Someone asked about my recently unupdated blog and “how the story ends.” Well, as this blog represents my real life, I’m hoping the “story” doesn’t end in the immediate future. It would be a shame to die before my frontal lobe is even fully developed. I get the person’s point, though…I sort of left the story of my big trip around the world hanging in literary limbo. Poor connections in the Pacific, finals week, traversing the Panama Canal (which took 6 hours), and visiting Costa Rica and Honduras made blogging difficult.
I’m home. It feels funny to say that, because honestly I was beginning to forget what that felt like. My family has been enjoying the comedy of my shock when the waiter speaks English and my panic when I see someone drink out of the tap. But as funny/undignified/frenetic as I have seemed on the outside, let me assure you that internally my brain and heart are like a sea storm–with a naval battle going on in the sea storm–and sea monsters attacking the little ships…ok. I’ll stop.
I basically just had a massive life goal realized. Ever since I could first manage to lug the family atlas or leaf through the pages of a National Geographic, I’ve wanted to go around the world. All summer and semester I kept literally pinching myself to see if I was dreaming. But more time passed, and I realized I wasn’t dreaming. I was in a dream come true.
Now that my trip is wrapped up, you might expect that I would be hit by a huge let down. I understood it in the questions from people asking me about how I felt about going home. I mean, you are going back to KENTUCKY, right? Can that really compete with what you’ve experienced?
See, here’s what I’m realizing: Life is an adventure. Running in the jungles of Cambodia barefoot in the rain to catch an elephant ride before sunset is, and so is teaching your little sister how to drive. Getting lost in a Morroccan souk at 1 a.m. is, and so is going down to the basement that terrifies you to let out a dog who is barking excitedly at a dark window at 3 a.m.. Rappelling over a waterfall in Costa Rica is, and so is being the maid of honor in your sister’s wedding. My life has been made awesome by some of the adventures I’ve had this past semester–but it wouldn’t be complete without the daily ones I’ve had my whole life. The catch is that you have to let the things that happen in your life be an adventure. I was sad about saying goodbye to people at Semester at Sea, but not overwhelmed about ending such an awesome trip. Why? Because I know now you end one adventure before you start another. There’s no way I’m done with this life–this “story.”
Real life isn’t a cruise around the world. And I’m actually kind of glad it isn’t. Daily life can stink, but it’s the stuff dreams are made of. I don’t think this semester would have meant half as much to me if it weren’t for the decade I spent with pictures of all the places I saw pinned to my wall, inspirational quotes all around and endless scheming as to how to get there in my head. Now I’m back to daily adventure of dreaming where life will take me next.
One of the first things I did when I got back was clean off all of those old goals–goals that are now attained. It was an odd moment, sitting in a blank room that, for me, represented the blank slate of the future. Then in a flood, new things started going up. There are plenty of experiential and vocational goals, to be sure, but now I have some identity goals, too. Seeing the world made me want to change the sort of person I contribute to it rather than just the things I can get out of it. See, I’ve come to the conclusion that traveling can really be quite selfish. If you don’t do anything with what you’ve experienced–let it change you in some way, create something to share with others from it–it’s really meaningless.
If I forget about the malnourished children I saw in Ghana, the impoverished families I saw in the South African townships, the leprous beggars in India–then I’m an absolute fool. I’m missing my shot at making a positive impact on the world I just circumnavigated–of having a life that counts for more than a passport full of stamps. But I’m equally stupid if I fail to notice the unhappy people I’ve met on the ship and at home–people with broken families, people insecure despite absurdly spectacular giftings and talents and people scared of the future. People all over the world hurt. And if I can’t notice the ones closest to me, I have little chance of helping the ones half way across the globe.
I recommend travel. Of course. I’m a huge fan and advocate. But if the stars in the back roads of Nicholasville, KY don’t make you catch your breath, the ones over the Himalayas in Tibet probably won’t, either. If the kid hungrily eyeing treats in the check out line at Wal-Mart while his mom buys the necessities with food stamps doesn’t make you feel a little ashamed of your full buggy, the little cutie holding out his hand then motioning to his empty mouth in India probably won’t, either. My new challenge to myself is to open up my eyes and heart to the world around me. This terrifies me.
Why? Because if you are serious about engaging, you are going to get hurt–because opening your eyes means loving, and loving hurts. A lot. Loving in the way that I’m trying to learn to love–in the way that I’ve been loved–can be a painful affair. It’s the kind of love that I can’t wrap my head around. The love that made someone give a boatload of money so a kid they never met could go around the world for free–the love that made a perfect being suffer and die so that imperfect, selfish, ridiculous little Martha coud get a wonderful life and ticket to eternal life. Love gives to others for love’s sake, with no strings attached. It gives till it’s uncomfortable, sacrificial and lavish. It’s painful, but in the words of an oddly poetic song, “Love is worth everything we pay.” Without it, you may be safe, but you aren’t really free. I want to be like that.
So the big question: where to next, Martha?