A letter written on the eve of leaving a settled life
These were the some of the last words I wrote as a truly sedentary person. It's fascinating how much has changed: I do get annoyed by preposterously long customs queues these days! I refuse to fly economy anymore, and I am struggling with the language barrier here in Brazil—after six years of continuous travel, connection is a luxury. But it's wonderful, as well, how much has not changed. I am still defined by that "unchecked willingness to feel." I still bleed poetry. And it still breaks my heart every day, in the loveliest way, how much of this world I will never see.
25 March 2014
I suppose there’s nothing left but to leap. I leave for China on the 16th of April. I watched a film recently that woke up the part of my heart that is bound to Guilin, and when I looked upon the image of the Li River Valley again, I remembered that I will die every day until I stand amidst that landscape. Do you know it? You should see that valley, B. It’s like a watercolor sonnet made of karst and cloud. I’ll be there for a month and then I’m heading for Kathmandu. After that, who knows?
You know, I love travel about as unconditionally as I’ve ever loved anything. I don’t just love the friendly faces and the exotic smells and the unusual architecture. I love preposterous security queues. I love steely, unsmiling customs officials. I love jet lag and turbulence and culture shock and language barriers and economy class flights that feel like they’ll never end. I love having no idea where I am and no idea how to get where I’m going and no idea what the date or the time is. That is how I know that I was meant for motion. I am every bit as smitten with its challenges as I am with its niceties.
But at the same time, I know that what I’m about to do will redefine the boundaries of challenge. I know that I will have to witness poverty more complete than I can rightly imagine. I have never been anywhere beyond the developed world on my own, and never without a very concrete itinerary, a predetermined schedule and a return date. My mind is unleashing an absolute uproar of protest, but my heart is resolved to go.
So, I found myself back on the same old battlefield, tangled in the fray between my head and my heart. But this time the directions are inscribed upon my spine. This time fear can’t fool me; this time the havoc feels like home. This is the challenge I was built for. And I am standing in the center of the chaos like a citadel of stillness in the storm, knowing I am right where I belong.
What is there to be afraid of, really? Being a woman, alone in the developing world? Que sera. Living far beyond the borders of my privileged little comfort zone? Bring it. Loneliness has never been my enemy and I have never been homesick for anyplace but elsewhere. If there’s anything I need to be careful with, it’s that unchecked willingness to feel that defines me. It’s the most wonderful thing I have and it’s my greatest weakness too. Whatever filters insulate most people from the unbridled gravity of love, whatever walls protect their hearts from those lawless hinterlands, I don’t have them. I never have. That’s what really scares me in the end, that I was born without barriers to rapture.
So what? Maybe I will come back with ten Nepalese orphans and a blind Ngoni shaman I couldn’t bear to leave behind! Maybe the weight of my own wonder will bring me to my knees. Maybe I will fall so far into the beauty and the cruelty and the poetry of this world that some part of me will never return. So be it.
Love and deep breaths,
Li River Valley, Yunnan, China
The directions inscribed upon my spine :)