeditions of Sir Edmund Hillary and others, but the word easy is a crazy kind of understatement.
How did I summit Everest? Well, of course, I didn’t and very likely, I won’t ever get closer but endless respect in baffled awe those that do, did and will someday. All I did was take the touristy Everest flight on Yeti Airlines when in Kathmandu which was odd, quirkily funny, earnest and satisfied my needs, albeit at a safe and oxygen filled distance.
Looking at the snowy peaks from an airplane, Everest or Sagarmatha / Chomolungma is tucked behind the others a bit, the iconic peak slightly harder to see but then you do and from the Nepal side, the mountain looks forbidding, terribly cold and GIANT, the triangle top above all the others. There you are, I thought – the mountain, challenged and claimed so many lives.
Of course, we all have our own Everests. That time, that thing, that dream we cannot give up, that drives us up and up again, that suffocates us with lack of “oxygen”, that we pursue despite every single thing in our lives telling us to give up the dream, stay home, take the easier choice, hide, choose the smaller dream because the big one just might do us in, but we climb anyway, we cannot stop and all of us, united in dreaming and yearning, striving, may we be blessed with good conditions, clear skies and hopefully we all summit the peaks – a little down, a little up – now I get it.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ~ Terry Pratchett
Packing list for Nepal: trekking poles, some courage & a wide open mind.
Lots of build up this time, but I know, I am setting myself up to deliver while overseas – however fleeting my wifi is in Nepal. It’s been a while since I’ve made myself write something every day and I am trying to be disciplined about this space I created, so my dear three readers, who are probably related to me by blood (just kidding, but hello my cousins), please stay with me. Time just seems to have sped up and it’s yet it’s been too long this year since I have been away, far far away, I feel out of practice at it.
I long for that burning rubber smell that tells me I couldn’t possibly be in America, I long for jet fuel wind of airports and the race down the runway, landing on dark tarmacs in the dead of night, rides through cities I don’t know, the honking, honking, honking, buzzing, honking of chaotic streets. I long for entire days listening to another language, for places I cannot possibly make sense of in a few weeks – maybe ever. Dust, dirt, grim, ugliness – beautiful terrible places that make me feel uncomfortable and make my eye snap open. I may even long for deadly water and stomach turning street food I should not, under any circumstances eat, but maybe always manage to anyway. I’m a rebel.
All of it. Eight days… almost seven really.
“This is your captain speaking”
The most dreaded words in air travel without a doubt. Nothing like being 30,000 feet in the air, meal service under way and learning the plane is turning around, back to the land you just left, no local currency in my pocket, no mobile phone and yes, the yearning deep need to return home. Just happened to me on my way back from Argentina and Chile last month.
The airport in Buenos Aires was too hot, three machines were working to check hundreds of people in, the border control line was miles long and I was tired, thirsty and ready to get back to my life. One of those nights… the plane took off an hour late and then the captain came on to say, oops, we’re turning back, the great albatross of the Boeing 777 had some fuel line issues and rather than landing somewhere else, we needed to go back and decide what to do. I enjoyed the use of the word we by our captain. Giving us all hope we’d somehow be able to be part of the decision.
And so back we went and back we sat for four hours on the runway, checked out of the country, facing days of sold out flights. Thankfully, there is a happy ending but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Have logged countless hours on airplanes by myself returning home from school, adventures, family stuff, you name it. Lots of waiting, too much thinking, trying to sleep in uncomfortable positions, always over scented by expensive duty free perfume, my mind shuffling through the last decades of my life (yes, DECADES). The walkman, then the discman, and now the iPod providing a moving soundtrack to my thoughts – my inner teen always seems to be running the show in these moments.
My mystic crystal friends would tell me it’s the unsettled energy of being in the air, adrift and ungrounded I am certain (and you that know me well, like a lot of crunch in my granola if you catch my drift). Amazing vistas, delicious food and all that being away brings me has to be followed by some sort of reckoning, right? %#$ is usually my lazy mind’s response…. can’t I just think about glaciers and empanadas?
Nope, instead, I begin to write furiously…. lists and more lists. Things I have to do when I arrive at my destination, people I need to visit, call, email that I have overlooked/neglected, bills I need to pay, places I need to visit. Have scraps and scribbles of bucket lists and plans I find all the time. From telling X that my feelings are more than friendship, to going through my closet, all of it gets reordered, re-packed away in that emotional luggage we all carry around.
Life decisions are made, relationships begun/ended, plans laid, all before the flight attendants tell me to put my seat back up for landing. I am an emotional gal (please see the mystic crystal paragraph above) and what does deep soul searching and poking about in my emotional file cabinet do… you got it – I always get embarrassingly weepy – nothing like a public cry. Usually, side benefit, I scare my anonymous seat mates into not wanting to speak to me for the rest of the flight. Note to self… always get a window seat.
