I had a heart to heart with my sister last night. I told her about my plans to go back to Morocco after leaving Ghana and the usual suspect, “Why?” came up. Why Morocco instead of France, like I originally planned? Why not Mexico? Why not home? I have to admit the answers I provided aren’t yet solid; the reasons and rhymes are still a bit shaky, despite my best efforts.She is my confidant and best friend, but we don’t always agree!
After seven months on the road, I’m learning to live within the tension of the unknown. I’ve grown more comfortable with the open ended questions and last minute plans. Still, I can’t always expect my friends and family to understand or comply with the uncertainties. While my family has been unbelievably supportive, I can tell my ups and downs and turn arounds are starting to wear on them. They’ve listened, they’ve waited, they’ve loved me across the ocean. But how long can I depend on their understanding and patience?
This time my hesitation and indecision are too much. “You’re my sister and what I see is that you’re going from place to place getting a little bit screwed by some people, and being confused by others, and generally having a hard time. Maybe I am being selfish to want to see you in a place where everything’s not up in the air. I always hated Alice in Wonderland so maybe you can understand why I feel occasionally frustrated by the maze…because all that happened was she (Alice) had a lot of bizarre experiences that I’m not sure were ultimately valuable and then she finally made it home. Why did it have to take all that?”
I read the words on my screen and I have to admit, it has been a maze. And it hasn’t always been an easy maze filled with wonderment and exploration. Sometimes the maze is hazy and misleading. “It’s time to pick something and stick to it”, she gently insists.
I think about what she’s said and start to doubt what I’m doing. Am I really chasing rabbit holes, in a perpetual state of confusion? How can I convince others I’m not wasting my time when I can barely convince myself? Am I going in circles chasing my own tail, running away from the life I should be leading?
“It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down the rabbit-hole–and yet–and yet–…” (Lewis Carroll)
Is Alice lost, or merely finding herself?
I can relate to Alice more than I’d like to admit. Some days I long to escape the rabbit hole for something more sure and permanent. Some days “What are you doing next?” and “When are you coming home?” start to get to me and I second guess the whole process.
I don’t think my experiences are worthless, and I know I’m not wasting my time. Yet, how does one quantify something like experience to the ones you love back home? How do you explain that you’re not the same person when you left, and that in itself is worth its weight in gold? How do you describe the wonderment, the awe, the heart breaking for all of the right reasons, when they can’t touch or feel or see it? How do you communicate the reasons why through the tears and the homesickness and road weariness?
How do you prove to them that it’s all worth it in spite of the hardship? How do you ask them to hang out in the fog of your doubt, to encourage you when you need it, to listen as your life’s plan changes time after time?
“It’ll be no use their putting their heads down and saying “Come up again, dear!”
I shall only look up and say “Who am I then? Tell me that first, and then,
if I like being that person, I’ll come up: if not, I’ll stay down here
till I’m somebody else”–but, oh dear!’ cried Alice, with a sudden burst
of tears, ‘I do wish they WOULD put their heads down! I am so VERY tired
of being all alone here!”
I think about Alice in Wonderland some more and then another story of a lost girl comes to mind, that of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Maybe it’s because I’m from Kansas (okay Missouri, close enough), but I can relate to her story, too. Like Alice, Dorothy also experienced some bizarre things yet,
“Dorothy did not feel nearly so bad as you might think a little girl who had been so suddenly whisked away from her own country and set down in the middle of a strange land.”
I have to admit I admire her courage. After landing in Oz, she decided to follow the yellow brick road without knowing exactly where it would lead, or who the Wizard was. She began a journey and encountered ups and downs, good and evil. She remained undeterred and optimistic in the midst of obstacles. Along the way, she and her friends were transformed by their experiences. When what they were seeking turned out to be an illusion, they stopped relying on the answers of others and learned to discover their own. The lion eventually gained courage, the tin man learned to love, and the scarecrow opened his mind to a new understanding of the world.
I try this theory on my sister, “What if my story is more like Dorothy’s?” I ask. She’s still not convinced. “I’m not asking you to be me or to put you in a box, all I’m saying is that I think you should evaluate the Whys.”
I take her advice. I think about why I began this journey and what I intended to achieve. Originally, I decided to travel for a year because I wanted to pursue an authentic life of simplicity and freedom. I wanted to re-write my life’s story, to discover a new career, a new home, a new path. I’m kidding myself and everyone else if I think traveling to a few countries in a few months will accomplish all of these things. Yet, I feel closer to these discoveries than before.
I take a deep breath and look out the window. I’m sitting in the back of a “tro tro,” Ghana’s main source of reliable transportation, though I use that word loosely. Palm trees are on my right, gently blowing in the ocean breeze, passengers asleep to my left. I smile as I look at their relaxed faces, sweat pouring down their foreheads, oblivious to the heat and length of the journey.
I’m too hot and uncomfortable to sleep, so I admire the bold colors of the woman’s dress sitting next to me. There are splashes of reds and yellows covering the vibrant patterns I was dreaming about only a few weeks ago. I smile and turn my attention back to the view as we continue bumping along on our way back to the city. I think about my future and the possibilities it holds. I think about the fact that I’m in Ghana doing something I had no idea I’d love doing, yet I do. That’s when I realize: I’m happy. I’m content. I don’t feel trapped any more.These faces make all of the struggles worth it!
I remind myself that it’s going to take time. Charting a new course requires effort and practice, and it doesn’t happen over night. Sometimes you have to gather all of the maps into a heap before you realize which ones you’ll really need. There are going to be false starts and flops. I’m going to change my mind, and in the process hurt some of the people I care most for. Not everyone is going to understand.
I have to be patient with myself and patient with others. Only time will tell whether I decide to click my ruby shoes three times, or choose to stay in the rabbit hole a little longer until I know who I will be when I finally emerge.
Sometimes I’m really not sure what the next steps are.
Riobamba Ecuador, 2013.
Do you find yourself feeling lost in Wonderland or wishing you could return home to Kansas? How do you deal with friends and family who grow tired of your travels and can’t understand why you keep going?Google+