It all began on a tiny Mediterranean island 12 years ago.
It’s a strange feeling being back here. In Malta.
I was 14 years old when I came to this island the first time, under the pretense of studying English for three weeks. Today, I do consider myself somewhat proficient in English, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that not even a morsel of the grasp I today have of the language, I picked up during those three weeks. That journey was about something different, something a lot of important than linguistic advancement. I had never really been away from home for a long period before, yet I remember how unperturbed I still felt before setting off, and more importantly, how indifferent I felt the day I came back home. I suppose that already then, somewhere in the back of my mind, ”home” had started to become something relative. But something had clicked in me. I believe it had been important for me to see with my own two eyes that facing something unknown didn’t deter me, if anything, it felt like freedom. To date it still does.
12 years later I still believe that there’s a kind of freedom to be found in what we don’t know, but today it’s a bit more perplexing. Sometimes I’m told I’d do better for myself by thinking less. Asking less. And perhaps that’s true. Then again, questions as per se are harmless, it’s the answers that’s the tricky part. There’s a kind of freedom which rests upon the ignorance and arrogance of why we don’t always live in a wonderful world. And there’s also a kind of freedom to be found in realizing that switching on the light in a dark room only blinds you momentarily before you see things more clearly. Quite literally, darkness doesn’t exist but is merely the absence of light. And even if it doesn’t always seem like it, it’s nice to think that perhaps it’s just the same with people’s minds.
It’s taken me years to understand, devour and put value in the insight that the life-changing moments are almost always only the ones where we allow ourselves to be intimate, personal and most important of them all, brave, to ourselves and to the people around us. I have visited just shy of 80 countries in the world. That as per se doesn’t make me much richer than someone who’s only visited 10 unless we’re counting passport stamps that are.
Nevertheless, it’s taken me to a point where I’m becoming convinced that my quality of life doesn’t enhance merely by attaching a new airport code tag to my suitcase. I’m less intrigued by places today than I was before. It doesn’t give me much more of a rush to pull the curtains to Times Square, than to the dusty construction site outside my bedroom. I saw 3 new cities in 3 new countries over the last 2 months. One so modern, it’s in the Asian vanguard of LGBTQ rights. One so western, yet so conservative I barely saw a non-caucasian person on the streets. One so plagued by inflation beer was cheaper than water. It enriched me to see, feel and discover all of this.
But the only thing that I can recall that changed me lately, was a different story entirely. A few weeks ago I met an elderly lady on one of my flights. She told me she had a fear of flying, so I sat down with her and we began to talk. She hadn’t been on aircraft since long before the internet was invented she said, but now a relative had bought her a ticket and she’d ran out of excuses, to recite her words. As the aircraft commenced the takeoff roll we held each other’s hands, and as we lifted off the grounded and ascended through the cloud barrier she leaned over me and gazed out admiringly over the only space where the sun always shines. Her jaw dropped for a second and then she looked at me and said ”So what happens now?” and I said ”Now the world awaits.” and then we hugged. Long. It was a healthy reminder that perhaps we’re not in that much of a hurry to figure everything out just yet, and whenever we do, it’s more about whom we take the leap and share that moment with. And if I can have more experiences to become a better listener, a better orator, a more humble yet more confident person, more generous and less opportunistic, that’s more valuable than any stamp.
I had a discussion with a friend of mine recently. She told me how one of her friends had pointed out to her how lucky she was to have all of these worldly experiences. The shopping on Fifth Avenue, the wilderness in South Africa, the suspicious street food in Taipei, the gelato in Rome, the modernism of Japan, the humility of Bangladesh. All of it. Her friend was right. She is blessed. I am blessed. We are blessed. But, not because of any of the aforementioned, but because I believe it to be incredibly hard to understand just how little the big things are unless you’ve stood in front of them. And how big the little things are in comparison.