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The Speechless Storyteller

It’s a weird feeling. The moment when you’re looking around and you simultaneously want to describe everything you’re seeing and feeling to everyone you know, but yet somehow can’t seem to find the right words.

It happens when you least expect it. One second you’re trudging uphill, out of breath and unable to concentrate on anything except how much your feet hurt, the next second you’re rounding a corner and your breathing stops and your feet stop moving — only it’s not because of the pain. It’s because you just came around a corner and saw something so beautiful you remember why you bothered to walk on through the pain in the first place. 

It was for this moment, though you were never sure exactly when this moment might be, that you kept going for. That you pushed yourself for. That for which you decided, “This is all worth it.”

And you’re not wrong.

These moments happen at different times and different places to different people for different reasons, but they do happen.

And once they do, after the initial shock wears off and you gain the ability to articulate some piece of what you’re thinking and feeling again, you’re left with an overwhelming feeling to share it. All of it. The pain, the parts where you thought you might quit, the second guessing, the parts where you realized you weren’t going to quit, the home stretch that seemed to last a lifetime; and the part where, after all these other things had passed, that you finally made it.

Maybe you made it to the top of the 14er. Maybe you made it to the city you’d been waiting your entire life to see. Or maybe you were walking down your street for the thousandth time and for some reason it all looked different.

Whatever it was, it changed you. And whether you traveled a mile or a hundred miles or a thousand miles to get to there doesn’t matter.

What matters is, what are you going to do now that you’re there?

Quote by Ibn Battuta. Image created by me using Adobe Illustrator.

Quote by Ibn Battuta. Image created by me using Adobe Illustrator.

Travel Light

Quote by Cesare Pavese. Image created by me using Adobe Illustrator.

Quote by Cesare Pavese. Image created by me using Adobe Illustrator.

Consider this post a friendly reminder to let go of the things that don’t matter.

But this is a task that’s undoubtedly easier said than done. I know I sometimes get so wrapped up in the emotions surrounding a trip that I can lose sight of why I’m going in the first place. I forget the excitement and the wonder and instead focus on the stress: the stress of packing right without overpacking, the stress of making it to the planes or trains I need to catch, the stress of balancing expenses to last me through the trip, the stress of seeing all the people I promised I’d make the time to see; in addition to the places I wanted to venture off to alone.

I think it all goes back to my tendency to overthink things…

Which is why this quote hit me so hard last week when I first read it. It still hasn’t left me quite yet. And I hope you consider what traveling light really means to you, too.

For me, it feels like this quote by Italian poet Cesare Pavese was originally intended to apply to day-to-day emotions we need to let go of in order to move forward in life.

Jealous of that coworker who seems to truly have it all? Holding a grudge against the guy who didn’t call you back? More concerned about getting your afternoon nap in than helping your friend with that favor they asked? Or maybe on some level, just all-around deeply terrified you’re going to fail pursuing your goals if you were to ever actually try?

Stop.

Take a deep breath.

Let it out.

Do it again.

Now think about what (or who) is weighing on your mind. If it’s keeping you down or holding you back, it’s probably time to let go.

Step 1: Let go of envies and jealousies.

Can you objectively look at why that coworker seems to have it all? Do they have a talent or way of approaching their work that you can learn from? Or can you take them out to coffee, get to know them better and realize they’re — (just banking on the odds, here) human — and that they, too, have problems that might not have been so obvious? Can you make a new friend and turn that jealousy and envy into support and productivity?

Step 2: Stop holding on to unforgiveness.

If that guy didn’t call you back, do you really want him to now? If he’s so easily willing to cast you aside why shouldn’t you be willing to do the same in your mind? There are actually simple solutions sometimes, and this is one of those instances. Move on. Spend time with new people. Holding a grudge against him won’t make him suddenly realize what he lost — but it will make you lose out on other things in the process.

Step 3: Get rid of selfishness.

