Missing Some Familyar Faces
July 18th, 2017. Just arrived in Phnom Penn, Cambodia by boat after a week of travel in southern Vietnam.
If anyone reading this doesn’t know me very well, let me start by confessing that I am a sappy person and this is a very sappy blog post. You have been warned.
I imagine it’s quite possible that the dozens of other backpackers around me simply left their families with a firm hug and an breezy goodbye when they decided to leave their homes for a life of travel, but I don’t think I have ever cried so hard and so often prior to leaving mine.
I am one of the lucky ones. Despite standard—and oftentimes humorous—family dysfunction, early sibling rivalry, and divorce, etc, I can honestly state that there is probably more love within my family than ten average families combined. I hope this doesn’t make me sound conceited. I imagine a lot of people feel this way. But maybe not. My family brings me pure, unadulturated joy (I mean, at least 85% of the time….we are human, after all).
It’s the kind of love that makes you and your siblings go out and get matching tattoos. It’s the kind of love that enables you to continue working closely with your family even though you want to pull your hair out (because secretly you thrive on it). It’s the kind of love that makes you go into your niece’s nursery before leaving for the airport just so you can open her dresser and smell every piece of her delicious smelling clothing one last time, just so you can try and internalize the scent.
Even last summer (a whole year ago) I would lie in bed many nights, anticipating what it would feel like to not see my sisters, brother, parents, nieces, and nephew on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. I would often fall asleep with a soaking wet pillow. It’s one of those physical pains deep down inside your heart and belly. It knocks the breath out of you and leaves you in the fetal position.
As I start this journey, I feel it necessary to confess that this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Not because of the language barriers, or having my feet and sandals constantly covered in toxic liquidy mud, or crossing an intersection with 27 motorbikes speeding towards you from both directions, or just generally not knowing where I will be laying my head to rest more than a day in advance…but because I love my family and I have an unspoken fear (unspoken until now, that is) that my being away will somehow degrade or desensitize the bond I have with them.
A fear that my intentional choice to leave them might make them forget how much they love me, or make them think that I’ll forget how much I love them.
I’m reminded of a moment several years ago when I first began planning and talking about my future travels. Gabriella (my 9-year-old, mini-me, and dangerously clever niece) walked up to me one day and said, “Juju. If you really love me more than the whole world, then why do you want to travel it so much?”
I was speechless. I couldn’t answer.
Of course, I know this fear of mine is irrational. It’s silly. It’s impossible. But it doesn’t make it feel any less valid in my heart, in the here and now. It makes me wonder how I could make such a decision.
All I can say is that a long time ago, there came this moment when I truly understood how vast and diverse the world was, and I knew I’d never be happy until I’d seen it all. It was enough to make me work hard for four years, paying off every bit of debt in my name and saving up all my extra pennies to make a dream come true. It’s enough to make me leave the most cherished and valuable thing in my life: my family. That’s got to say something about how passionate and committed I am to my goal.
So…Mom. Dad. Aaron, Mikaela, Laura, & Gretchen. Gabriella, Kepler, Eloise, & Becca. Cliff & Timothy. All my crazy relatives sprinkled across the 50 states. You too, Nhi. Thank you.
Thank you for being the best family one could ask for. Thank you for never ridiculing me for having this lofty dream of seeing the world. Thank you for supporting and understanding me (even though some of you **cough**dad**cough** confessed that you were convinced that I was either going to die or get sold into sex slavery over here). And if all turns to crap and I run home like a baby, or if I run out of money, or if I break both legs skydiving or something, thank you in advance for being there to take me back in without hesitation and without thinking any less of me for not completing my mission.
I now realize that your love is the thing that enables me to, literally, take on the world.
Additionally—as the world’s greatest aunt—I’m proud to be setting an example for my nieces and nephews, and making them understand and realize that life is an adventure and they needn’t miss out on anything because it’s too hard/too expensive/too crazy (sorry, Laura and Mikaela…if your children decided to take a Gap year someday and subsequently keep you up every night with terror, you can blame it on me). It made me so happy last week when Gabriella secretly slipped a letter into my bag the night before I left which read that I was a “big in[s]peration” and that my “trying to travel the whole world” shows her that she can do anything in life if she puts her mind to it. (I’d also like to mention that it was sprinkled with elementary puns, which makes me doubly proud.)
Fear prevents progress, exploration, and adventure. Deep down, I know that no matter where I go or how long I’m gone—though I may miss Christmases and birthdays—nothing can and will ever make us miss out on or lose our love for each other.
As the say…when you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.
Also, there’s Skype.