(first, in 2011… but still as relevent)
As I write this I’m sitting on the luggage rack in an overcrowded train. Heat boils my insides until tiny drops explode through my pores, quenching my skin enough that I can feel the breeze, as a slight contrast. There are hundreds of Indians below, to my left, and right… A fan whirs lazily overhead and I feel like a tiny bird perched in a wire nest over an unfamiliar world. If I climbed down now there would be no space for my feet to stand. But perhaps I could fly off at the next stop.
Here, in this place, I am a ‘traveler’ by title, but really- I’m just a free citizen, letting my bare soles touch every rock, street, or particle of sand that I can. No property taxes paid, or rent owed, just a little bit further away from the system that entrenches me at home. Being in India, or Thailand, or anywhere (else) has become as necessary for me to exist as being with family, being in love, or immersing my skin in the sea.
Life at home always provided a paradigm for my place in the world. A set of rules for who (how) to be. First I’m someone’s daughter, sister, or friend. Then I’m an employee, social security number, tax payer. Floridian, Southerner, American. Always a label, always a someone or something, in the world of things. An association to some externally created identity.
Here I’m no(thing). And so as long as I can, I enjoy being a salmon swimming upstream. All connections and associations to everything I know are broken. So I’m free. I seem to think. But I do see, that in reality, all of these titled ‘somethings’ apply anywhere. It’s just that here, my own mind is free of them, because to my eyes, there is no association or tie to any(thing) I know.
Yet this freedom is still illusory. I know. I used to think this kind of liberty was the only way to be happy or fulfilled- but that’s nonsense.
For I, like you, like all of us, need a place to belong, a home, just as much as we need a place to be free. And that ‘place’, both home and freedom, only exists within. Sometimes it is clouded over by the duties and expectations we place upon ourselves, and sometimes it is locked beneath the shackles society wraps us in. But underneath it all, our bodies are our homes, and our spirits are free.
So in order to shake the chains for a while, I shake myself too, moving to a new spot, until new shackles start to grow, and I move again. It’s a complex that can’t sustain itself, and so I balance delicately on this tightrope of dualities, trying to find some place in the middle to breathe. But it’s this contrast that has always given meaning to the word ‘be.’
So you see.
Traveling has never been an indulgence, an escape, or a vacation, not to me. (All things certain people say to support certain ideas of lazy people that don’t contribute to the working world). It’s simply a necessary part, of being me, another way to feel my place and find my feet in the great big human family. I will try not to be apathetic, a passive player in the game of life. And I will not seek meaning where there is none… but I won’t leave a stone unexamined before I place my meaning.
And I’m still non(placed).