“We are all just passing through,” my Dad told me as we were talking about some of the takeaways from my trip. I don’t often get time to sit and chat with my Dad, just one-on-one, really listening to each other. This resonated with me and I’ve been thinking about it for about a week now. If we are all just passing through, spending a mere tap of time on this planet, what should we be doing while we are here?
It had been exactly three months – 93 days – of being away from America when I landed in Minneapolis. I would be spending the next five days with my siblings, my Dad and his partner, and Tony in Minnesota. My brother lives in Minneapolis and has a lake house outside of the city. Since I got in a day before the others, I wandered around Minneapolis, checking out the Mississippi river and the city where he lives. I walked along the water, on perfectly paved, new, and totally accessible sidewalks. I was coming at this from a completely different place now, taking in all of the sites and people. Before…I would have just ignored the people and places, on a sole mission to get to my next destination, hurrying and hustling.
As I wandered, I couldn’t help but feel like a part of me was still on the other side of the planet. Like a part of my soul had forgotten – or maybe refused – to get on the plane with me. I know in my heart that there is still some sort of unfinished business for me on the other side of this world. I don’t know what it is exactly but there’s a strong magnetic pull for me to be back there, to hear more, to learn more, and to do more. I spent much of my flight back to America randomly sobbing at the entire experience, knowing that such a profound moment in my life had materialized. The magnitude of my experience was so fulfilling, and I still worry that I might not ever be able to fill my bucket completely, that the most fulfilling and satisfying parts of my life are happening right now, and then they will slow down, come to a complete and sudden halt, before I’m ready. And then…what?
As I strolled – wheeled – along the streets in Minneapolis, I thought about the memories and experiences from my trip thus far. I knew that one of the things I hated most was that every minute passing, every second that went by, was distance between me and the experience. And I know that my mind is incapable of holding onto every fine detail forever, that every minute passing is a minute further away from the experience and the memory itself, and that eventually those memories will fade. I want to hold them all so tightly, perfectly engrained and never forgotten. And that, is impossible.
I was pretty jetlagged but I wanted to go into our family trip with a similar mindset, trying to capture every minute together. I wanted to have good memories from being together, such intense memories that would cling to my brain, even after the time had passed. I was up most days before everyone else (jetlag) and would often wake Tony so we could have coffee while watching the sunrise over the lake. I loved this hour or two where we both spent time chatting and challenging each other about cultures, politics, our futures…the world, really.
As the morning passed, one by one, the rest of my family would rise and wander into the kitchen in their pajamas for a cup of coffee. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that we went through at least six or seven pots of coffee every day! We are a coffee family, and it’s one of my favorite parts of every day – here and around the world.
Our days would evolve however they were meant to be, with little planning involved. One afternoon we floated around the lake on the boat and paddleboards, another afternoon we explored the nearby town – Buffalo, MN – stopping for breakfast and beers and window shopping at knick knack shops, and other days we would lounge around, just being together.
As I sit and write this, and think about memories and what sticks, something I know that will always be strongly engrained in my bank of memories are the sounds of laughter of my loved ones. I think of my closest family and friends, individually, and can easily recall the sound of each of their laughs. I know their humor and what to say to make them laugh, and just thinking of each of their laughs, gives me a smile. Maybe this is what memories are about – the feelings and not the actual experience. But then, how do you hold onto the memory of a feeling forever, if it only happened for a brief moment?
I put on a green shirt a few days ago. It had been exactly 99 days since I wore something other than the black tank top or blue t-shirt I had been wearing for the last three months. And it wasn’t exciting.
I have been so content – more than content, really – wearing the same three shirts, one pair of shorts, and one pair of jeans I’ve been toting around with me since May. Now I’m not much of a fashionista to begin with, and clothes stress me out more than excite me, but having no choice in what to put on each morning really added to the calm in my mind. Instead of worrying about what color of top I would put on, my mind was more focused on where I was going to get my coffee and what people I might encounter on any given day.
I went through a pile of mail that accumulated over 100 days; not a single piece of it was important. I filled my coffee cup – I use the same one every day and always have – and drank coffee while sitting on my couch, looking out massive windows as the sun rose.
Later that day, I found myself on the Atlanta Beltline. I had spent hours, months, on the Atlanta Beltline before this journey began. It’s a place where I dealt with a lot of anger and was able to spend time with my thoughts. It’s the place I was when I made the decision to take this journey, to throw a total wrench into my life, and chose to grow in ways that I hope stay with me forever. So this week, I turned the corner and walked down that same path, a trail that carried my uncertainty for so long. I was different now. I saw the scenery this time, something that I never noticed before, always trapped inside my own head. It’s strange, the day I left for Bali, Indonesia, I walked that path and left being so afraid, so uncertain of what I was doing. And this week, I walked off that trail and knew I had made the best decision of my life.
I still have no idea what my future holds. I, of course, have plenty of fleeting thoughts, some with more meat than others, but I’m going to trust this process, for the time being, and allow the growth to continue. If we really are just passing through, and this is a quick stop in all of time, I want to be thoughtful about every minute. I want my memories to be robust, full of all of the emotions. Like my first 90 days did, life goes by quickly – a mere pitstop in all of time – but we have the privileged choice to spend those minutes wisely. So for me, I will try to capture the memories of bunking up with my sisters on the edge of a lake, drinking coffee in our pajamas, floating in the sun on a boat, and gathering in the evenings around a table as the sun set overhead, talking about life and laughing. Because if we are just passing through, isn’t that a big part of what we should be doing? I can’t help but think we are meant to give someone else a memory that sticks – laughter, kindness, joy. The feelings we give have to be the most impactful part of our time here.
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