Fingers crossed I can find a way to the Netherlands this year!! LOL
“How good it was to go back to being a child, feeling my blood flowing in my veins and my eyes shining, thrilling to the sight of the crowded platform, the smell of the oil and food, the squeal of brakes as a train came into the station, the shrill sounds of luggage vans and whistles.
To live is to experience things, not sit around and ponder the meaning of life. Obviously, not everyone needs to cross Asia or follow the road to Santiago. I knew an abbot in Austria who who rarely left his monastery in Melk, and yet he understood the world far better than many travelers I have met. I have a friend who experienced great spiritual revelations just from watching his children sleeping. When my wife starts work on a new painting, she enters a kind of trance and speaks to her guardian angel.
But I am a born pilgrim. Even when I’m feeling really lazy or I’m missing home, I need take only one step to be carried away by the excitement of the journey. In Yaroslavl station, making my way over to platform five, I realize that I will never reach my goal by staying in the same place all the time. I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads.”
passage from ALEPH, by: Paulo Coelho
A couple of weeks ago I walked into a Nashville Waffle House, sat down, and placed an order for blueberry waffles with a side of bacon. (I know, I know, but come on- it’s called vacation, people.)
“Where y’all from?” the waitress asked after only hearing a few words from each of us.
I was in Nashville to visit family with my younger brother Britt and his girlfriend Gracie. We were driving back to Virginia that morning, but we couldn’t leave without seeing Michelle, my mother’s long time childhood friend and someone who has become like an Aunt to the both of us over the years. We decided to meet for a long overdue breakfast.
We all sat in a corner booth and looked at each other silently for a moment until my brother finally spoke up in response to the waitress’ question.
“Well, we are from Virginia,” he said pointing to himself and Gracie, “she is from around here,” he said smiling at Michelle, “and this one…well, she’s homeless at the moment.”
We laughed, and I shrugged my shoulder’s, because I didn’t want to bore her with the details. But it hit me that this question was one I no longer knew how to answer. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere between moving to the city and leaving, New York became home. It used to be Richmond, then Blacksburg, New York, and now….?
A week from Friday, I will begin my 11 month stint in France. While I have ideas about what to expect, I am coming to terms with the fact that there is really no way to completely prepare for something like this. I think there comes a point where you can decide to let the anxiety of the unknown choke you, or you can choose to trust your instinct, accept your choices, and just jump right in.
“She’ll actually be moving to France within the next several weeks,” he continued.
“Well, that’s exiting,” she replied in a slow southern twang as she poured us a cup of coffee.
As I sat there in that Nashville Waffle House, it hit me that I wasn’t the same person I was a year ago, trying to decide whether to stay in a guaranteed job in a town I had outgrown, or to take a chance on a new adventure. The thing is, New York changed me, in ways only a place like New York can. It made me realize how much is out there, how tough it is to make your dreams a reality, but also how much tougher it is to live with the fact that you never tried.
I also think that while not having a permanent place to live can feel unsettling, home really isn’t a geographical location. It’s in, around, and within the people you love, the people who support you, inspire you, challenge you, and never fail to call you out on your shit. So for everyone and anyone who has ever been that for me, hugs and kisses. I’ll be sending you postcards. ❤
We cling to what we have, because we know that change is difficult. We have experienced that free-falling feeling in the pit of our stomaches before, and we avoid it, because it is uneasy and terrifying and it makes our palms sweat. It causes us to loose grip for a moment, and then it throws us into the drivers seat, with no map or wi-fi or GPS strapped to our dash board. Just our God-given sense of direction, the radio, and an open road. And I think that’s the hardest part of it all…trusting that we are capable of making the right decisions, and strong enough to actually follow through with them in the end.
“Travel is never a matter of money but of courage. I spent a large part of my youth traveling the world as a hippie, and what money did I have then? None. I barely had enough to pay for my fare, but I still consider those to have been the best years of my youth: eating badly, sleeping in train stations, unable to communicate because I didn’t know the language, being forced to depend on others just for somewhere to spend the night.
After weeks on the road, listening to a language you don’t understand, using a currency whose value you don’t comprehend, walking down streets you’ve never walked down before, you discover that your old ‘I’ along with everything you ever learned, is absolutely no use at all in the face of those new challenges, and you begin to realize that buried deep in your unconscious mind there is someone much more interesting and adventurous and more open to the world and to new experiences.”
