I keep thinking about the plastic chair I sat in every morning at my little desk in India. For five weeks, I’d sit down on that flimsy chair to eat my porridge, watching the sun come up over the mountains. I’d turn off my music and put away my journal and breathe. Looking out over that view, I’d have one of those moments that quietly taps you in your heart and says, “Life is fleeting. Appreciate this.” And so I did.
I tried to do that with all of India as I took mental and emotional snapshots of these moments, trying to feel as well as see. This was sometimes difficult as India has a way of bombarding your senses. You think you’re looking at some girl’s beautiful sari and the next second a car is honking at you on your right while a cow passes you on your left. If you blink, you’ll miss it—or just get run over.
But somehow it’s slow, too. The thali guy on the corner, when asked about opening, says come back maybe noon, maybe two, just later. He smiles when we settle on “afternoon” as an exact time for the thali to be ready. I smile, too, but for different reasons.
India makes me happier than I’ve been in years, maybe even my entire life. Some of it is definitely the place, and some is simply who I am now. To go to India, you have to be unafraid. Which means you have to shed a lot of things before thinking about booking a flight, and be prepared to shed the rest of it once you get there.
For me, I ended the relationship I thought with all my heart would be my last. I did this for many reasons, but mostly it was for something else. Traveling. Not just the seeing-the-sights-and-taking-a-cruise kind, but the all-in, sell-your-stuff-and-one-way-ticket-yourself-to-the-moon kind. I was in love with it.
But the tricky thing about this lover is that it never let me get too close. It was so cunning. It left seductive notes—stringing me along—telling me to meet it by the Bosphorus or at a bar in Phnom Penh. When I’d get there, though, all that would be left was the half empty mug of beer it was drinking and the name of a town twelve hours away scribbled on a napkin. “Follow me,” it would say.
I knew this affair well because I’d been flirting with it for years. Sending messages back and forth of places we’d like to go together and things we’d like to see. I’d fantasize, but always cut it short thinking that I’d quit that life, that never ending chase. That next adventure fix. But I knew that if I were to really commit, give up everything and be with it, it would give me so much more in return.
I ignored its calls and deleted its messages.
When I’d get really comfortable in this American life, really sinking into the dog-walking routine and the washing dishes routine and the day-in, day-out perfection of it all like clockwork, I’d get a message. It was never more than a few sentences, always saying something like, “Remember that time you wandered into a protest in Turkey?” or “How’s America? Bored yet?”
Truthfully, I was. That’s not to say America isn’t completely entertaining and perfect for some people. But not me. Not now. Travel had a way of knowing my weakest moments and reminding me that it was there. Ready whenever I was.
So one night as I was lying in bed, with my head pounding and feeling like the world was pressing down on me, I threw the sheets off in exasperated surrender, opened my computer and bought a one-way ticket to India. There were no tears, no big booming Eat Pray Love voice, just me finally coming to terms with my reality. I’m in love with travel.
You’d think that wouldn’t be something I’d deny or run away from, but it’s hard. You have to explain things to people like how you don’t have much stuff to begin with and that you’ll Skype your family so it won’t be so bad. Or worse still, that you don’t want to get married anytime soon. And that’s the easy part. You have to convince yourself next that you’re not scared—that moving to a place you’ve never been where people wear different clothes and speak foreign languages doesn’t frighten you. That you don’t know if you’ll be home for Christmas or how you’ll deal with missing another one of your nephew’s birthdays.
You have to convince yourself that you’re not giving up a normal life for a risky one, but that you’re living your normal. I told a man the other day that I didn’t like being in places where every switch in the room worked properly and where there wasn’t something that smelled weird. I’m pretty sure that’s not the majority of people’s normal, but I’m OK with that.
So I chose to join my love in India. Partly because I’d been heading down this yoga path for so long that it seemed time to meet the source, but also because I’d always felt a connection to it. The colors, the food, the chaos. All of it. So when I went through the process of clearing out my closet and my mind to prepare for my trip, I didn’t feel like I was chasing travel anymore. It had finally settled in next to me.
I leaned back in my chair, hoping the flexing plastic wouldn’t give out, and felt everything slow down. That Himalayan sunrise was perfect, every single day. When I sat there, just breathing, I knew I didn’t have to rush forward to catch up with anything. I could finally, simply, appreciate the moment.