The things we can take with us

For my aunt

I hope this blog is a testament to the amazingness of the adventure Roman and I are on, for which I am so grateful, but the fact of the matter is that this whole long-term travel thing is also really hard for me a lot of the time.

By nature I am greedy and often encompass, or burningly desire to encompass, both sides of many coins. In this case I am a marshmallow homebody who thirsts deeply for adventure and freedom and new horizons, or a grand adventurer whose heart yearns for the comforts of home and whose soul benefits from a peaceful, orderly life.

Going into the trip I was aware that we were going to have to give some things up and that this might not be easy but would probably be worthwhile. Things that provided structure, foundation, comfort, identity.

We are homeless, my belongings are stored with generous relatives on two different continents and I have no idea where my next home will be. I left the industry I’d spent the last eight years of my life pouring energy and myself into, assuming that I will now seek a new direction but having not the slightest inkling what that new direction might be.

In each new location we arrive at, I find myself seeking answers and directions in my surroundings for everything from how I should adjust myself to fit in to breadcrumbs of wisdom or guidance that might lead me to a path I can recognize, something to get me from the past to the future in my life with some sense that I am heading in the right direction. I would seek external things to help build the feeling of identity I was craving. “Maybe if I get rid of THIS thing I am carrying and buy THAT new piece of clothing I will find my story. Maybe something in THIS culture will help me make sense of myself. Maybe if I can figure out THIS new trick to getting Zen about travel, I will feel at peace.” And so on and so forth…

I find the borders of the self grow fluid and my inner landscape morphing in reflection of my external environment so often. Sometimes the constant shifts get to be too much and I feel like I don’t even recognize my own life or myself any more.

And there are the normal travel challenges too – grungy hotels, unhealthy food, uncomfortable hours of travel, cultural differences and adjustments, etc. And especially the challenge of feeling so far away from all my family and friends so much of the time.

These challenges do not in any way negate the wonderful things we have done and seen on the trip; the internal “process” can and does happen even as we are visiting amazing temples, enjoying new food, etc. Recognizing this has been helpful and I have been doing a lot of work to find ways to be healthier and feel more grounded as we travel. Finding more compassion for myself has been key.

The whole reason for this post though, is one other part of the puzzle that has helped immensely and for which I am so grateful.

Back in May I traveled to the States for three weeks. India had been absolutely incredible but also incredibly tough for me as I believe I was overwhelmed – I was struggling with identity issues described above and other things as well but was in too deep to recognize anything other than the fact that I felt awful a lot of the time, while adjusting to the fact that we’d just done this crazy thing of giving up our old lives for these massive unknowns. I was able to make some progress in Thailand and Myanmar, getting some mental perspective even as I remained emotionally overwhelmed and oftentimes numb.

I arrived home emotionally exhausted and terrified that in my detached state I would not be able to connect to or feel anything for my nephew, who I was going to meet for the first time.

What occurred when I got home though, was the miraculous grace of friends and family. Connecting with people who know and love me, who I know and love, transformed me over night. I felt grounded and relaxed in a way that I hadn’t in months. I felt like myself again. The time with my friends and especially my family were nurturing and sustaining beyond what I could have expected or hoped for. And of course I fell totally in love with my nephew. I found myself returning to Asia with a sense of comfort. The connection I felt with the people I love came with me as I boarded that plane in New York.

Some of the glow has faded over the months as I let myself get pulled into fears and doubts and other distractions, but I find that when I stop myself and place the people I love in my heart, take a moment to remember that those relationships are real or, even more miraculously, actually act and reach out to people and ask for support, I am comforted by something so much more substantial than anything my spinning intellect may try to concoct.

My aunt Gertrud passed away earlier this week. She was sick already as we were leaving and although we didn’t know at the time that it was definitely terminal, the prognosis was not good even then. An avid traveler during her life, she was the most staunch supporter of our decision to undertake this endeavor of a world trip. Sharing with her the amazing places we have been has been a large part of my motivation for keeping this on-line journal and she has been on my mind so often as we’ve been exploring some place new and incredible.

My mother was able to visit her in her last week of life. She shared with me that the thing Gertrud was sad about as she faced death was leaving behind the people she loved. But she took comfort in the hope that she might be reunited with other loved ones who have already passed.

This trip has challenged me as I have tried to build myself up, comfort myself, find myself with places, adventures, things. I’ve shifted the items of my luggage – clothing, jewelry, souvenirs – so many times, carried so many expectations and assumptions that were regularly and inevitably shattered, built up endless plans and schemes that I just ended up taking apart again in my quest to find myself, figure everything out and create “home on the road”. And none of it has gotten me any further.

