Thank God for my wanderlust. It has made me aware, more than anything else, of the transient nature of this life, the underlying sameness of all things, and the fact that there’s simply always more of the world to explore, more of life to live, and so much to always be excited about. What a privilege to be alive.
I’ve been afraid of my travel bug though. I tried to cure it, by embarking on a graduate program with study abroad in five countries. Strangely enough, I’m not just ready to pack up and go home to the town I was born after this.
Possibly even stranger, though I do feel the slightest twinge, I don’t plan on getting into the Foreign Service or some other career where the road will be my home and I’d have none other as an adult.
I still feel the pricklings of wanderlust, enticing me to escape for a while and go teach English in Georgia or Thailand. I still might do that someday, if ever I need a break and I don’t know what’s next. Right now my heart is somewhere a little less exotic, and I’m doing my absolute best and hope with the grace of God to be back soon- Paris.
Sometimes I want things, like a cat or a boyfriend, that would be hard to have in perpetual journey mode. But we are all on a perpetual journey, and no one really knows where they’ll end up next, or just how your view of what you already have will change- call it the charm of life.
I think wanderlust is one of the expressions of feeling like you just don’t know where your place is in the world and don’t feel a strong enough sense of belonging to hold you there. And maybe some kind of reluctance to commit, a desire to stay young and free and see all you want to see. Maybe you just haven’t seen anything worth staying for.
I’m so grateful to my wanderlust because it gives me that pull when a situation just isn’t right. Instead of thinking of how miserable I secretly am, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it, I realize that the horizon is just so wide and the sky is so open. Like a cowboy, I can just ride on- the whole world is my frontier.
All that being said, travel is not about escape. It is about finding yourself, about discovery, adventure, the unpredictable, mystery, and the wonder of life itself. There’s nothing like a train ride, even if to a place a few towns over, to remind you of how big and small the world is, and that the journey continues.
Maybe someday if you are lucky, you find someone you want to escape with and not from. A travel companion, unlike many other kinds of friend, is someone you can stand to be with through good and bad. Through that time, they are your life partner. If you have had to travel alone, you realize how self reliant you can be but if you find a person you actually want to be with, it’s like striking gold, finding a part of yourself you never knew you had.
Travel is also, more than anything else, a reminder that life is really just one giant experiment. Some times when things go wrong, you end up just where you need to be anyway. And maybe it’s not such a big deal when your train is late or you can’t find that landmark you really wanted to see- maybe it’s all just part of life. And life, it is so good.
There are other stirrings of the heart too, like the crazy idea that you want a cat or a boyfriend, that you want to take piano lessons, join a gym, or get into yoga again. These things are not necessarily stopping you from traveling, but they can be countervailing influences. When you start decorating your apartment, it’s a sign you’ve come home, you’ve found home, and you are happy to be there.
It can feel exhausting and overwhelming, the penchant to be constantly searching for God knows what. You can feel like the cliche of an American trying to find themselves on the road, you can feel like the hobbits on the long journey to returning the addictive ring, you can feel like part of those huddled masses yearning to breathe free and not knowing what it will take to get you there. You can question the meaning of life, the purpose of travel-does it have one-, and the vanity of this silly world. You can wonder if you’ll ever find a true home, and if people will forget about you while you are gone. But you are always able to find that what is important and real-love- stays, while everything that’s not so important goes by the wayside.
I used to think I wanted a place where everybody knew my name and I could sit around with an insular group of friends and occassionally try to break up the routine by pulling some crazy stunt like in How I Met Your Mother, but I’m not sure that’s the person I am, or rather, not yet. I’ve always had a tendency to go my own way, and my friends are for real, and I don’t worry about them moving to Long Island as much as to the next stage of life. I might be getting there, and maybe those stages are the illusion after all. You can’t go backward in time, but you are certainly much freer than most people will allow you to believe at any given time in your life.
Sometimes I’ve felt like the road chose me, and other times I certainly chose the road.
Right now, there’s a place I really want to be. A city like many other cities, really. A bit arbitrary. I don’t really know what I want to do when I get there, except make enough money to meet my needs and to not be miserable. There’s some people I want to see, places I want to revisit, and things I want to explore from that homebase. I don’t think I want to stay there forever, but goodness, that is where I want to be now. Will it be all I’ve longed for? All, and less, and more. Buddhists say desire is such a bad thing, but this is such a sweet one, no matter how lost and confused I feel. In fact, it feels a lot like love. It’s a train worth hopping onto, and one that makes me very excited every morning when I wake up and try to plan my route a little. But it’s really in God’s hands that I get there, and that I’ll find myself safe and well. There’s not much more to ask for is there?
And not to forget, wherever we stay or go, we are really all on this road, together.
The Irish Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm about your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields,
Until we meet again, my friend.