This type of insight was perfectly described in a book I am currently reading. (It's always wonderful when literature captures your own experience and makes it more understandable, more approachable.) "It hadn't struck him like a lightening bolt or bullets; instead, it was as if the countless grains of sand creeping over him had finally reached his head." As a child, I imagined there was a clear delineation that marked adulthood, but it now seems more like an hourglass than a stopwatch, with experiences like grains of sand heaping upon each other until they finally peter out.
Of course, it would be much easier to reflect and expound up on a single point, but here are a few of the things I learned through the course of my travels.
1. While some people are content to constantly travel, to be rootless in the wind and always discovering new places and new people, I am not one of them. Believe me, this came as a surprise. I always thought of myself as a gypsy because I love to travel. I also enjoy colorful skirts and playing the violin (stereotypes, I know, but there you have it). But while there is value in movement, there is also worth to be found in standing still, in putting down roots and deepening relationships - to a place as well as to people. Most of the people (not all) that I met, much as I enjoyed their company, remained acquaintances rather than friends, our feelings for each other not illegitimate, but generally superficial. I started longing for my tight knit family, both those related by blood and those who became family through choice and love and time.
When it came to places, this superficiality of interconnectedness irked me even more strongly. Perhaps this is because I I grew up in Bloomington, where fifty thousand or so students filter through every four years, but the trees on campus are the same ones I climbed as a child (and as and adult); I have grown used to having superficial relationships with people but strong relationships with mountains and rivers and trees. In any case, I grew tired of finding a beautiful place on the trail only to leave it the next morning. One of my favorite places on the whole trip was my hut outside of Wanaka, not because it was more stunningly beautiful than other places, (honestly, everywhere is stunningly beautiful) but because I connected with the land and felt at home, even for a brief time.
Don't get me wrong - I love to travel and I am not ungrateful for these experiences I simply realized that I need to travel at a slower pace to be happy. I am not one for a whirlwind tour. The constant excitement of newly discovered things wears thin after a while and I would prefer to take time to deeply examine what has been discovered before moving on. Because of this, one of my favorite days was when Bethany had food poisoning. This is terrible to say because she was miserable, but for once we took a break while in the mountains rather than in a town. I spent the afternoon lying in mossy fields, running along logs, stalking goats, and making the mountain my backyard, my home.
2. Family is of utmost importance. I am so very lucky that my birth family is also the family I would choose, a foundation made richer by the family I have found.
3. There is an attitude in today's society that only action is worthwhile. I suppose this makes sense from a societal point of view; the inner workings of society are perpetuated through action. (Businesses, for example, do not function well if employees do not have a good work ethic.) but from an individual standpoint, constant action is, in my opinion, unhealthy. It is important to take time to just BE.
Of course, I had some understanding of this before this trip - taking time to be was one of my reasons for delaying the start of my career. But the lesson was hammered home in the mountains. I was ruminating, as I do perhaps too often, on the purpose of my life. Deciding that trying to figure this out for my entire life was too big a task for the moment, I chose to reflect on the purpose of my life as I found it in that moment.
I began thinking about the Creation story in the Bible. (Whether you follow the precepts of religion or not, wisdom can be found in these ancient teachings.) Man was created, it is said, to bear witness to the wonder of God's creation. One could therefore argue, therefore, that the quintessential occupation of mankind is simply to observe Beauty. This deduction came as a relief. Rather than feeling guilt that I was not furthering my career or my life through action, I became content with the thought that I was, in fact, right where I should be, and improving myself through non-action.
4. It's important to choose one's path with deliberation, because once you're on the path it's easy enough to keep going if you just put one foot in front of the other. This is particularly easy if you're on an actual path, with bright little orange markers marking the trail and leading the way, but it's still true if figurative paths. Yes, there are crossroads where you can make new choices or reaffirm your original decision, and you can always strike out into the wilderness and create a new path, but most people don't. Breaking a habit takes more energy than starting one, I think. This is why beginnings are so important.
When I decided to prolong my stay in New Zealand far beyond what the IU program dictated, I think part of me was running away from the beginning of a career. More than my fear of that stressful first year of teaching, which is a very real thing, I feared being tied down, being old and boring and stagnant. Not that I actually think of the teachers I know as any of those things - for the most part they are vital and young at heart - but I still shied away from 'settling down'. Now, although I will never surrender to being old and boring and stagnant, I feel ready to settle down a little. I was watching Pitch Perfect 2 (a thoroughly silly movie) with my cousin and realized that, while I felt nostalgia for the wild college years, I no longer felt the pull to continue living them. I am ready for the next step in life, and look forward to discovering what it may be.
I've chosen my path, and am ready to put down the next foot. Who knows what beautiful view may await me around the corner?