I am tired and a bit emotionally exhausted, yet hopeful and in calm spirits as I have returned from my 8 months of traveling through Europe. I left in a rather dramatic impulsivity with little planning other than to leave the States for as long as I could and focus on writing poetry. I suppose I wanted to stay indefinitely, but now I realize that there are good and bad elements to everywhere.
In Basque Country, the beaches were beautiful but you might have to sunbathe in clouds of burning cigarette smoke because everyone seems to be lighting up everywhere you go. In Sicily, the history and fashion and food are intoxicating, but a lot of the buildings are crumbling and the landscape is parched in many places. In Ireland, it is green and lush, every corner a fairytale, but in the town centers, the air in winter is suffocating with the smoke of coal burning in houses as if it were London in the 1800s so much that I mostly refused to walk outside where I stayed.
I am not saying I regret my travels. But I certainly learned some things about myself and happiness. . . 1. it’s not just the place anymore. I also need to be in love and have people around me. So much for solo traveling where I’m in control. 2. I need something to do. Teaching online classes is not ideally fulfilling. And I was not creative enough to figure out how to get a job with all the visa and residency requirements in a place I was not born into. 3. It is not just safety that is always desired. I originally thought I just wanted to feel safe, less paranoid, comfortable. Where is that country? Well, people need adventure, risk, movement, something to look forward to. Yes, you would think that since I was on this long travel adventure, I would have my fill of that, but the way I traveled this time was more controlled and protected. I wanted to see what it would feel like to get bored in a place, to live there, not just be a tourist. Sometimes it was nice. Sometimes it wasn’t.
I did write a great deal of poetry, though, about my temporary self-exile. I began to submit my poems and get published. I crafted a vision for my career life for the first time in my life and a plan. But giving up everything for this trip also means that in some ways I have to start over, and in the interim, that means living with my parents. I was worried that they would be angry with me or resentful because I left for so long or that I would feel like a burden. All families are different, but my return has been really easy and filled with friendliness and love. I feel that there is a lot of forgiveness that can be had on both sides and, as I told my mom when she was telling me how she understood why I limited contact with her when I was away, that I just wanted to be positive and move forward. Perhaps that is how we can be sometimes with people we’ve had troubling relationships with or experiences – if both people are willing to forget and healthier boundaries can be established because of what has been understood and accepted, then why not try again?
When I was away and when I left, I made some big decisions to take control of my life and relationships, to change the dynamic within them. While I was taking a risk, sometimes it ends up healing the relationship because the other person sees that you need to respect yourself now, and that you will, even if that means pushing others away. And I know that this might be the last time that I return home in this capacity, as a daughter living with them and needing help. That dependence allows for a certain level of closeness, which is, I think, helpful and needed in my personal predicament.
I hope that I can be strong enough to participate in old relationships in new ways, not sinking back into bad habits, but maintaining my personhood and increasing in empathy and understanding for others. I hope that this time can be one wanted and chosen and intentionally attended to. That is my goal as I prepare for my future, for finally growing up. When I went on my trip, I felt I instigated a certain death for some relationships. What I was surprised to find is that a rebirth can follow that, and perhaps sometimes such a sequence is the only way it will.
Cerridwen is a Welsh-Celtic goddess who stirs a cauldron of inspiration and symbolizes both life and death, and therefore rebirth. Her name means “the sacred bent.” What have you had to bend or make crooked to save it?
Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland.