I expected that one of the gifts of this trip around the world would be renewed trust in human beings.
It did not happen. What I found instead was better.
After three years of travel as a solo female, I have lost the flower-child, we’re-all-children-of-God trust I had in mankind. Instead, I have learned to keep my eyes open, be aware of the surroundings, profile (yes, profile) and pay attention to that reptilian portion of my brain concerned with survival.
Traveling, especially in countries where I don’t speak the language, taught me to pay attention to behavior, not words, to spot patterns early and to cut bait fast.
The reality is that the world is both beautiful and ugly. Some places are damned dangerous and corruption is everywhere – from taxi drivers to politicos. Many people cannot be trusted and others can only be trusted on a limited basis. Most relationships are transactional and transitory.
Today, I know the difference between acquaintances and friends and have sorted out who’s who. It took courage to tear off that veil. First, I had to learn to be comfortable being alone.
There are two dimensions to being alone: solitude and loneliness. They are quite different emotionally. They do not occur simultaneously, but each can appear and disappear within minutes of each other like flowers appearing and disappearing in the desert after a rain. It’s exquisite, actually, when I hold my seat (a meditation term), do not seek diversion and simply observe them arising.
Does the harsh reality of the world keep me from seeing beauty and kindness?
No. The realization that these qualities are rare has made me appreciate them more and cherish them when they appear. The difference is I no longer see the world though pink-tinted glasses.
This lesson was difficult to learn. I’ve seen poverty, human trafficking, illness, addiction, insanity and death. It’s not Disneyland out here, it’s life.
As I have traveled, this quote by Thoreau has been my guide: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
The gift of these three years was unexpected. As trust in other people has gone down, trust in myself has grown. I can handle just about anything now, from a coup to a hurricane. As a result, I’m not as afraid as when I set out on this trip.
I have been afraid almost all my life. I’ve never let it stop me from doing anything, but it’s always been there, a constant struggle with anxiety. For fear to subside has been the single biggest gift of the journey. Life may be harsh, but it is also amazing. Today, I live sturdily.