I have this stack of letters I’ve toted around with me for the last nine months. It consists of cards I received from friends and family the night before departing for my round the world trip. The funny thing is, in all that time, I never read them.
When I buckled in on my flight to Reykjavik on August 19th, I set the stack on my tray table and ripped open the top envelope. Within reading a few words, I promptly panicked and closed the card. It was all too real – I felt quite alone and quite sure that what I was doing would leave me broken, penniless, and more lost than before I left. I decided then and there to save them for a moment of homesickness, as a way to refocus with the guidance of loved ones from afar. These letters became a bit like a security blanket, something to remind me of what I had set off to do and see. That moment of homesickness I had planned for never came and I kept on carrying the stack along with me for my entire trip, despite my very limited space.
When I arrived in Belfast and met Mike’s parents almost three months ago, his mom said this phrase that I have thought of every day since: People plan, God laughs. As you’ve probably noticed, I am not a religious person, but this motto is so apt given how my travels have gone. Plans I made never seemed to work out the way I wanted them to, so I was able to find the humor in this little saying. It’s never felt quite as true as throughout these last few weeks though, which ultimately led to me remembering the unopened letters sitting in my backpack.
I am in the midst of formulating a plan that will take me in the complete opposite direction than I thought I’d be going (both literally and figuratively). This is not the first time I’ve found myself in an entirely unexpected situation. In fact, I’d say about 90% of the events I’ve experienced during my travels were unplanned, many leaps of faith were taken. For example, I never intended on coming to Ireland during my initial time in the EU. I thought I’d spend two months in Europe but ended up spending three. I thought I’d do the Southeast Asia backpacker trail through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, but I certainly didn’t do that. My three months in Northern Ireland were meant to be spent in Australia. And now, the three months I had been planning to spend again in Australia (with plane tickets booked and everything) will be spent on an entirely different continent.
The universe has made it abundantly clear that Mike and I are not meant to go to Australia quite yet. And even though we fought against all the roadblocks that were preventing us from heading Down Under, new ones kept popping up and old ones remained problematic. What it’s made us realize is that maybe it’s not supposed to be this hard and perhaps we should listen to the cues we keep getting. Once we tuned in, our answer was clear – we should be looking west, not east. So now I find myself returning home to the USA a few months earlier than expected with an Irishman in tow, coming a few weeks behind me. We’re still planning to go to Oz after some events this summer, but it’s become clear that these “plans” are all just ideas – that we don’t ever know what’s going to happen.
I had been wondering about how this would work since before I even left – how will I deal with coming back home? I have heard repeatedly that re-entry can be extremely difficult, which does not ease my angst. There are lots of aspects of coming home that are particularly confusing, but the major anxiety is wondering how to integrate this whirlwind trip into things while I’m surrounded by the comfortable and familiar. Will I forget what I’ve discovered? Will I slip back into old habits? I can’t say for sure.
However, I have to believe that this is a good thing. There is a bigger purpose for the timing of all of this – there has been for every other aspect of these nine months. So this morning I took my stack of letters and a cup of coffee out into the sunny table in the yard and opened them. My reticence melted away and I felt a flood of comfort and excitement wash over me.
I no longer need to mentally prepare to miss my loved ones. I can get dinner with a group of friends instead of scheduling Skype calls one by one and a week in advance. I can finally tell my anxious grandmother the exact date I will see her again. I can get coffee with the people who have come out of the woodwork to show their support and thank them personally. I can eat my stepdad’s homemade bread straight out of the wood-fired oven instead of forcing my family to carry a frozen loaf in their suitcases for me (which I’ve done twice now). I no longer need to wonder “what if?” about doing or not doing things, because I’ve already done more than I expected I could.
Reading the thoughts of my loved ones was surreal – it’s hard to process how much has happened since they wrote those letters. Mainly though, I had one takeaway.
I did it. Alone. Without a selfie stick. And without any preconceived notions of what I would get out of it, despite my urges to try and control it. I left it open and, because of that, I went to countries I never thought I’d see. That is the same openness that has taken me here to this moment. And soon it will take me home.
That’s pretty damn great.