Thursday, September 23, 2010

Not all who wander are lost, but...some are

I never intended on being a wanderer. I wasn't set against it. I just hadn't intended it. I love my place of origin (California), but in spite of that I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I live inside my head. I watch the world and am generally startled when it demands something of me. I am quiet when I should speak and I speak when I should be silent. Like an awkward dancer I am always off by one beat. My steps are right, but not in time with the music around me.

When I was growing up, Thoreau's words resonated with me. They still do. He went to the woods to live deliberately because he did not want to face his death with the realization that he had not lived.  He relocated to a place where he could find himself. For him, that place was the woods. For me, that place is the world.

I wander because wandering is where I fit in. I am an outsider by nature. I observe. I am always on the fringe, smiling, eager to participate but not quite sure how. Wandering enables me to place my nature within the expectation of those around me. When I wander, I am expected to be an outsider. I am acknowledged and accepted as being outside the social norms of where I reside. The world is more forgiving, more accepting, more patient. I am a wanderer because I have always been an outsider.

So I place one foot in front of the other and I move myself to a place where nobody expects me to fit in.
When I wander, I am alone and alive with my thoughts. But this life is not easy. I am also often alone with my doubt and my darkness. It's easy to feel isolated and desperately, desperately alone. I wonder if I am missing out on the lives of my family and friends back home and if I will regret it later down the road. Or if I regret it even now?

And these are thoughts that nip at my heels when I am once again sitting at a cafe alone watching friends and families gather together. And then it happens. I feel lost and the gap between my intentions and my actions seems wider than ever. My intentions are good, but I often fall short because I am afraid. I wrap stillness and solitude around my fear. I hide it so nobody will see how afraid I am. No doubt I am brave. I reach forward. I try. I fail. I try again. But there are those who mistake my courage for an absence of fear. But mark my words, I am afraid. My heart shakes and sinks under the weight of every day obligation. I am sensitive and vulnerable to the carelessness of others. My skin is not thick. There are days when I cannot get out of bed because I don't think I have the strength to face the disappointment the world often thrusts in our direction. And then the questions come.

Am I perpetually attracted to a place where I cannot communicate my thoughts because I don't want to communicate my thoughts? Am I stuck in a place where I am always off kilter...kissing the wrong cheek, confusing verb conjugations, missing the social norm by one subtle I stuck in this place because I do these things anyway and it's easier to have the label of FOREIGNER. The label of someone who does not belong....someone who is not supposed to belong.

I cannot answer these questions. I do not know why I wander, what I'm seeking or where I'm going. I only know where I've been and where I am. I only know that I am often afraid, but I cannot go back to the complacency of a reliable comfort zone. My life at home is easy. I cannot force myself to grow in a state of comfort and predictability. For better or for worse, I rely on external forces to shape me into the woman I long to be.

I am plagued by self-doubt and insecurity. I want to communicate, to more fully integrate myself into this world. But I am afraid of not fitting in; afraid of being judged and being found unworthy, unable, insufficient, inadequate. There are no reasoning with these fears because there is no reasoning with fear. For the same reason that I am afraid of a raspberry beetle, I am afraid that I am not good enough....that I will never be good enough.

I imagine many feel this way--wanderers or not---but it's hard to know for sure when you cannot get outside of your own head, your own thoughts, your own fears.

I communicate best when I don't speak the language. I am not caught up by words; their nuances and their double meanings. The best conversation I ever had was with a shopkeeper who spoke no English. I spoke no Arabic. He offered me coffee. I accepted. We sat and we grinned at one another. For 10 minutes we grinned and we drank coffee. When I left I had a better grasp on his character than I would have had after 10 minutes of speaking about the weather, the football game, the prime minister. Without words, we were fully present with one another. There were no opinions, no misunderstandings, no reason to give or take offense.

And these are the moments of wandering that I love best. The moments that so simply and profoundly illustrate our humanity. These are the moments that illustrate the other side. It's the side you come out on after you spend an hour, a day, a year, a decade struggling with your sense of solitude and inadequacy. It's the side that says, "You are okay. You are good enough, you are strong enough and you are by no means alone." This is the side I see when a little girl explains to me in Arabic how to use a yo-yo; when a young mother and her son smile shyly at me on the metro in Paris; when I stop into a shop to ask for directions and the man shuts up his bustling store so that he can personally take me to where I need to be; when I watch the sunset from a refuge in the French alps;  when I think of the truly amazing people I have met and continue to meet around the world.

It is these experiences and these people that define my sense of humanity and my faith in that humanity. It is a thousand ordinary moments, a hundred ordinary people and the way the ordinary has a way of becoming extraordinary. It is the moment when you are lost on a rainy day in an unfamiliar city and suddenly someone you have never seen and will never see again is there to open the door to the cafe he's leaving and you are entering. For no apparent reason, he smiles. Perhaps he senses you are tired and lost. Perhaps he has just won the lottery. The "why" is irrelevant. All that matters is someone reassured you at a time when you needed reassurance. There are a hundred thousand moments where the world would be more beautiful than we could possibly imagine if we could learn to see the extraordinary in the ordinary; if we could learn to cherish the sacred simplicity of a stranger opening the door for another and the sense of togetherness we unconsciously express in a world where so many feel alone. 

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