At the end of the day, the only thing that’s made any emotional sense and the only thing that I KNOW I want to and CAN take with me is the love I have for the people in my life.

So I want to say thank you to the dear friends and family that fill my heart. You motivate and nurture and sustain me and I am so grateful to you. I hope you know who you are and I hope even more that you know how much I love you.

And I want to say thank you to Gertrud. Your suffering has left me full of doubts and questions; I know that I know nothing but I HOPE with all my heart that you have found peace now. Your life and your incredible attitude towards it have left me inspired and in awe. I will carry you in my heart for the rest of this trip and for always.

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4 thoughts on “The things we can take with us

  1. Dear Jennifer

    I would like to thank you for your wonderful blog in which you are sharing your thoughts, emotions, experiences and expectations with us. Unfortunately I did not get to read all your posts so far (you are really providing a lot of information :-)) but whenever I find the time I sit down and enjoy reading your views on traveling, culture, people and life as such. I was of course especially curious to read the latest post (“For my aunt”).

    As I have travelled a lot myself, I can very much understand your search for a new path in your life and for happiness and fulfillment. I have made some of the same experiences which I guess you are making. At this moment I am still searching … and I doubt that this search will ever come to an end. The more I have seen in my life, the more I begun to ask myself questions because I started to recognize how this world – in particular our western culture – develops and how selfish, illogical and wrong the reasons for these developments often are.

    But I do not want to turn too negative now – instead I would like to congratulate you (and to thank you) for recognizing the importance of friends and family and for sharing these thoughts with us.

    Obviously I have spoken with my mum a lot about her life, her attitude and her values in the past few weeks. And she confirmed with every word what I had always felt – that family and friends meant an incredible lot to her and in fact that was what kept her alive during the last two weeks of her life.

    She was a truly wonderful person and I am sure that she has developed her own set of values through her upbringing and her travels, the people she met and the experiences she made in different parts of the world. Therefore I can only encourage you to also continue to collect lots and lots of enriching experiences, remain open-minded and appreciate your family and friends. I am also trying to follow this path and I find myself struggling often but I am convinced that it makes my life richer, helps me to develop my personality and to be a good person. And I hope that at the end of my life I will be able to say – like my mum did – that I had a good and fulfilled life.

    So once again thank you for sharing your thoughts, emotions, experiences and expectations with us. Keep enjoying your wonderful journey and please think of my mum every now and then. Send my regards also to Roman.

    Lots of love
    Ralf

    • Thank you so much Ralf.

      It means so much to me that you took the time to write this and I really love and appreciate what you shared, and I love to think that you and I are both on similar quests here in this big, incredible world of ours. Your positive outlook is great and really encouraging too; these past weeks my heart has been pained thinking about what your mom may have been feeling or fearing and I am so glad that you could share and connect over these positive things together with her. I’ve been thinking of you and Tschesi and Bella a lot too; I hope you are all finding the support you need right now from friends, family and each other.

      Don’t feel like you ever have to keep up with this blog (I do write an awful lot!!), but I would love to know how you are doing, so if you ever feel like it, drop me an e-mail (do you still have my address?). And in the mean time I can look forward to the next time our paths will cross – back in Switzerland/Liechtenstein or maybe somewhere else out there.

      Sending lots of love back to you – and Bella and Tschesi too.

  2. Wow, that is some deep stuff you’re going through, Jen. Let me share my experience with you in the hopes that it may help you a little. I went through a similar phase when I turned 30. Total decunstruction (in fact, near annihilation) of my old self and, like a caterpillar, rebirth into my new butterfly form. Incidentally, that’s when I discovered yoga, which helped me enormously by giving me the space and insight to acknowledge, support and guide the changes I was going through.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that I think what you’re going through is very healthy, albeit painful, but one needs to go through that to grow.

    Now you can add another happy thought to your repertory: The fact that you’ll come out bigger and stronger and wiser and more compassionate out of this crisis. So dive into it head first and trust your instinct and intuition to safely guide you to the other side. The more you let go, the further you’ll get! Don’t worry about not having the answers, just make sure you’re asking the right questions and your path will make its way.

    Lotsa love! Alicia

    • Thank you Alicia!!!

      It really helps to hear your story. When we are “in it” it is SO EASY to feel so isolated and like we’re the only person in the world who’s ever gone through this pain. Easy to UNDERSTAND mentally that this is not the case and that eventually we are likely to get through it – less easy to KNOW and BELIEVE with the heart. I will keep reminding myself that I am a caterpillar and this is a natural process – a really helpful metaphor that my heart can grasp and much better than the self-derogatory explanations my mind tends to come up with!!

      And I totally think of you as a gorgeous, awesome, butt-kicking butterfly!

      Lots of love right back atcha!

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