Today, I randomly opened my book Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and read a quote that seemed to answer a common request I’ve had of late.
Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you,
you must travel it for yourself.
The quote is from his poem, “Song of Myself”. An ex-boyfriend gave me the book nearly ten years ago, and his reason was specifically for me to read “Song of Myself”. It took me a couple of years after he had given it to me for me to read it. When I finally did, I couldn’t remember a poem moving me so greatly and causing me to pause with such huge sighs of awe. How could this man from the 1800’s know how I was feeling today? It is a poem of self empowerment, and a testament to the wonder of life, and what potential we all have, and it is more.
I had grabbed a few books with me on my journey to China. I’ve already left a couple behind when I came to Prague, and I will most likely leave the rest behind, but Leaves of Grass will travel with me. Walt Whitman speaks to all my life longings perfectly as if he had taken words from my own mouth, my own dreams. He answers my questions and soothes my anxieties as if he is here listening to me speak and cry out, but this is impossible because he had these thoughts, these ideas, these wonderments before my existence. Even so, I feel he speaks to me as if we were alive in the same time. Would we be kindred spirits? I like to believe that we would.
This journey, as wonderful as it is, and as grateful as I am to experience it, has been hard. As I look back on my life, I think in most moments I have thought things were almost always hard, and part of this is because there is something wrong with my brain. This is true, it is called depression, and it can cloud even the most amazing experiences. I’m fairly certain it is hereditary based on some of the behaviors and actions of people in my family. I’ve struggled with it since I was a teenager, and at periods of my life it had been pretty bad, coming with its wonderful array of self-loathing and suicidal thoughts- it’s truly a joy to have around. There have been periods when I was able to keep it under control through meditation, yoga, and other forms of exercise. It can sometimes be an extra challenge to the normal challenges of life, like a layer cake of challenge. This year is a great challenge: living in foreign countries, loosing my mom, struggling with the monsters called bureaucracy and soon to be dealing with the issue of no money, and plus this little brain thing. I’m beginning to wonder if I can handle all this shit. My life in the now is rarely happy. It is only in the past that places and experiences look better or they create longing. This is a thinking pattern that really bothers me, but I have yet to change it. There is one particular moment of time where I feel real contentment and peace, and it does involve traveling, but I’ll save it for the next post. I often feel bad about feeling bad, like I’m ungrateful or filled with self pity and misery and I don’t deserve to have these experiences- they should go to people who have a greater appreciation for the adventures of travel. The kind of people you see in photographs.
I had wondered before coming to Prague if it was really the right decision. If I had the strength to make it through the course, if I have the strength to make it through this process of trying to find work to get the visa to deal with the bureaucracies. I also wonder what I’m doing it for. If it is all so hard in the moment then why bother? Why not just go back? At this moment I can’t answer these questions. I kept hoping I would get a sign, something to tell me I am on the right path, that I’m actually on a path and not just flailing about lost in a forest that I don’t even know I’m in because all I see are the trees.
This year (who am I kidding I’ve done this multiple times) has made me throw imaginary arms into the air and cry out, “I give up. I can’t do this can somebody please do this for me? Can somebody else live my life?” But, no, no-one can. Like Whitman said, “no one can travel that road for you, you must travel it yourself.”
All I see are the trees.
It is not far, it is within reach,
perhaps you have always been on it since you were born and did not
perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.
A few days ago, for the first time, I had felt the prickling of missing China. It was small like I mentioned- a prick. I had wondered if I would miss it. If missing it had been too buried under my culture shock, my mother’s death, the pollution. I was kindly relieved to feel this small feeling of missing this place. It gave me some kind of hope that it wasn’t a mistake that I did learn something there and that over time I will grow from it. Time is never what we think it should be. We don’t heal or grow like we are told we should. We don’t become wise just because we grow older and we don’t get happiness just because we followed the rules. It is never what we expect. I had read Siddhartha while I was in China, and I had asked myself, and I still ask myself, will I ever see my life as Siddhartha saw his; that each experience was purposeful, and carried meaning? Will that self-reflection of one’s own journey- my own journey; will it be seen? Will I see the forest and the mountains, the land and the sea? Siddhartha is a little over a hundred pages, but years had passed in the story. Time is never like a book or a movie. Patience. That is the only word I can really say to myself in this moment. Patience, and perspective, and don’t panic, after all it’s just life, and mine isn’t so bad even with depression.
I know I am not alone in these thoughts. I also know I am not alone in feeling bad of feeling bad about being in a foreign place. After all don’t people dream about traveling? Don’t people wish they could pack it all up and start a new life in an exotic place? But, dreams are not realities, and nothing can be how you expect it especially if you’re bringing yourself along, and maybe yourself has some extra baggage. So, this is my final thought on the matter of someone else doing this whole life thing for me or maybe for you if you ever feel similar. No one can travel the road I’m on as no one can travel the road you are on. I know we are not traveling together, but with all these roads we must be crossing paths. So, with the baggage we carry, the pieces we were born with and the pieces that we’ve accumulated, I hope, that when all the roads converge, we’ll be able to drop our bags and converse before traveling on our own roads, but with our hands free.
Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of light and every
moment of your life.
Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me,
shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.