Every time I sit down to write about This Journey, I don’t know where to start. There are pragmatic bits that seem really important. Like how Naing Naing, a Burmese citizen with a very weak passport, has now visited 11 countries (by tomorrow around 8:00 PM he will have visited 14) while many American citizens (with one of the strongest passports in the world) never visit even one country outside of the states in their entire lives.
And there are important stories about serendipity. These are mostly tales of people who helped us for no reason at all other than just to be kind. The Reverend Sylvester King in St. Vincent and the Grenadines comes to mind as one of the most important of these people along with Sara Chaca, an immigration lawyer in Ecuador who gave us tons of free advice and encouragement. These two people were really the ones who compelled us to go ahead and try to navigate this part of the world. Without Sara, we wouldn’t have felt safe bringing Lydi and Naing Naing to Ecuador (a 50 hour flight including layovers–by far the longest transit time EVER in the history of our travels) because they could’ve been turned away and sent back across the globe in a much weakened and exhausted state.. When a person isn’t allowed to leave the international transit zones of airports, this could have been a really raw and difficult deal (emotionally, physically, financially).
It was our connection with Reverend King that made us confident that Lydi and Naing Naing could get into Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and actually get married there. I can’t emphasize the importance of these people and their role in our lives enough when I talk about This Journey. From our first contact with him, Reverend King was like a long, lost friend. He was kind, generous, and patient with us (we were pretty needy). He met us first at the ferry station at sunset where he talked with Lydi and Naing Naing about the wedding, the ceremony, and marriage in general. Then, he met us in Bequia for the wedding itself and then, after that set up some opportunities for Lydian and I to talk about cancer prevention on the island. We were in Kingstown for several weeks after the wedding so we had some time to visit his church and see where Reverend King works.
I can’t really overstate how important these people were to us.
And then there was the security woman in Barbados who walked us from Point A to Point B when Naing Naing had to go through a special immigration protocol. She encouraged us and made a special effort to help us reunite with Naing Naing after he’d finished the transit protocol. And the baggage claim guy (also in Barbados) who remembered us when we came back through 3 weeks later. Lydi said, “It’s amazing how a person can take ownership of a job like helping people carry their luggage and…how important they can be.” And I agreed. There are no small jobs. A person is as important as they make themselves. Job title has nothing to do with it.
I feel gratitude toward every single person who has been kind to us. And there have been a lot of them.
But beyond the chance meetings with amazing people, there are other layers. Like how I know I’ll never see the world the same way again. John and I sat today and talked about patience and how impatient he and I are overall, but how much less impatient we’ve become as a result of having less power in the world. Our diminished power happened as a result of being in a position where we’re reliant on other people’s kindness and generosity to continue on. We’re no longer Americans traveling. We’re a group of Americans traveling with a Burmese citizen. And we really love this Burmese citizen so we have to do whatever it takes to make sure he’s able to go where we go and do what we do. The rules of the game have been utterly changed, I tell you. And so, it’s no biggie if we stand at check-in for two hours waiting for whatever as long as we all board the plane together (or stay behind together if that’s the final outcome). We’ll stand quietly and wait at immigration for the workers to go back and forth for as long as needed without ever uttering a word of complaint about time as long it seems like things are moving favorably forward.
Things move more slowly now, but they still move. Instead of forcing our way, other people help us open doors so that we can walk through.
Lately, our mantra has been about moving more slowly. That we need to go slow and not force anything. It’s a tough pill for our American nature to swallow. Which brings me to yet other layers of meaning that are ever-present in our travels…
I don’t believe that any of the difficulties that we’ve encountered have anything to do with anything other than the fact that we all have things we need to learn. Each country is a lesson in some new fear or a difficult situation or emotion. I’m mastering myself when I can enjoy a sunset while standing in a huddle of strangers on a shuttle bus between flights. The things I’ve left behind matter to me less and less as I work the equation in my mind and realize that being here with Lydian and Naing Naing is a sort of a choice and that, technically, John and I could choose something different. But that there’s no fiber of my being, or John’s that would want to be anywhere else doing anything else. So much of John’s and my life has been a choice, even the most distasteful, uncomfortable parts. But when we acknowledge that we choose to be here and that we’ve always chosen our lot in life, I wonder why…I mean, John and I wonder about our choices together. And always we conclude that we choose what we choose because we’re getting something important out of all of this.
And it has almost nothing to do with visas.
Rather, I think it has to do with change.
It’s not that easy to change myself. I tend to get enamored with my way of being and think that it’s right. I cling to my ways which makes me pretty resistant to change overall. I’ve been like a rock, but This Journey has been at times like a hammer and at other times like a river. I’m still a rock, but parts of me are more like sand now. And my shape has been eroded by the course of things–a slow erosion that’s been terrifying at times because it’s like the Me I was before might be completely swept away. So I keep asking myself, “If I’m not such a rock, can I be a part of the desert and the river in the next iteration of Me?” It’s a question about death and life and identity that has no answer in words. When I wonder, “Do I continue to exist if I exist in a different form?” I can only answer by being willing to exist in a different form.
Or by resisting the change.
If life as I knew it were changed into something completely different, could I just flow with it and still be okay?
Right now, the answer is, “Sometimes.”
But I’m working toward, “Yes.”
This is the real border that we’re trying to cross. We hold the passport and the visa already. And the checkpoint is fear.
I suppose we’ll be stuck in our country of doubt until we willingly confront it.
I don’t have my house.
I don’t have my car.
I don’t even have my cats.
But I feel so blessed to get to cross these borders with these other 3 people (John, Lydi, and Naing Naing) in this lifetime. And to know that each border we cross leads to other amazing people is a great incentive to confront the people who are hard or cold.
Without the hard and the cold, I would never change or grow into a better person. But without kindness and the amazing people we’ve met in far-off places, I would be too terrified to go to a new place…and change. So I need them both: the people who push against us and the people who cheer us on.
So it’s not what it seems to be, but nothing ever is.