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Published: November 5th 2015
"Look as long as you can at the friend you love, no matter whether that friend is moving away from you or coming back toward you." -Rumi, "My Worst Habit"
Living as a backpacker is different than traveling as one. When you travel from place to place, new faces and new friends are a dime a dozen. You meet, exchange stories, make brief connections (that might transcend all time and distance, but still, might not) and you move on. The distance between strangers and clubbing buddies can be covered by the end of a bottle of wine and in the morning when the bus comes, well-wishes and Facebook requests mark the end of a moment. Living as a backpacker you get some of this too, with those travelers who are still, well, traveling. Nights out vary in dynamic and intensity depending on who is staying at the hostel that particular week. But soon lazy Saturday afternoons are spent on the beach instead of at the next big tourist attraction and the owner of your favorite breakfast stop knows not to expect you before 1:00 pm. You have friends from ten different countries, sometimes a spattering of broken English and flashing
hand gestures the only means of communication and yet you've never laughed harder. You become part of a community of misfits and they feel more like family than your own flesh and blood. These people know what you struggle with from finding work, or the strange bites covering you from head to toe one morning, the occasional smelly roommate, nights out when you went just a little too far and mornings after where they remind you just how far you went, homesickness, depression, to that travel bug that covers you from head to toe every morning. These are essentially the character witnesses to this crazy adventure you've embarked on, anchors in an ever changing world. And when one of them decides there are new horizons prime for exploration, you come to understand the bittersweet of separation.
I'm bad with goodbyes. Horrible, actually. If I could have my way, dramatic flair and all, every goodbye would be accompanied with heart-rending background music, the warm golden light of sunset bringing out the starry sparkle of my tears. I'd have a perfect speech prepared, filled with eloquent phrases and wise advise and it would be a moment trapped in time, never lost
to memory. Moved to tears, we'd embrace and linger tenderly, staring at the sun as it sets on this chapter of our lives...
Obviously this never happens (I do not live in a Nicholas Sparks movie) and instead I find myself fumbling with my words as if English is a foreign language, my face turns the color of an overripe tomato, I become hot and clammy and start sweating like my pores are releasing Niagara Falls. It's not a pretty picture. It doesn't matter if we're family, friends, lovers, or you're my mentor; if you've had any impact on my life in anyway and at any point we have to say goodbye, chances are I make a muck of it.
I never know what to say, especially for those important goodbyes, the ones that mark you for life. How can you tell someone they've saved you from those dark churning waters of your psyche time and time again, a life raft they never intended to be but performed with unexpected skill nevertheless? How can you explain that the happiness you felt in their presence was like the first warm rays of sunshine after winter's harshest bite? And how,
for the Love of all things, can you explain the emptiness you know you'll feel when they leave. I never have the words in the moment. They come to me as I watch in my rearview as friends fade and diminish and I move further and further away. The Love I have for them never fully manifests itself until the edges of the void their absence left behind cuts into my soul as I try to start living and moving around without them near me.
I'm going into all this simply because, you guessed it, I've had to say goodbye to someone who is very important to me. We traveled together for the past six months, from epic New Zealand to sunny Australia. We explored the wildlife and stunning sunsets of Otago, the crystal clear nights skies of Lake Tekapo where it seemed like we could reach out and touch heaven, the jaw-dropping majesty of Mt. Cook's rugged peak, the backwoods of Rangitata, the peaceful laziness of Akaroa where I put our friendship to the test in one of the hardest hikes I ever attempted to do in NZ, all the way to the dolphin infested shores of Kaikoura.
We navigated the back streets of Melbourne together and have witnessed the blossoming of Sydney side by side. This man met me just as I was beginning to lift myself from rock bottom and helped me love this life of travel once again at a time when I was sure I'd pack it up and go home. We have been through nearly every level of high and low since then, and he's weathered my extreme excitabilities rather well, considering I can hardly keep up with them myself. He's been a best friend and aggravating enemy, but still that life preserver I needed to survive. And now he is gone, off on another new adventure and due partly to circumstance and partly to the need for independence on both sides, I've staid behind. I knew this was coming, knew from the beginning that it was all temporary, but hindsight is a cheeky brat and I never expected to have Loved him the way I do.
You read that and some of you might say "I knew it!" while others might gape (mystery man included), but give me a minute to explain. I set out on this trip to find Love,
an all-encompassing notion that I believe connects human beings together and to the Great Unknown, that mysterious "other" that many of us spend half our lives chasing. Since I left home, Love has manifested itself in many, sometimes extremely aggravating ways and I've learned that my original concept was too limiting, to say the least. I have often mistook infatuation for love, having my heart shattered into a million pieces. I have made friends whom I loved at the very beginning and others where it took me awhile to recognize the Love in our relationship. I have met mentors who's advice and honesty has carried me through some tough times, and that too I've discovered is Love. I even have felt Love for people I don't particularly like, if only at a distance. I have walked along white sandy beaches, hiked into emerald green forests, tramped around on blue ice, and have dunked myself in turquoise pools, all the while feeling within every cell of my body, the Love of the universe. Love is in everything, Love is everything. And it never ceases to surprise and amaze me.
"all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of
sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
So I have learned a bit about Love, but it will never let me have the last laugh because suddenly it's introduced a new manifestation, a Love so inbetween extremes that I feel as if it's on a whole different level entirely. The Love I now feel has none of the restrictions or harmful consequences which have happened so often in my past. What I feel is not the butterflies of a romantic dream, neither is it the platonic Love towards a family or a close friend. It isn't a Love that I give in exchange for someone else's heart, where I live and breathe within a shared emotion. This is something different, like a blooming flower is different to a bud. Both are beautiful in their own right, but the open flower has a bigger, fuller radiance that both outshines and highlights that of the bud. If I had any grace to give, any essence of the Love that I set out to look for, if I could pass along peace of mind and heart to him, I would.
every trip, have only one objective, to meet those who are friends inside the presence." -Rumi, "A Pilgrimage to a Person"
This Love is new to me, like my heart was removed and beneath it, my soul touched. I feel an expanding where just my soul used to be, an infinite space of possibilities where I can know Love, that Great Unknown that I have been searching for. With my heart back in place, the fit isn't quite right, the alignment off, but almost as if this is nearer to what it's supposed to be, like before I had limited myself to a small cage when I had access to the universe.
I still struggle of course, slipping easily into old destructive habits with my petty ideas of what Love should be. I convert back to my neediness and desire for reciprocity, making dramatic claims on what I deserve or about how Love should be shown and isn't. The tightrope between hypocrisy and humbleness requires my extreme balance and too often I've missed a step or my foot has slipped and I am forced to look at the great vast emptiness stretching below. I have made mistakes and
the sorrows I blanket them with hardly justify the breath I use to speak them and I sink into the whirlpool of my selfish and material desires and sometimes it takes a slap from the great hand of the Universe to bring me back into focus.
"When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools, dig a way out through the bottom to the ocean." -Rumi, "My Worst Habit"
I am not at the point in my journey where the awareness of such Love is a constant, but the fact that I've seen it and felt it gives me no choice but to believe that it is always there, just waiting for me to open myself up once again.
I don't know what's going to happen, and frankly, in terms of this Love lasting, I don't really care. If I see him again or even if I don't, this connection, this link will be forever. For as the infamous Gregory David Roberts says, "Love is the passionate search for a truth other than your own, and once you feel it, honestly and completely, love is forever. Every act of love, every moment of the heart reaching out, is a
part of the universal good: it's a part of God, or what we call God, and it can never die."
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