If you’d rather nap than do your friend a favor, you need to ask yourself two questions. Is this person really my friend? And if they are, Why am I being selfish? And even if they aren’t your friend, Should I help them anyway? We’ve all heard the age-old adage “What goes around comes around.” And though I wish this were always true, the reality is that it’s not. Life is not a children’s fiction novel where all of the heroes come to good ends and the villains come to bad ends. Some people who are selfish and greedy and self-involved might not ever have to deal with the repercussions of their actions. So here is where you make a decision about the person you want to be. Do you want to be selfish? No? Great! Now grab a cup of coffee and go help your friend.

Step 4: Overcome your fears.

Perhaps the hardest step of them all; fear can cripple you, removing any hope of ever moving forward in life. Thus, the question you have to ask yourself is: How bad do you want it? You have to decide for yourself how much work you’re willing to put into it. You have to decide you want to save that extra $50 for your dream trip than go out with your friends this weekend. You have to decide to devote the time to improving your photography and editing skills, decide to work out regularly in order to lose that extra weight, decide to put all efforts into getting that next promotion at your job. Whatever it is, you have to decide you want it. And then you have to decide you want it again and again and again, every day you wake up, until you have it. It’s not just going to fall in your lap because you’re willing it to — you have to decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.

Step 5: Move forward.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but if you can do these things, you will move forward. It might not be exactly what you envisioned, but you will find yourself in a better place. Whether that’s literally somewhere else in the world or just confined to the spaces within your sanity is up to you.

Just remember to travel light when you go.

Getting Lost is Not a Waste of Time

Created by me.

Created by me using Adobe Illustrator.

It’s the tagline for this blog and quickly becoming the tagline for my life: Getting lost is not a waste of time. 

It’s a simple thought, really. But it goes against what most people operate by. A lot of us are in a hurry. Or even if we’re not in a hurry per se, we’re on a set timeline. We have a list of things we need to see or do and an idea of when they need to be done by.

We do this without really thinking about it. Maybe we’re concerned about making a deadline or not missing the train and subconsciously checking everything off our list. And this isn’t always a bad thing — this can promote productivity, keep us focused on a goal, or help us find order in all the chaos of a busy schedule.

But sometimes we’re trying so hard to get everything finished that we forget to pay attention to what we’re actually doing.

Case in point: in the summer of 2013, I was backpacking through Europe with two relatively new friends. Prior to the trip, I wasn’t really sure how it was all going to work out.

Would we compliment each other in our habits and desires on what to do? Or would we all have different preferences of an ideal trip and bicker most of the time?

Luckily, our instincts seemed to be right about each other and we all got along just fine the majority of the time. We wanted to see the major sights but at the same time wanted an authentic, off-the-beaten-path type of experience in each city if we could manage it. But there was one day of our travels in particular which didn’t run so smoothly.

We were in Rome at the time and were set to leave the next morning for Florence. We had been there for a day and a half already but, let’s be honest, it’s actually really difficult to see all the things there are to see in Rome in two and half days. We had seen the big attractions — the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums — along with other, less-common spots thanks to research and the experience Drew (one of our party) had from living abroad there in college.

But the only thing on my list, perhaps cheesy and a little predictable I know, was the Trevi Fountain. I fault Hilary Duff in the Lizzie McGuire Movie for an unrealistic expectation of what would happen after I cast my wish (Just kidding, but there is probably some truth there. I blame my ingrained ’90s kid’ tendencies).

But regardless of my reasons, that’s all I wanted to see. As long as that was checked off, everything else would be icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, it felt like fate just did not want me to go there. We had planned on going there the first day, but because of our tour time of the Sistine Chapel, we didn’t have time to stop there. Then, for one reason or another, it kept getting bumped by something else on our list. It was too far of a walk, or we needed to eat first, or this, or that.

But finally, finally, it was the nearing the end of our full second day there and it was finally decided that that’s where we were headed. It was going to be easy, too — we had been walking almost everywhere, but due to the time and being 5mi away, we were going to take a bus.

So we waited. And waited… and waited. Four buses came and went, but not ours. We waited until it had been half an hour before deciding something wasn’t right. Eventually, from talking broken Italian to a woman at the stop, we deduced that a few of the buses, including ours, weren’t running due to engine problems. She wasn’t surprised; apparently it happens a lot.

But I was determined. I resolved to walk. I didn’t care how far we had already walked that day or how hungry I already was. I was going to make it there, plain and simple.

Drew didn’t feel so inclined, so it was just Jessica and I. Our hostel was close, so he was going to go clean up and take a nap before dinner. We were going to walk there, have our moment, and try to catch a different bus back to the hostel.

But once again, fate intervened. There was a marathon or parade or something big happening on one of the major roads we had to cross in order to get there (I didn’t pay attention to what it was in my utter frustration). This added an extra mile to go around to where the Polizia said we could cross.

We walked faster — and keep in mind we were close-to-broke college students, so spending money on a cab was avoided at all costs except emergencies — until we were almost there. We had made decent time despite the setback and had just under a mile to go.

Jessica, however, needed to sit. This was the absolute last thing I was inclined to do, but I was grateful she hadn’t left me to my lonesome and tagged along, so I begrudgingly agreed. We needed to find a spot though, because we didn’t want to pay to sit at a café. On a whim, we veered off course and onto a smaller side street in the hopes there’d be some sort of wall we could hop up and rest on.

And then I saw it. A rather small and somewhat dingy sign bearing the name of a saint in front of large but modest double doors. I glanced overhead to check for a steeple (and that’s when I learned that looking up is just as important as looking around). And that told me all I needed to know. It was a church.

Jessica didn’t hesitate, scrambling in to her sanctuary to rest her aching feet. I followed more slowly behind, having just noticed something for the first time. We were completely alone.

Which, if you’ve been there, you know doesn’t happen. Especially in the middle of the summer in primetime tourist season. But yet here we were, on a little side street about to walk into what looked like a forgotten church with no one else in sight. It hit me so forcefully that I felt nervous for a moment. Were we supposed to be here? Was this allowed?

I decided to walk in.

It wasn’t the most beautiful church I had seen in Europe, or even in Rome, but it had a modest beauty that I hadn’t seen in any church in my lifetime, and haven’t encountered since.

The ceiling was covered in slightly chipped murals, there were three columns lining the far sides of the pews, the altar and tabernacle in front were unassuming but well-kept and recently polished. It was relatively small for a catholic church, about the square footage of a three bedroom apartment in total, and we were the only two people in there that I could see, apart from one elderly Italian woman sitting in one of the pews.

I took a breath. I had been so preoccupied over the last hour about getting to the Trevi Fountain that the entire time we had been walking I hadn’t been appreciating the beauty of the ancient city. And here I was, not exactly lost but not precisely sure where I was either, standing in the middle of what felt like an existential scene crossed between Roman Holiday and The Bicycle Thieves.

I sat down and for as long as I needed to collect my thoughts, we sat there. It didn’t matter so much anymore whether I saw the Trevi Fountain or not, because what was the point if I was just going to be miserable or in a hurry the entire time anyway?

It’s a lesson that still resonates with me today. Getting lost is not a waste of time when you take a step back and get some perspective. You might not see everything you intended to see, but some of the best experiences in life are the ones we don’t expect.

Like that little church, forever stuck in that moment. Its name and location shall remain anonymous — for one, this way it still feels precious and all mine in some capacity — but mostly because two, it leaves the mystery open for you and others out there. I wish for you to stumble into your own little sanctuary and have an unexpectedly profound experience.

And for what it’s worth, Jessica and I did make it to the Trevi Fountain afterwards. Although it was by accident, after taking a narrow alley shortcut that wasn’t marked on our map.

It’s funny how you find things when you stop looking for them.