My top five teary plane moments:
1. Right after my father died, I watched Whale Rider (http://www.whaleriderthemovie.co.nz/). I sobbed, a snotty nose, dripping, gasping sob – the ugliest, most embarrassing public cry on record. I am not Maori, I am not a whale rider but I was a woman who was missing her father terribly and that movie uncorked all of it. No one was watching me except my friend who could have but was blissfully asleep. The credits rolled and so did a montage of Dad, my family, advice he’d given me that I was too proud, too young to accept or realize.
2. I was headed back from Tanzania the first time and my heart/mind/soul was just too overwhelmed by all that I had seen that I just broke down. In most of the first world, many of us have so much, so so much, too much perhaps – safe water, education opportunities, good health and when not, good doctors/hospitals, but mostly, the chance to change our destiny through hard work, loans, luck… we may not feel like the USA is doing well economically but on whose scale? As much as travel can broaden my mind, it also makes me uncomfortable but like the tears, deep thoughts and all of it, well, I’ll take it. And don’t get me started on all the big cats, vast savanna of the Serengeti, zebras and all the natural world… it should be the first on the list for the two pronged attack on my psyche but Dad takes it.
3. Just to lighten the mood here…. this memory is crying from laughing so hard. My parents were wacky bohemians – there’s no better way to put it – my mother was a refugee from her staid childhood in the wealthy northern Chicago suburbs and my father an actual refugee from Cuba. See my 1st post here ever beginning at the beginning for how our family vacations usually went down. This time we were in the Atlanta airport and my bold and sassy mama’s skirt hook broke and there she was walking down a very very crowded terminal in her slip. My sister and I took off at a run and in the background, we could hear her yelling our names and glances back, there she was still clutching her skirt. Not sure why we ran, we must have been too young to realize that no one would know this crazy woman belonged to us if we just pretended she didn’t. Reunited at the gate, my family boarded the next plane, laughing so hard we were crying. It’s not really that funny unless you have met my mother and understand she has a voice that can be heard in space when she wants to but that day, overtired and headed home from a trip to the Cuban relatives, well, we cried the best kind of tears together.
4. The study abroad cries – am cheating because this is really two times. I was lucky when I was just eighteen to be able to move to London for a school year for my first year of college. Apparently, my parents, who had traveled by themselves in their late teens/early twenties, felt I was up to the responsibility of being overseas for months – I really wasn’t so sure about that. Nonetheless, I remember being terrified and thrilled all at the same time. I left that August and two minutes into the first flight, the reality hit me and the tears busted loose. My very best friend had come to the airport too – headed off for her own adventure in the South Pacific later that month and we wouldn’t see each other for a long long time – endless hours on the phone would have to be replaced by onion skin paper letters – boy trouble would become possible telenovela scripts. And yes, the snuffling whalerider cry (see #1) …. it was on like Donkey Kong. This story has a happy ending…. a reprieve at Christmas, I got to come home for a few weeks and if we flash forward to that newly christened Londoner’s flight back, I cried because I wasn’t the little girl who left. I cried then because I knew I was going back to a world where I was going to not quite fit into. I cried because maybe just maybe part of me knew forever more, I would be stricken with incredible and joyful wanderlust (I doubt this last part but I like to give that emo 18 year old some credit).
5. The grateful cry…. of course this post has to have a circular theme so this is my this is your captain speaking cry of just a month ago. When the plane finally did re-take off (headed for Puerto Rico, then JFK – a miracle solution to a bum fuel line – we’d just do the long haul in medium hauls instead), I cried the tears of a traveler who is overtired but who’s caught a bit of luck. A similar cry to my Tanzania moment but I am older now, I’ve been even more places and I am a different sort of grateful. I choose this moment as the last on my list because in so many ways, it’s the accumulation of all the others. I am a woman now – not a young twenty something who has lost her father (I personally hate this expression – I do know where he is & what happened… he’s not actually lost but never mind, using it), not the wide eyed young tourist who is evolving into a traveler (a post for another day, the difference between a tourist & a traveler), not the teenager who is having her first moments of adulthood in a foreign land, not the young girl who is learning not to take embarrassment so seriously & remembering to laugh with her family (I have elevated this to a fine art). I am all of those teary people and more. I think age can make you grateful for the small things – the $10 bill you find in your pocket, the many online and real life friends that populate my life, my sweet dear family who have been here for the whole ride, and yes, the realization that I didn’t have to get off that plane until I was back on my own soil, didn’t have find my bag, didn’t have to find a place to sleep, didn’t have to fight lines and more lines to get myself home the next day. I cried that night just a month ago because I am blessed, I am lucky and yes, I am grateful for the people, the lands, the sights, the experiences I have had and will have more of in this world.