Travel may be a dream for many but there is another side to travel that I see. Seventeen hours in the air flying “solo” has been a usual occurrence in the last three years. The quiet “alone-ness” during long flights, though tiresome, have added an important dimension to my perspective of travel. This state of obliviousness has provided a unique sense of quietude and allowed me to be a complete stranger to those around me. I call it a break from the automaticity of routine when I could fully immerse in my own thoughts. Lost in my own questions of who I have been in the last few decades and who I want to be in the next few more, I would remain awake with my eyes closed. The sound of the word “few” started to echo in my mind. Years ahead suddenly have become more important than any other. A sense of urgency has filled my intuitive consciousness. I have asked myself, “Is this a problem or is this a call for inspiration?”
Itineraries were long and complicated. Families are spread all over US, Asia, and Europe. I have anticipated being surrounded by family and old friends I have not seen in a long while.
Some of these images I hold so dearly. Camden, my one-year old grandson, would give away the widest smile whenever he sees me after a long absence. He would readily welcome me to his happy place. Such a big boy… a beautiful boy who radiates good nature. Olivia, my nine-month old granddaughter, would look at me with such intensity, her eyes focused on my face, eyebrows crossed, but as I began to talk she would curl her nose, squint her eyes, and turn her lips into a smile only she could make. Funny girl. As I used my self-invented language to communicate with Olivia and Camden, I became a child again! My two daughters who are both new mothers would reassure me that I have been a great one to them. It makes me proud to know that and to witness their own devotion to their children. They, along with my son, tell me so often that I inspire them with my life skills. If only they knew that I’ve never consciously pursued them. Life has thrown them all at me!
From the US to Asia my trip would cover twenty hours of “air time” and with the layover added, that would push it to thirty.
My home province is located just south from the capital city of Manila. I couldn’t help looking out the window as my plane started to descend and prepare to land. The mountains and hills still looked the way I remembered them decades ago. The deep blue color slowly turned green as we approached the runway. It made me wonder how many times those trees have died and regrown, how many storms they have weathered. Having been faithful to these mountains, they have borne witness to my lonely childhood. I have never been more convinced that it was them who have generously endowed me with the spirit of resilience all through my growing years.
Twenty minutes away from the airport is my hometown. As I entered my mom’s bedroom, I greeted her in a loud voice thinking she might not hear me. Her closed eyes made her look like she was asleep. Her caretaker threw an attentive glance at both of us, always ready to bridge the communication gap. It’s been four years since she lost her voice. I always wondered if the woman who loved to laugh with me was still living inside that frail body. Her condition has become my constant reminder of how life cycles fast through our individual journeys.
Unpredictability has a way of making me stop and examine everything I do. A week before I left for my homecoming, I read the most devastating news, an unlikely post from my family on Facebook. I read every word printed in frozen disbelief! My grandniece Anya was only seven, sweet and precocious little girl. A drunken driver in his speeding Pajero took her life. Shock shielded me from pain for a few days. Images flooded my memory of her… her purple dress covered with rose applique, her long hair, her eagerness to go mall shopping with me, her hand-drawn thank you note … those last moments I would be seeing her across from where I sat at the long dinner table. A few days later, I found myself sobbing. I could still hear my grandmother’s words reverberate with unquestionable authority … “Only the rich can afford to cry for a long time. We can’t.” I know that my sisters and my brother have heard them too, as they cried. Yet despite our losses, we seemed alright. We shared stories, our way of “catching up.” We talked about our failures and successes. At these moments I started to realize that they are grown people, not the toddlers I used to bathe, feed, and play with. Oh, how we could laugh in total abandon… something we never did as children. Years of deprivation have taught us to find every reason to savor our hysteric laughter.
My old friends are like time machines that could instantly transport me back to our age of vibrancy and innocence. Their bouquets spoke of affection and a shared past. One hug alone could seal our years of friendship. One of them whom I have not seen for twenty eight years has not changed the smile meant only for me. Another is a revered teacher from high school who has remained my mentor. Visiting my old campus in her company gave me a glimpse of how far I have gone from the naiveté of youth. The tall concrete walls partly hiding the school building stirred up nostalgic sensations. But as I looked around, I was surprised to see that the little bridge in the middle of the campus was not as inviting as it used to be. The little pond under the bridge seemed smaller, no longer shaded by bamboos. I heard no creaking sounds when the wind blew. The Virgin Mary in the grotto remained watchful but silent.
Some old sentiments made me travel farther to bring up deep-seated images of youth. The irony was - I did not recognize my hometown anymore. The grassy roads bordered neatly by the railroad tracks were gone. Commercial buildings took their place. I didn’t see kalesas running on the streets. Did their owners succumb to euthanasia or did the horses die from starvation? What a morbid thought! Daily pilgrimage to the local mall was the common scenario. Starbucks cafés were filled with coffee lovers and Wi-Fi users, young and old alike. Electronic gadgets have been accessible to all, rich and poor. I was seeing decades of progress. My childhood years have become a remote past. Experience. Growth. Wisdom. Somewhere in between these accomplishments aging is an inevitable by-product. Is this success?
Today as I pack my bags for my return trip I feel a sense of longing and anticipated relief. There are a few truths I have discovered in my travels. I have more than one home, maybe two, three, or more and I find them always ready for my return. My homes do not exist in houses, but rather somewhere between time and space where my loved ones are destined to stay forever. I return to each one of them as life cycles over again and again. As transient as life can be, is there a purpose to everything that I do? I know that my time today will be shorter than yesterday’s. Is there an actual goal I must attain or is the ride the goal itself? Perhaps the ride is the book I must read and understand in order to learn. Perhaps learning my value is the first step. As my future legacy becomes more visible, life expands. With a new sense of peace I can reflect on all of life’s possibilities. I can clearly utter the word “older”, something I used to dread doing in front of the mirror. With renewed energy I feel ready to work hard – work on being happy. What feels heaven on earth for me? What makes me want to connect with others, serve others, and make them smile? Music, dance, and poetry are nothing but tools of my trade for this purpose. To live for myself is to also live for others. Success has its price.
So there it is, my travel within a travel. I see that life does not end. Turbulence comes and goes so I must be a willing student to learn how to ease my ride.
Being in my home gives me a sense of security. My home feels warmer. I feel safe here. I’m grateful to my husband for keeping it that way while we’re apart. Winters can be brutal. Then just as I thought I was going to rest, he announces, “I have arranged for our flights to Copenhagen. You’ll love that place!” This time it will be one simple itinerary… and I won’t be traveling alone.