one day I’ll paint the perfect sunset – if only I can find the words.
I’ve noticed that when I don’t take pictures with a camera, my mind remembers the moment better. I saw the most breathtaking sunset today and no lens could pick up on the richness of the yellow and orange, the lightness of the pink, the deepness of the blue, or the way the clouds and light all mixed together to form the most stunning shade of lavender. I still have the image in my head, long after the sun has set. I only wish I knew how to paint, so I could bring it to life the way an iPhone camera never could.
Tonight we visited a mausoleum. We drove on winding roads and hiked a path through the snow, our way lit only by a headlamp as we trekked to stand upon the grave of nearly 2,500 German soldiers. All the names were engraved into the stone walls and floors, their ranks next to meaningless as I realized that nearly all of them were around my age when they died. Early, mid-twenties. It was strange being there. I’m a history major concentrating in twentieth century Germany – I find the Nazis and the Third Reich fascinating, but twisted. As I walked among the graves, I wondered whether I should feel sorry for these men. They had fought for what we now deem an awful cause (well, I guess that depends on who “we” are), but many of them were likely drafted or enlisted without knowing what they were fighting for. They were so young, and isn’t the death of youth always a tragedy?
As we emerged, I looked up and stared at the stars. It was so dark, with no light pollution or clouds to disrupt our view of the universe. I wish I could adequately describe the majesty of that picture, ingrained in my mind but invisible to a camera lens. The snow-topped trees opened up to a dome of inky blue-black sky speckled with thousands of twinkling balls of incandescent light. I saw the two Dippers, Orion’s Belt, Scorpius, the North Star. Even the Milky Way. Although we didn’t see the aurora borealis like I’d hoped, I felt an incredible sense of wonder. How small we are, down here at the bottom of a snow globe, just specks of dust living on a slightly larger speck of dust in an enormous galaxy of fire and ice, darkness and light.
There are moments of doubt when traveling, of course. Periods of loneliness, lack of sleep, the drudge of physically moving myself and the stuff on my back from one place to another, over and over again, take their toll. It’s easy to miss my own bed, or my mom’s voice, or the pure happiness with which my dog greets me when I come home. It’s easy to feel alone. But all these moments are just that: moments. Brief blips in a grand adventure that I want to become my life. Back home, it’s easier to settle or convince myself that I could travel for holidays and live a “normal” life. But then I step on a plane and a day later I’m in a different world, yet it’s the same one and I’m reminded of why I love this and why it’s so important for me to do. If I were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow and the doctors told me there was little chance of surviving, I’d pack my bags and see as much of the world as I could before departing it. Because not exploring, not adventuring, not meeting people from other continents and cultures and seeing where they come from for myself – that would kill me faster than any disease. It would destroy my spirit, and I don’t want to live or die with regrets. That says something, doesn’t it? After all, wasn’t it Ghandi who said we should live as if we’ll die tomorrow? (But learn as if we’ll live forever; hence, I’m finishing my degree.)
I keep finding myself pulled back to a conversation I had in Amsterdam. It began with a simple request to watch my stuff, then an introduction, then two hours of talking about every topic under the sun. And to Brussels, where I found someone who shares my dream of moving to Australia to live in a camper van for awhile, and who faces the same problem of people back home just not wanting or being enough for those of us with stars in our eyes and the world in our souls. Then to Tallinn, where I went upstairs to order a taxi and ended up learning about an old Prussian train outside an abandoned sugar factory in Germany, the origin of cashews, and that a 5,000,000,000 note during Yugoslavia’s inflation would’ve only bought me a week’s worth of groceries. The coolest, happiest, most inquisitive, positive, and easygoing people I’ve met are travelers and I cannot explain how much they inspire me to be more, do more. To give my curiosity and all the experiences this world has to offer my very best. To create a free, happy, and fulfilling life, even if that life isn’t one society deems acceptable.
I’ve read two really good books recently, both of which I picked up spontaneously at an independent bookstore in South Kensington. Silence in the Age of Noise really made me consider and reflect upon disconnecting in order to more deeply connect with ourselves and the world around us. And The Descent of Man was an illuminating read on masculinity and how it is not only harmful to women but also to the men who emulate it (as well as those who don’t); it made me want to read more books on gender studies. I know so many smart people who know so much about so many different things, all because they’re inquisitive and not lazy with their curiosity; instead, they foster it and pursue knowledge wherever they can. I want to be more like that, instead of drudging through what’s required of me at school and stopping there with the halfhearted excuse that there’ll be plenty of time after my university years are over to become wise and learn the things I want to learn. That’s bullshit; there will always be a reason not to seek more knowledge and it’s stupid to continue stifling my curiosity out of laziness or exhaustion. I’ve ignored it for so long that I rarely register it rising to the surface anymore, and that’s been an incredibly disturbing realization over the course of this trip. Luckily, at the ripe young age of nineteen, I can correct my mistake and turn a bad habit into a better one with practice and rearranging my priorities in this hectic thing we call life.
It’s sad that I might have lost a friend through this. I write for many reasons – for the practice, the release, the fun of it – but I never write for others’ hurt or benefit, and I don’t write at anyone. I like when people tell me they relate to my words or that I articulated something they couldn’t. I like to write and I like to help people. Both, in turn, help me. So I won’t apologize for being human and having emotions and sharing them through words in order to relate to others and have others relate to me. But I am sorry if any of those words have been misconstrued or hurt anyone, because that is never ever my intention. And if anyone felt uncomfortable by me working myself out on my own platform, I’m sorry that was enough to lose them. Because it’s never really about anyone else; it’s about me. Our words are a reflection of who we are and above most things, I value honesty. I’m thankful to a friend who told me recently, in more or less these words, “You write for yourself. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for that.” It was reassurance that echoed nineteenth century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.”
So with that long and scattered update of my headspace, it’s time for bed. xx
“Goodnight and great love to you. We see the same stars.” – George Mallory, from a letter to his wife Ruth during the 1921 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition