When I arrive in a new city or return home from weeks away, people ask, ‘how were your travels?’, but that is never what they mean. They don’t want to know how you navigated from the train station to the airport in the falling snow or what it was like to sit underground during a tornado, forced to leave your worldly possessions behind on aircraft while being evacuated. When people ask how your travels were, they mean ‘tell me a story about where you went’. They never mean to ask about how you got there.
But if you like, I’ll tell you a travel story. I woke up in the morning and wrote a letter to an old lover; saying goodbye because there was nothing left to say. I had examined all the corners of it until there were no lessons left unlearned. So I wrote a letter in an email and said I was heading far away. I don’t remember if I sent it, but that wasn’t the point.
I pulled my suitcase from under the bed and considered the exact number of days I would be away, all the places I might go. I had travelled before, I knew the cadence of packing light and keeping an eye out for lessons and memories along the way. I was travelling from the last stalwarts of summer into the first creep of autumn. It’s easier to carry heartbreak in the winter, there’s an excuse for holding yourself together in scarfs and coats. But I remember thinking I didn’t need to pack vanity this time. There was nothing left to admire in myself. I travelled like a shell of a woman, waiting to be full again.
I can tell you now, that travelling is best done with a broken heart. You will encounter people in airports that cut in front of your line and take your seat, even dare to encroach on your armrest but you’ll find compassion when your heart is loosely tied together. That is the travel story I can tell you. Me, climbing onto a plane, stowing my suitcase overhead and my bag under the seat in front of me, brokenhearted with not much of a plan but making plenty of space for those around me.
On the first leg of my flight, there is an empty seat next to me and my grief fills it entirely. It is a relief to not carry the weight of it for just an hour or so. Before the second leg, I carry myself to the lounge and fuel up on coffee. Airport coffee has always made me sentimental. I like to think I can taste the aviation fuel in the coffee and it reminds me I am moving forward from this moment. I choose to forget what it felt like to travel towards someone with anticipation. I focus instead on what it is like to be moving, travelling, to be in motion. When the moment is painful, it helps. For the second hop, I stop listening to sad songs and pull my journal from my bag. I am a cliche but a necessary one as I write down the things I believe to be true. I am worthy, I am loved, I am already moving towards something new. Sitting in an airplane at 30,000ft gives perspective like no other to the smallness of life. That’s enough to begin my healing. I have four hours to go and nothing but horizon to look at.
Within a few hours, I’m landed on the other side of the country from where I started and more than 15,000 miles from my turangawaewae, my home place. But here in Boston, I sit at a hotel bar and someone asks me,’how were your travels? You’re a long way from home.” I answer in a steady voice, ‘they were healing. I found my way back to myself all the way here.”
He says, ‘Well, why don’t you tell me who you are?’
For a moment, I stopped travelling and landed for a while. I told him who I was and I pulled pieces of myself back together as I did.