I’m sitting in the departure hall of Terminal 3 at Heathrow. In exactly 24 hours, I will be touching down at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne. After almost eight months, I am coming home.
So, to mark the end of this particular journey, I’m going to do something a little different.
I’m going to tell you all about how awful it was.
The most important feedback I ever received on this blog was that I wrote with ‘a sense of honesty.’ As a reader, writer and editor, I am always aware of the dangers of simplification and exaggeration. The temptations to dramatise, glamorise or mythologise are heightened in the world of social media, where an insidious pressure exists to display only the best, most likeable aspects of our lives. We make public our successes and keep private our failures.
In spite of this, I have strived to be as open and honest as I could in this blog. To show negative sides of my stories as well as the positive. The bad is often more important than the good – or at least, more educational. At any rate, what’s most valuable of all is the unvarnished truth.
Yet, inevitably, behind the highlights of the adventures, much fades in the unspoken shadows. A lot of the negativity we experience in the moment comes out in the wash of reflection. It’s the good things that tend to remain. In both our memories and in our stories, we tend to omit the long, boring, disheartening downtime in favour of life’s spectacles and climaxes. Stories are about notable, interesting, exciting times, after all, not about the times you were too lethargic, dispirited and confused to do anything but mope in your hostel bunk all day long.
But the unvarnished truth is that, while there have of course been many incredible experiences, amazing adventures and beautiful encounters, there have also been disappointments and failures. It’s probably unwise to tabulate things exactly, but I know that for every incredible high there was an equally low period where I felt lost, lazy, frustrated or depressed.
Of course, there were the predictable challenges of the road. Exhaustion and injury, illness, ignorance, fear, and all manner of discomfort. All to be expected, all able to be born with good spirits. But there were deeper problems. Questions of purpose and place, of identity, of character. They loomed over me for much of my journey like the waxing and waning moon. At times they were a crescent whisper amidst the twinkling of incredible experiences. At other times they blazed bright, full and clear, dragging like the tides against my tired little swimmer of a traveller as I navigated the beautiful, pitiless, incredible, unforgiving, cold loving world.
These last two months in Europe have been the most turbulent. Somehow, all the plans and purpose I had held to in my life simply vanished. For a while, I found myself with no desire to go anywhere, or do anything, with no recollection of just exactly it was that I was supposed to be doing with my life. I became stressed, anxious and exhausted, unable to go a day without several slow-motion panic attacks rippling through me like the aftershocks of some earthquake. All I wanted to do was lie in bed under the covers and hide from the world. But I couldn’t even do that for more than fifteen minutes before a tormenting voice would force me out in a fit of frustration, as I tried to escape the relentless whispering: “you’re wasting your time.”
Regret is a dirty word, these days. We’re supposed to view our problems productively, as challenges to be overcome. Indeed, many of the people I admire in my own life have a tough, resilient sense of optimism, refusing to surrender their happiness to the travails of life for any notable length of time, refusing to concede the worth of their lived experience, no matter how negative it may feel.
This is one of the most valuable qualities one can cultivate and one that I, at times, struggle to maintain. I have to confess that, in these final days and weeks of my trip, I am looking back on significant portions of it in dismay. Bad decisions, failed endeavours, time and money wasted.
‘But don’t be ridiculous,’ you might say. ‘What an incredible opportunity you had, what a privilege, to be able to travel the world. Its something most people can only dream of.’ In a sense, you’re right – and it only added to my frustration. Why couldn’t I take up more of the opportunities I had been given? Why did I have such trouble, at times, appreciating what so many people can only dream of?
The story-teller in me would love to resolve all this with a neat, optimistic ending. Of course, these challenges were only a part of a story that also contained beauty, wonder, excitement, happiness and love. And I am feeling optimistic about the future, to return home to my friends and family and begin the next stage of life. But the difficulties I encountered along the way have not been resolved. If I dwell too long (or even a little) on significant moments of the past eight months I feel confusion, sadness, even anger. In some ways, I am disappointed in myself. And there are some things I regret.
Yet there is one aspect about which I feel not a trace of disappointment nor an iota of regret. At every stage of the journey, I met amazing teachers and friends who gifted me love, happiness, laughter and wisdom. Perhaps the greatest lesson I have received concerns the importance of community, of being able to express yourself authentically and be accepted for whoever you truly are, for whatever you might truly be feeling. There are many corners of the world I can now call my home, many people I can now call my family – for this blessing of blessings, I have only gratitude and the promise that wherever I am will be a home for you all as well.
And while my Six Months South might have come to an end, I’m sure I’ll have more to share soon. In truth, it ended up being more than six months. In truth, half of it I spent in Europe. And, in truth, it wasn’t all great times and classic hits (though the music was pretty good).
But I’m sure, in the end, it will all have been worth it. Thanks so much for reading and giving me feedback. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much (or even more) than I have.
See you in five.