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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Back From Europe

It will be a week tomorrow since I came back from Europe. I didn't know how to organize all of my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, until now.
It all started with a friend's wedding. The event was gathering all of the people that I have known since elementary school. Since I moved, my bi-annual visit home always has me bringing news from a far off, about my growth in college, about my career changes and motives, about my potential future. This time, I brought a different kind of report--I just got back from living in and touring Europe. "Oh yeah", "Oh really, Wow!" "Oh that's great!". With each exclamation, it dawned on me more clearly, no one had any idea or imagination of my experience. It was strange that the "Oh yeah?" or the "Wow" was enough to satisfy them. I looked around, time was frozen here. Sure, there was a wedding, babies being born, individuals growing older, etc., but the mentality was still the same. Maybe, that's why I felt so awkward there. On the other hand, this event has finally prompted me to write about my unique experience.
I could write about every petite episode that happened in each city, but I would rather mention the growth and changes that have incurred since this trek.
I viewed this trip as a break from life. At only twenty years old, it's rather odd to ask for a break from life. I mean, this is the time when you are standing on the edge of the world, looking out over all of the deserts, valleys, mountains, looking for the best place to fly from; not, taking time to go back to your tent and mull over the concept of flying some more. I knew that I would learn much along the way in the next 5 months, but I also saw it as an escape from the grief and sadness that had plagued our family the past year. This was my out to breathe.
In reality, this journey became a passage into adulthood, both internal and external.
I left home with a backpack of fears, some that had been with me since my early teen years, some that had just recently developed. It's liberating to know that I left the backpack somewhere on a train, and that I am free. I look back and think, I was walking all over Rome, London, Zurich, etc by myself! I gained assurance in myself; that I could take care of myself, and "me" was enough to handle the world. The heaviest fear that weighed in the backpack was the fear of death--that something would go wrong, that I would be in the wrong place at the wrong time, that terrorists would attack, and other endless scenarios that plagued my thoughts. And yet, here I am, untouched and unharmed.
I learned to eat at restaurants by myself. It was rather enjoyable, being a bit pretentious, sitting there pretending that I am a well published writer, furiously scribbling away in my notebook. I remember being caught in the rain in London, and going into a restaurant for shelter, and ending up ordering my absolute must-have of "fish and chips".
Being alone gave me the freedom to meet others easily. Perhaps, this was the best part of my journey--meeting all sorts of people, observing others, hearing conversations, listening to the voice of uniqueness. After the study abroad program, and when my month long tour of Europe began, I knew that I was going into the trip looking for answers--about God, about death, about life, about me and my family. I didn't know where they would come from, but I was acutely aware to take in each experience and learn from it.
I randomly met Katy in our Madrid hostel. Both traveling solo, we decided to explore Madrid together. We stopped for a quick bite to eat, and the conversation began to flow. We shared our stories, our love lives, our struggles. It was a prelude before the important conversation that would come later that night. This past year was a struggle to deal with my grandmother's death; and perhaps the worst part was no one, apart from my family, really understanding the situation, the pain, the grief. It takes someone to be equally as deeply cut in their heart to understand the depth of emotion and emptiness that you feel. Plus, one can't just drop such delicate and heavy matters on those that are unprepared for the seriousness of it. Trusting Katy, I began to share with her the difficulty of being alone with these feelings and pains. Little did I know, Katy had also lost her grandmother earlier this year. To Katy, her grandmother had been the parent that she never had. The loss was unbearable, the goodbye was tragically bittersweet, the hollowness was suffocating. For the first time, I felt that I was not alone, that it did not take words to explain the depth of emotions and suffering. This was only the beginning to my healing. Vienna still waited for me. I arrived at Gitti's farm, and was immediately enveloped in tranquility and palpable happiness. It had been so long since I had felt happy, truly happy. Somewhere along, I had lost faith in happiness, that I could have it again, that I deserved happiness. Sadness had become too comfortable, but even after the comfort was gone, I didn't know how to reach or to look for happiness again. Gitti, who had known me since I was a baby, was light and love. She was like a warm fire that you are drawn to sit by and watch the glow. She basked in the glow of her children, who grew like wildflowers, strong and beautiful. One day, we went out to look at her fields, and the cows and goats, and see the things that Fred, her farmer-husband, produced. All of the sudden, I realized, Gitti had found it--the undefinable quality that everyone searches for their whole life. For a moment I was able to define it--in the peace of loved ones, in the quiet of nature, in the love of humans to each other.
To be completely honest, I was scared to come back home. Not because I was worried about re-adjusting to American life, but because I wasn't sure if I could face more saddness, sickness, and grief in our home. Yet, here in Gitti's house, in this little farm, nestled in the woods of Austria, grief, pain, and sorrow could not penetrate. I had no choice, but to drink from the well of happiness; and I drank thirstily. I took away with me a small token of this happiness to bring back home, praying and hoping that it would illuminate our home. I am happy to say that the house I come back to, is not the one I left 5 months ago. This pleases me because I know that my mother is on the road to recovery, if not physically, at least her broken heart is mending, and the sadness is slowly dying away. The candles that we burn by the photos of our loved ones, burn longer and brighter, for they burn for hope and newness of life.
As a writer, this trip was a gift of a lifetime. Every experience, everything I saw, felt, touched, ate, all will remain with me, and feed my future development. The previous constructions of the world in my mind have collapsed, and rightly so. This is how I know that I have really begun on my journey into adulthood--because I feel what Socrates felt when he said: "I know nothing, except the fact of my ignorance." It is the renewal of our minds that lead us to expand our worlds, and to learn to accept the diversity and beauty of life. Meeting all sorts of different people, I learned to hear the voice of uniqueness, but at the same time at the end of the day, we are all human, and as humans we want to be visible to others. We want to just be loved, and that our story will sing long after the music has stopped playing. I remember, being lost in London, not knowing how to get back to my flat, and stoppping by a cafe to take my frustrations out on a cup of coffee. A woman in her 40s came and sat by me; she was a single mother of two going out to meet some friends for a spontaneous night of salsa dancing. She had time to kill, and just her luck, i happened to pester her with a question: "Pardon, do you know where Portobello Road is?" Half an hour later, we were being kicked out of the cafe, and going our separate ways--I to Portobello Road, and she, to Salsa dancing. Nothing extraordinary transpired between us, except for her encouraging words to me. She said: " you have an openess to the world, and to new experiences." Those words solidified that this trip, this tour, was worth something, was for a benefit higher than just seeing amazing architecture and breathing new traditions. We bid each other farewell and good luck with the deepest of sincerities.
I started my journey, full of illusions and expectations. I left, with my illusions being shattered and truth illuminating itself, and with the best advice I could give myself : "never have any expectations, that way you will always be surprised by the unexpected beauty." It was difficult and dissapointing realizing that the UN was a prestigious country club full of people doing nothing but chatting and doing more chatting. I left Switzerland, knowing that I would not give myself to a cause that would end up being someone's agenda, and that I would not be one that would allow myself to be bound by logistics, or forced to be a talking head. I would carve out my own square of the world and work from there. It's good to walk away and know what I really don't want, but at the same time being solidified in something new.
I look at the pictures of my trip, and think, was I really there? Of course I was. I wish I saturated even more when i was there, but the human mind and heart can only take so much at once. I realize this was no break at all from life, and that I had never gone back to my tent. Instead, I am left with a new chapter being written, and the knowledge that I have wings that will carry me in the most turbulent currents. It is me against the world, and I am finally stepping into it, more aware than ever, that this is my time.
2:02 AM

1 Falling Stars


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