It has certainly come full circle because the whole reason I am taking this trip is to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of studying abroad with a member of my Grenoble cohort. I was flipping back through the pages and pages of stamps from different countries, remembering what it was like to be exploring and living in a new country and learning a new language with totally new people.
I thought about the doors that first visa opened. The word visa comes from the Latin verb for "to see". Each stamp made me think about the visual impressions that awaited me behind all of those customs desks in all of those airports, all over Europe. In 9th grade I took a trip to England with my World Civilizations class over Spring Break and within the first 24 hours of being in England I had made up my mind to study abroad in college. Then, I remember going to the Reves Center in college, talking to an advisor, figuring out everything with my schedule and basically making my entire college career revolve around spending a year in France. I remember over the summer before I left to go, I spent a morning at the French Embassy in DC getting my visa and thinking, THIS IS HAPPENING. I remember leaving my parents at Dulles Airport and being overcome with emotion, about 5% fear and 95% excitement. That first visa, those first stamps, they were welcoming me into a new era of my life, welcoming me into my vocation, into my future career. I could feel the weight of what I was about to do. And here I sit at my desk, fully entrenched in my chosen path, understanding the significance of those first steps and how they shaped me.
That year I filled page after page with stamps - Czech Republic, Ireland, UK, Italy, Spain, Greece, Egypt. I am in the process of going back over the blog entries from that year and reposting them in an updated format with 10 year anniversary commentary. In fact, this blog entry is what inspired that project.
Then two years after I returned from France I headed back out into the unknown waters of the Caribbean Sea. That was one of the most trying years of my life but I know how formative it was as well. I got an escape at a time I really needed it and was able to meet some amazing people and see amazing things. It was another step in the journey. That adventure was what inspired me to start this blog. My first entry was on the 8th of May, 2006. I was inspired to write because I felt like my life was pretty interesting when I traveled. I've learned that I need to write things to process them, and something about the blog platform enabled me to share that with people in a private way. That's one of the biggest lessons I've learned over these years: to accept that the people in my life really do care about me, and want to know what I am thinking. I should tell them more, and listen more still.
Oh the South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe trip. After Martinique and a second stint in Williamsburg, you represent my grad school years and the most serious relationship I've ever been in. The next big stage in my life and the first big step towards a career and owning my adulthood. Put many more hard lessons and heartaches under my belt.
Turkey, my last big international trip. I always go on a big trip in the wake of a big breakup. Something about leaving the country gives me space enough to think more clearly. It takes me out of myself a little bit.
What does this new passport hold? What are the pages that remain to be written? What kinds of stamps and impressions will be made? Only God knows. But each one of these past stamps is like a tattoo. It's become part of what makes up the jigsaw puzzle that is me. I've been thinking so much about what makes up the "self". So much of who that person is is who has filled it to this point, that is, mostly just the person I thought I was or who I hoped other people thought I was. All these extraordinary journeys played a role in stretching me, helping me figure out what about the picture I wanted to project was actually true, and what I just wanted to be true because it sounded good or was more widely accepted. I'm seeing now that relinquishing that control, and giving more of myself in my relationships is slowly diminshing that need. I am finding there is more room for others because of that. This has been a source of incredible joy, to know the people in my life in new ways. Some of them have been in my life for 15 years or more, and in some ways I feel like I am just now seeing them for real.
What a great mercy. We can live our lives around people and never truly know them. And we can live our entire lives without ever really living. I spent a lot of time traveling and working to cultivate knowledge of the world and the great things it has to offer. I know that it has shaped me and I am thankful for every moment of it. But I also know that I was walking blind through most of that with only a flash here and there of what I was really doing and why.
I think what I have taken away from this reflection is that now, at 30, having more intention and purpose in my movements has added depth and a joy to everything, even to the sorrows. With each new impression, each new door that is opened to me, within my community at home or wherever I am led, I hope that I will always be grateful, fully present, and open to what there is to see.