Surrender is the moment when you say, “I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I’m supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn’t get to.” – Linda Holmes, NPR
It is safe to say that my life has, at least, one defining and dividing moment. That moment is the day (or as it turned out, dayS) I boarded a plan and traveled to Brazil for two years. Until that moment, I had no dreams of travel. I had no dreams of meeting people very different from myself. I had no dreams of learning new languages (my high school experience taught me that I was, in fact, incapable of learning languages).
Of course, while I and many others may say we want to see, learn and experience as much of this world as we can; we also know, at least intuitively, the same insight that Linda Holmes points out about the World’s literature. There is too much. You can’t. You won’t.
Like Holmes, those of us who want to (and I honestly think that “those of us” is actually “all of us” to varying degrees) experience as much of the world as possible know and accept that “sad, beautiful fact”. We find it inspiring in itself, that humanity has created a store of culture, story and knowledge that could never fit into the life of one single human.
It is indeed a type of surrendering, to realize that there are simply too many people in the world. I will never come to know even superficially 1% of the people in the world.
But this version of Ms. Holmes’ “sad, beautiful fact” is even more heart-wrenching. I imagine it is a very rare statement, hearing one say, “oh, I wish I could have read the Lord of the Rings one more time before I died.” For the vast majority of the great books, we seem to find a once-reading, quite enough. We seem, in general, to fulfill our need by getting through Shakespeare, Twain, dickens and all the rest, at least once. But not necessarily more than that.
Rarely, in the adventure of understanding people, is it satisfying to meet and speak with people just once. Indeed, the act of meeting an interesting, beautiful or compelling person once is like an addiction. And separation can and does lead to a withdrawl-effect that my Brazilian friends would call Saudade. An affected longing for the past.
As I progress in this meeting of people, I am just now realizing what I am getting myself into; which is essentially a very broken heart. Every Thursday night, I think about my closest of friends at the University of Utah. Our rituals now shattered in our scattering. We rarely have contact now, even though those few people had a transformative impact on my thinking.
On warm nights, I feel the absence of sand, a volleyball court and my friends from the English Language Institute. People from all over the world converging in one place at one time. We are now scattered once again. People who I didn’t realize until it was too late, that I felt a deep and abiding connection to.
Eating at a Brazilian restaurant will invariably send me introverted and contemplative. It is difficult to express just how much I love and miss my dear friends in Brazil. Saudade, I suppose.
These feelings are not the providence of the traveler alone. All of us feel this, to one extent or another. I write as if I have stumbled upon some inspiring insight into the human experience in the age of globalism. I haven’t.
We all feel the pain of losing a loved-one. The moving on of friendships; the separating of families. Suck it up, we might say.
And that does seem to be the truth of the matter. At some point that I am not entirely sure of, we must stop lamenting (at least publicly) the loss of our friends to time or distance. At some point, the letter, or the e-mail, or the Facebook Message no longer seems to hold the same emotional “hit”. Old friends just ‘know’.
As I am discovering, some feel a slight sense of discomfort at this kind of longing being vocalized. Perhaps it is the chronic nature of the lament. Every so often, we remember each other, how much we miss each other and it is quite a pain (literally) to tell each other once again. We dig up old feelings, perhaps unveiling some feelings for the first time. We bring them up, once again, just to feel their warmth and then bury them again, because it still hurts.
Until, it seems, we find our place. “Our place” varies widely. It sometimes is in the hometown you were born in, sometimes it evolves naturally from the life-plan your family sets out for you. At times, “our place” is in an unexpected place, with unexpected people. I suppose some people never find their place in the world, and as such, must continually struggle in a way more directly with these feelings.
Right now, I am lamenting the logical conclusion of the life that involves traveling, experiencing and meeting people. It is the “sad, beautiful fact” that you will never keep up with all the people you will meet. And even the people you feel a potentially deep connection with, may slip through your fingers.
This is true for everyone, not just the traveler. Even if you never leave your childhood hometown, you will have siblings get married, grandparents will die and friends will move away. There is, however, a comfort of knowing your place in the world. Of either “surrendering” (in the sense Holmes describes) to it, or “culling” it; forcibly making your place.
The traveler (as I know it) has a strange and vague path towards making a place for themselves in the world. The romantic version of the nomad is something like The Alchemist. Where a simple boy, unable to obtain his childhood love, goes on a great journey through North Africa, through the merciless Sahara and finds his “place” and love in (naturally) an oasis-town. It’s a beautiful story; not necessarily realistic, even as a template.
What the traveler gains in broad experience, they can lose in deep understanding. It certainly has been wonderful to see all these places and to know (to the degree possible) the people in my life. But the nature of our meetings, even with people I feel a profound connection, dictates only the most superficial of dives into the relationship. Leaving us (or at least me) knowing there is a deeper connection to be discovered, but that will almost certainly never be explored. A sad, bittersweet and yet beautiful fact.