Early this week I returned from 25 days of traveling abroad. The first part of our journey was spent exploring the landscapes and western coastline of Turkey, steeping ourselves in ancient history. Italy was next. Naples and the Amalfi Coast, soon followed by Venice, Florence, and Rome. It was an ambitious adventure to say the least.
There is vacation. And there is travel. Travel is voyage driven by curious zeal, a soulular reach for adventure its whimsy lies outside of the tangibilities of reason. As opposed to vacation, travel's medicine lies not in the destination but in the journey itself. Everyday norms are challenged. Ways of being collide with cultural divides. Plans are thwarted, and ever-changing itineraries loom large. Travel is a rite of passage where outcome is uncertain yet wholeheartedly embraced as somehow essential to who we are becoming. Travel is a voyage outside of expected comforts, into the unexpected self.
And let's be REAL... travel is a privilege. The majority of people in the world (many of whom I know) simply can't afford to travel. Vacations can be carved in and around weekends and holidays... but travel requires an elasticity of time, money, and physical stamina. The fact that my partner and I are childless, able-bodied, and blessed enough to have been able to voyage in this way... this is a gift that I am doing my best to shamelessly receive. Gratitude has been my constant companion, every step of the way. And yet, it's also worth noting that travel is a largely romanticized notion, reveled in by outside observers... idealized through glossy photos and carefully-crafted captions. Facebook albums represent only picturesque moments captured for digital display, never doing justice to the journey.
My favorite images show you only rainbows... while travel is a mighty storm to be braved. Full-spectrum beauty is reserved for those willing to pass through the thunderous elements along the way. Said another way: 16 cities visited. 14 hotel check-ins. 8 flights. 6 train rides. Roughly a dozen bus rides + a rental car driven on the treacherous streets of the Amalfi Coast (thankfully Chris is a road-savvy New Yorker). Add to that countless hours walked, missed trains/bus stops, and language barriers to boot.
Travel well and stress & splendor will collide. Growth is delivered through dichotomy. Irresistible moments: such as the silence of a pastel sunrise over the canals of Venice, the otherworldly beauty of Pammukkale's breathtaking white landscapes, or a Turkish New Year's Eve celebration (it's unrivaled... much like the marinara sauce at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it). Travel serves up each gift with a slice of humble pie, challenging and refining our sense of what is rightful and norm. Try getting a taxi driver in Istanbul to drive you less than two kilometers; it's a virtual impossibility (so what if you have luggage, not their problem). Feel helplessness and heartbreak as you watch a stray dog and two whiny eight-week old puppies cry and itch their skin raw while Pergamon locals stroll by with casual indifference. Spend your first couple of hours abroad hurling in the perfume-laden airport water closet (aka: bathroom) due to a bumpy 10 hour flight and some bad cheese (let's just say Paris wasn't my favorite stop... city of love and lights my ass. Again, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it).
Bitter blends with sweetness to make the flavor real and right.
Was our voyage always an easy one? Hell to the no.
Was it worth it? Most emphatically, YES.
Early on in the trip, a personal mantra emerged:
What is this life?!... this, the unanswerable question that best encapsulated the beautiful ugly totality of my experience. Four words that unexpectedly spilled from my lips as I took in a sunset along Positano's majestic cliffside; she left me gasping and gaping at her beauty. And again I uttered them (this time I added a couple more syllables for good measure... WTF..iTL?!!) as we stood stranded on an unmarked road in Rome. Exhausted, lost, and angry we walked two miles with all our baggage in tow.
Four words that captured both awe-inspiring gratitude and perpetual befuddlement... thus offering me a way to maintain good humor and conjure the humility and grace required to accept all the unexpected gifts being thrown my way. WiTL? These four words, like the bells at Campanile di Giotto in Florence still ring in my ears... reminding me to be thankful and to fully inhabit the full spectrum of my experience. There and then. Here and now.
I am beyond fortunate to have been blessed by such an adventure... rest assured, that is not lost on me. And yet I must admit that the absolute greatest gift has been found in the return home. Mundane comforts are now miraculous gifts waiting to be opened.
Sharing with you is one of them.
Thanks for reading. xo
Since waking, I've been reflecting upon the backwards beauty of his return.
October crept and then leapt upon me. It's been unseasonably warm here in Portland, and yet even still... Fall. She knows her place. Autumn has always been my annual pivot point... I shed with her far more psychic weight than any so-called "new year" ever warrants. What exactly this next clearing will invite to die and bloom forth I won't pretend to know. Yet I feel myself slowing down... shaking my head no... backing away from the spotlight and the need to perform.
We live in a world that is chronically expansive. One where we validate our existence through productive advances. As a result, we have vilified the sacredness of contraction.
When did growing smaller become so unholy? Be it an economy, a womb, or a long-term relationship... all things move through seasons of fear-laden tensing and tightening in order to generate the strength to push through with more integrity and greater power than ever before. This year I won't fight against autumn's love for me, nor she will have to wrestle me to the ground as she's done in so many years past.
I will settle in. I will allow. And await her naked and hearty contractions.
When you feel yourself growing smaller
and it's not yet time to push
What will you do?
For me, creatively birthing anything means riding waves... passing through phases of brilliant clarity and inspiration followed by contractions, labor pains pushing me into the next expression yet-unknown.
Darkness, self doubt, uncertainty, they are all with me today.
And I am grateful because I've come to learn that the dark is nothing to fear; it's nothing to frantically rise above, deny, or apologize for. It is instead a resting place for a tender and vulnerable wisdom that can be gently and kindly coaxed the surface.
Darkness can be just as sacred and glorifying as the light, if you are willing to bask in it.
What will you do when darkness descends? Perhaps you don't have to seek escape from it; instead kindly pay homage by giving it a voice or vehicle of some kind. I suggest sharing your vulnerable truth in a trusted container and/or creating something that honors its place in your life.
Case in point, today when I sat down to work on my book & I was up against a WALL. So I graffiti-painted it with this.
Got darkness? Transmute versus transcend. No need to leave any piece of you behind.
WTF is Grace Anyway?
What To Do When The Rug Is Pulled Out From Under You
In November 2004 I was slated to move into an apartment with a friend and colleague. I had given notice at my current place, rented the truck, everything was set. Four short days before I was to move, I was sipping a latte at Starbucks when I got a call from my new roommate. For reasons outside of her control, the whole thing had fallen through at the last minute. Her current roommate was staying, and I had nowhere to go. Keep in mind, this was also three days before Thanksgiving... not exactly a huge hustle time in the rental market.
I was stunned. I fell perfectly silent. And then, for some reason I can't explain... I was completely calm. I thanked and reassured her with a graciousness that surprised the shit out of me, and I hung up the phone. I took a deep breath, expecting to be overwhelmed by panic. But it never came. An inexplicable sense of acceptance rolled over me, and what was that (relief?... ?!), followed by a sense that something was so RIGHT about everything in that f'ed up mess of a moment.
I got into my car to drive toward work. But I turned left instead of right. I drove straight toward the neighborhood I MOST wanted to live in. I drove and drove... weaving closer to the forest I wanted to be near. I called numbers on a few apartment complexes (per the signs posted outside). They were all out of my price range. And by a lot. All the while, a voice inside taunted me to quit... “give it up, girl! you can’t afford to live here. and you are going to be SO late for work! JUST GIVE. IT. UP!”
But instead, I ignored it. I kept driving. I kept calling numbers. Still nothing I could afford. And just as I was about to give up (mind you, only 20 minutes into this little adventure), I decided to drive to the end of the road. Almost to where the road dead-ended, I saw a set of lovely little red steps leading into a landscaped courtyard. It was an eight-unit complex where every unit had its own hand-carved wooden front door. I loved it immediately. And at the top of the steps was a “for rent” sign. I called apprehensively, and a sweet elderly lady answered the phone. I could immediately feel she was very kind... “The door is unlocked... go on in, honey." I toured a lovely little one-bedroom abode and anxiously asked questions: Would you allow for my cat? “Oh, I just love cats! Even more than people, sometimes!” she giggled. When could I move in? “Well, it’s available NOW, honey.” And the most dreaded question: (gulp) How much is it? (holding breath) “oh I try and keep it low.”... she then quoted me a price that left my mouth gaping open. It was $25 more a month than the teeny tiny studio I had been living in for the past year. I almost fell over with relief and amazement at how easy it had been. Too easy??...
Nope. I moved in three days later.
On top of that, it was hands-down the easiest move of my life. My friend and her roommate felt so bad that they had left me hanging, I had all the man and muscle power that they could call upon. It was a 3-hour move, tops. A total breeze. It still makes me smile remembering how few boxes I carried.
Living there was a pivotal time in my life... things wouldn’t have been the same if I had ended up anywhere else.
It was (and still is) a miracle moment in my life. That day I understood the sensation of grace. Moving forward, while letting it happen. I went from crisis to solution in 20-minutes... all by remaining calm and insisting upon something better.
Now I haven’t had that much grace in response to every crisis in my life (that’s for damned sure!)... but I do know that when I persist without forcing... when I keep driving in life... when I make the calls... when I become available to the impossible... and when I am willing to do my part to make it so, I almost always get what I want.
I really do get what I want, a lot of the time. Maybe not right away. But eventually, yes. Ask the people who know me. Many people see this as a positive, but I have been condemned for it more than once. Maybe it’s because I am stubborn to a fault. Sure... maybe I need to tone it down from time to time (when I become impatient or focus on the wrong things), but when it comes to insisting on a life that I love, persistence works for me.
Or better said... I work for life. So life works for me.
So when the rug is pulled out from under you, curse only for a moment, get your ass up, and get moving. The next chapter is in front of you... like an automatic door you can’t see. You have to step forward, insist on its existence... get close enough and it will S W I N G W I D E O P E N.
Grace is a delicious thing, but it can’t happen without you.