Chapter 4: An Autobiography of an Idealist

Why I’ve Stopped Traveling

The other day, I got off the park & ride bus coming back from my nine to five.  As I hopped over puddles and got into my car, I noticed just a smidge of a rainbow, so lightly brushed across the clouds, the image I saw was half imagination.

Houston’s been having these days where half the sky is blue, bright and fresh, spread with wispy white clouds; the other half is dark grey and solid, impenetrable as an iron wall.  Golden afternoon sunlight glints on puddles and freshly washed trees, while an unexpectedly cool breeze warns of more to come.

I started my car and backed out, but then on second thought, I pulled into another parking spot, got out, and leaned against the car to watch that brush of color slowly lengthen and expand to a full arc.  Another shadow of color appeared above it, making a double rainbow.

I can’t remember the last rainbow I saw before that.  Maybe I didn’t notice them, maybe they don’t show up anywhere outside of Texas, maybe they got so lost in the swarm of perpetual newness they didn’t make an imprint on my memory.  Whatever the reason, I have this overwhelming joyful feeling of recovering something I’ve lost.

It’s not just rainbows, of course.  It’s every moment I notice the texture of bark when I press my hand against a tree.  It’s the moment when I’m fully present, laughing, arms outstretched while my best friend and I walk the dog, and the cat trots behind us for the entire loop around the neighborhood, pretending he’s not with us.  I love the way sunlight shines through leaves and grass, especially in the early morning and late afternoon, did you know that?  Shadows of darker green where the leaf overlaps with others shift and dance.  And I smile, and keep smiling, surprising reflective smiles from strangers I pass on the sidewalk.

However, if I had to use one word to describe my dominant mood in the series moments in the stretch of time I was traveling, I would say, dissatisfaction.  I always had to find a new hostel, a new job, new people, a new lifestyle, because these didn’t fit–there has to be better, right?

When I came to Houston for a year to take a breather before launching into my next adventure, I was a mess.  I couldn’t handle my emotional state, my self and living space were constantly in a disarray, I spent my free time doing nothing, and I had minor nervous breakdowns in response to situations I would usually be able to weather.  I questioned my purpose and life trajectory, envious for the first time of the choices other people had made.

I don’t know if the moment I decided to fully let go of the idea of attending graduate school in Germany was the first step toward recovering myself, but I would say it’s the turning point that calmed me and brought me back into the rational world.  Instead of constantly asking, what comes next? I started asking, what can I build now?

I’ve started to rebuild good habits like cleaning regularly, cooking, listening actively.  I now invest my time in long-term projects that build me up, like writing and recovering my Spanish.  My plans for the future revolve around what will build my character, virtue, and skills so I can better reach out to the world, rather than what I feel like doing on an impulse.

You see, when the future is open to any possibility, when you can go anywhere, do anything, when you have no responsibilities or commitments, you think you’re free.  But the truth is, you’re hounded by FOMO, fear of missing out.  Or at least I was.  When everything was novel, nothing was, but I had to see it all.  I was collecting experiences like they were the only thing of worth.

I was slowly sacrificing my self and the woman I could become for another story that sounds cooler than it was.  My motivator became, do this, or you’ll always regret that you didn’t.  Fear of regret is not an ideal motivator to have.

As a disclaimer, I’m not talking down anyone who wants to travel or gets joy from traveling.  I know people who build purpose into their travels and love how they live.  Not everyone is like me, and I genuinely wish them happy travels.  However, the concept that everyone should travel to become a fully realized human, or that a nomadic globetrotting lifestyle is objectively superior to a routine rooted lifestyle, is misleading.

I don’t regret my travels, and I would do it again if I went back in time, knowing what I do now.  I don’t think I ever would have been able to fully understand the contentment of home without knowing the loneliness of the road.  Also, the skills I’ve picked up in being able to communicate across language and cultural barriers is invaluable to both me and the people I can now serve.

Right now, I am content in this moment, sitting at a desk I picked up at a yard sale for five dollars from a man who had had it since he was twelve and had refinished it himself in high school.  A candle is flickering, music is flowing, I have words from my favorite author on an index card on the wall in front of me.  Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, and my mind is starting to open again.

Was not this narrow enclosure, with the heavens for a ceiling, sufficient to enable him to adore God in his most divine works, in turn? Does not this comprehend all, in fact? and what is there left to desire beyond it? A little garden in which to walk, and immensity in which to dream. At one’s feet that which can be cultivated and plucked; over head that which one can study and meditate upon: some flowers on earth, and all the stars in the sky.

–Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


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