Every day in July I took the commuter rail from Beacon, NY into Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan. From door to door, it took just under two hours, which gave me a lot of minutes to read, to people watch, to listen to music, to ponder, and to stare out the window and take the same instagram photo every other day. I couldn’t help it, though- the train took us right along the edge of the Hudson River. It felt like I was flying yet simultaneously floating along the water’s surface during both the early morning fog, as well as in the midst of the fading blue skyline during rush hour, as it prepared for sunset.
Last week I noticed something I hadn’t seen earlier in the month. One of the stops along the line is Harlem-125th Street. It’s the last one before Grand Central, so when you reach it, you know you have about 15 minutes to wake up, get your shit together and speed-walk-it to the subway.
The thing I noticed was a brick building. It caught my eye, with its letters written in shaded blue paint, as if chosen to match the infinite canvas behind it. NEW YORK COLLEGE OF PODIATRIC MEDICINE, it said. I smiled to myself, half awake and thrown into a vivid nostalgia about my first day in Manhattan.
It all started with Saturday, June 29th when Justin and I finished throwing everything we owned into a moving truck before driving to Charlottesville for my father’s wedding. We made it with 10 minutes to spare. Sunday, June 30th I said goodbye to my family and my ’94 Lincoln continental, and we drove the moving truck from Charlottesville, Virginia to Edison, New Jersey, with Franklin curled up on my lap in my favorite Virginia Tech sweatshirt. The next morning, July 1st, 2013, we woke up at 8:00 AM and drove across the bridge to the FDR, exited onto 96th street, merged onto York Avenue, and turned right when we reached 87th street. I remember looking at Justin in the driver’s seat, thinking how lucky I was to have him beside me, to know that no matter how terrified and overwhelmed we both were, we had each other. I squeezed his hand and we both shrugged, in love, and simultaneously thinking here goes nothing.
“You aren’t going to unload here are you?” she said abruptly.
“Umm..oh no, just trying to wait for a spot to open up for our apartment at 415 up there.”
I smiled and waited for an ‘oh, great, welcome to the neighborhood!’
“Ok. Good. Yea, you are really close to my car.”
“…yea,” was the only thing I could come up with. “Yea, we are just waiting.”
She walked away without a “bye” or “have a good one!” or a “take care,” and I sat in the passenger’s seat asking myself how the hell I’d ever fit in here. She wasn’t even rude, just apathetic, and I knew I’d have a lot to get used to. I’d also have to grow a pair. I wasn’t in the sweet, slow, and biscuit-filled backdrop of southwest Virginia anymore. I was in motherfucking New.York.City. It was time to grow up.
We unpacked the truck with Justin’s mother and brother, who met us there from Massachusetts. As soon as we unloaded the first box, we felt the droplets. We moved in at 10:00 AM in a hot morning rain, up three flights of stairs into a 350 square foot apartment with no central AC, and filled with stale, leftover air from the previous tenant. Home sweet home.
By noon, we had unloaded and Justin and his brother left to return the truck. By 2:00 PM I had to be in Harlem, at The New York College of Podiatric Medicine, for my first interview in New York. I showered, trying my best to avoid puddles since there wasn’t a shower curtain. I scavenged through boxes to find my suitcase and pull out a suit jacket and a pair of slacks. I shook them out, hoping to get rid of the wrinkles, got dressed, felt as sweaty as I had when I first entered the apartment, and caught a cab to 125th street.
I waited for days, hoping to get a call. It never came, so I called them. I asked about their timeline, or if they had already found someone for the position. They took a message and never called me back. I was disappointed, but forced myself to forget about them, and kept at it. Justin returned home from work every day in his business casual, talking of complimentary $40 lunches at the steak house by 30 Rock, meet and greets with Marky-Mark and Seth Meyers. I welcomed him home in my sweatpants, on the couch with a bowl of ramen and episode 118739 of Breaking Bad playing from Netflix. Sure, unemployment has its perks, but you can’t really live that way forever. I was starting to panic, and wondered who in their right mind would move to New York City with no form of income. What was I doing here?
