London, England. Late November. 12:30 p.m.
My backpack leans against the wall. My second suitcase stands next to it. The kitchen is clean, lights off, curtains drawn.
I look around one last time, step into the hallway, and shut the door. I’ve left the keys—let’s hope I didn’t forget anything.
I walk to the Tube (South Kensington) and board the Piccadilly train for Heathrow Airport. I sit down and close my eyes, but I don’t sleep. Instead, I run my thoughts over the past two weeks: the people I’ve met, the food I’ve cooked, the dances I’ve danced.
It is becoming a ritual of sorts to take stock in this way. There is so much to remember, and I want to pay each face, each meal, each moment the homage it deserves. Of course, I can’t, but I do what I can and take time for reflection, inadequate though it may be.
Now, waiting here at London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3, I want to talk about this leaving…
Don’t believe them: it doesn’t get easier.
I think a lot of people have this image in their head of the free-spirited nomad-hippie who wanders the world without attachments and lets go of people and places easily.
And those people certainly exist—I’m friends with some of them!
But I suspect that for many travelers—as for me—the non-attachment is an illusion, a misperception, or both. For me, leave-taking is the difficult-yet-necessary counterpoint to arriving.
If I don’t leave, I can’t arrive. So I do. But I never said it was easy.
And, the more deeply I connect with the people and places I visit, the harder it gets.
You see, I’m a big advocate for slow travel. Slow travel isn’t just about how we get there; it’s about how we stay, and for me that means getting deep wherever I go. Really deep.
Success in this endeavor is a double-edged sword, however. I am continually falling in love with cities and mountains; people and dogs (cats not so much). This love, wonder, passion—call it what you will—makes my experiences what they are, but it also makes leaving that much more complicated.
Yet, I do leave.
I pack my bag(s), look around one last time, step outside, and shut the door.
There is a heaviness to this repeated ritual of leaving, perhaps difficult to understand if you do not live in movement. And if movement is not your creed, you may wonder,
If it’s not easy or carefree to be always arriving (and, by inevitable extension, always leaving), why do you do it?
Many (even most?) travelers don’t leave without sadness or nostalgia. We don’t leave without a care, hair blowing in the ocean breeze and sunlight casting long, happy shadows on the path behind us. But we do leave. And it isn’t easy or painless, but we choose to do it anyway. Three truths help:
1. It is in fact always possible to go back, to revisit, to return.
2. Goodbyes are a part of a balanced life. If we don’t leave, we cannot arrive.
3. Heaviness is as beautiful as lightness; one who wishes to live in movement must understand both.
Leaving soon? I hope these thoughts will help—not to make it easier, but to make the challenge less troubling.
A different kind of answer to the same kind of question:
What are you searching for?
I… I… I…
I still don’t know.
Do you still find stillness
Are you still searching because—
So, what are you searching for?
I… I don’t know.
Yes, you do.
What are you searching for?
I am searching.
You are searching.