I had applications everywhere, from Higher-Ed jobs, to door to door sales, to Starbucks. I got the call from Pace in late July after three weeks of suppressed panic. I had an interview and then another, and by the grace of God, I landed the position. I spent the fall figuring out the logistics of loading up a rental vehicle with road pieces in downtown Manhattan, how to get to beat the New Jersey traffic, and how to ‘commit’ when merging onto a turn lane on the FDR. I met with parents, students, worked events, answered emails. People came and went, and I spent hours wondering, daydreaming, and trying to devise my own 5 year-plan, just as we had asked of so many interviewees. The months passed quicker than I had imagined, and co-workers who started off as strangers turned into the people I could relate to about being poor, confused and in-need of a drink [ok, most definitely more than one] after working an event or just after a normal Friday spent reading applications until we went completely cross-eyed. These are the people I couldn’t have survived New York without- They are people who were always there to laugh, bitch, and cry with about everything.
I went to work Friday morning for the last time as an Admissions Counselor for Pace University’s downtown Manhattan campus. When I walked inside, I thought about my train ride into Beacon. I remembered that brick building plastered with big blue letters, and my first interview in the city. I sat down in my cube at my desk, and couldn’t help but think about how lucky it was that they never called me back. Because the truth is, I couldn’t have imagined spending the past year with any other school, in any other job, with any other co-workers.
Things don’t always work out how you imagine them to- and sometimes they surprise you, and turn out to be greater than you ever expected.
My advice? Move somewhere new, make mistakes, fuck-up, spend all your money, get back on the proverbial horse, and when you realize you have something great in front of you- appreciate it. Also, life is short, so you can never eat too many bagel sandwiches or donuts- just saying.
“It’s too heavy,” he said in a swift and dismissive tone, “50 pound limit.”
He turned away from me and motioned for the next person in the line to step forward.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” I asked, abrupt and unapologetic, as he tossed someone else’s carry-on into the storage compartment under the Mega Bus parked on 33rd st. between 11th and 12th Ave.
“Take some stuff out of it,” he replied without making eye contact, assuming I’d give up and find another ride to Virginia.
I laid my suitcase out flat on the concrete and unzipped its bulging sides. I stared at the mess of sweatpants, work clothes, socks, shoes, t-shirts and started to debate whether it was better to scatter my extra underwear on the sidewalk, or figure out another way to make it home to Richmond. (and I always thought you could never pack too many pairs…)
After I spent a long minute in retrospection and panic, he glanced down at me, annoyed at my commitment to getting on the bus, waived his hand and hurried me along.
“Great, thanks, I appreciate it.” I forced a polite smile. “I’m moving out of the city today- That’s why I have so much stuff.”
He didn’t give a shit.
But to be honest, I didn’t either, at that point. It was going to be a long ride, and I just wanted to get it underway.
I entered the top level of the bus and found a seat next to a young Asian male. He smiled kindly at me when I asked if the seat was free. “Yes, you can sit….are you a…traveler?” He said, as if searching for the right words.
“Me? Well, yes, I mean I live here…or used to, I guess. I’m moving out of the city today. What about you?”
“I am traveling to US- New York, Boston, San Francisco, and DC tonight.”
“Oh, I see, that’s great- where are you from?”
“South Korea,” he replied and looked up at me, “you know it?”
“Yea, of course,” I said and nodded, “I mean I have never been there, but yea…”
We both smiled awkwardly like you do when making conversation with a complete stranger in close quarters on public transportation. He asked me where I was from, where I was moving to, and offered me a piece of his s’mores flavored packaged baked good.
“Oh, thank you, but no, I’m fine. And yea, I’m heading home to Virginia now, but I’m moving to France in a month.”
“No, actually a small town about an hour west of Geneva- Annecy, France.”
He nodded eagerly and told me he knew it. I asked him how long he would be traveling in the US, and what prompted it. I found out he was a student, that he’d be out on the road for several weeks in total, and I didn’t need to ask why he was doing it- I could see it in his face, in every expression, in the tone of his voice….he was full of desire to see the world, to experience and grow and challenge himself in a way he never had before. And there he was, right in the middle of his experience, struggling to find the right words, to decipher a language he understood, but hadn’t yet mastered, in a world he had never experienced before. He is me in a month, I thought.
We rode in silence for the rest of the trip, with headphones in and thoughts stirring. I fell in and out of sleep and watched the buildings outside the window evolve from concrete to highway to trees, and back to city, as we pulled into Union Station in Washington D.C. where I’d transfer to a bus for Richmond.
“Well, I hope you have a great rest of your trip,” I said as I gathered my bags and camera case.
“You too,” he said, as he nodded and collected his banana peel, s’mores wrapper, and backpack.
We walked off the bus at the same time, and headed in two different directions, at 7 PM on a rainy Friday in the beginning of August.