Between traveling Ireland with close friends, city-hopping across Italy and adventuring Iceland, I felt troubled trying to find the words to express the past three weeks. To condense completely different experiences into one post for the sake of maintaining a chronological timeline of my time abroad originally felt the same as diminishing each experience to its simplest form. That said, discombobulated, surreal, completely unrelated experiences are the perfect words to explain the past three weeks. Though I strive to focus on the present moment, I am finding that when life moves this fast, I tend to come to new understandings about the experiences of last week when contemplating a landscape in a completely different country.
My past three weeks began in Ireland, on a Ring of Kerry trip around the Western peninsula of Ireland. I was surrounded by good friends and also had on hand Paul Kalanithi’s book, When Breath Becomes Air, and Maya Angelou’s audiotape, Letter to my Daughter. These books in correspondence with the surreal landscapes and the comfort of my friends around me triggered a conversation in my head about the purpose of travelling.
The weekend touring the west coast of Ireland was filled with a range of moments – some utterly hilarious, others deeply contemplative. I returned to my apartment in Cork feeling closer to my friends, a deeper love for my new home in Ireland and captivated by the worldly perspectives I had gained through Kalanithi and Angelou.
Four days later, in Italy, I experienced pure magnificence in a completely different light. Between picturesque architecture lining the streets of Florence, the charming canals in Venice that replace hustling streets, the warmth of Lake Garda as the sun beats on your shoulders, and the picture-perfect Tuscan vineyards – each day was a fantasy full of bliss and an overwhelming sense of peacefulness.
I, without a doubt, had the time of my life; however, by the end, I could not help but feel a sense of uneasiness. I was drawn back to earlier introspection when I considered what the point of travelling is. I am so fortunate to have opportunities such as this one, but I struggled to conceptualize what it means long term.
Traveling and considering existential questions is undoubtedly outside of my comfort zone. A year ago, I was focused on everything happening around me. National politics as well as the ways oppressive systems revealed themselves on Holy Cross’ campus consumed me. Agitation turned to passion and I became obsessed with understanding race, class and gender norms, constantly feeling inspired to do more.
Though I am still the first to talk politics at dinner as well as the first to bring up American race relations while out at a pub, I am realizing that to sufficiently understand the world, I have to venture outside of my mental comfort zone. Being present in my travels calls for me to separate from the “known” back home.
In some ways, this separation is liberating; financial anxieties seem more trivial than ever. In other ways, I am intimidated and uncomfortable by the unfamiliarity and seemingly endless depth of my new explorations. It seems that each time I reach a new understanding about the purpose of traveling and it’s connection with the greater meaning of life, I simultaneously feel a wave of discomfort as I realize the depth of this exploration.
This past weekend in Iceland, I reached new ground. I felt a sense of comfort as I realized that the most beautiful places, people and ideas in this world all seem to hold a common thread. In Iceland, I witnessed the most dazzling, dreamlike views I could have ever imagined. The surging waterfalls, the black sand beaches contrasting with pieces of an ice-burg, the perfectly clear night sky with stars that could pierce a soul, the steam rising out of the ground on a 35 degree day, the powerful mountains standing next to a crashing ocean – it was hard not to be left speechless.
My breath was consistently stolen by the Icelandic views, yet I realized that the core of what I felt was not much different from breathing in the aroma of fresh vineyards, stargazing with close friends in Ireland or conversing with a stranger about a world without prejudice for 3 hours. The questions dawned on me: Are these moments even much different from stargazing at home with my little sister? Or passionate discussions about community organizing on the Holy Cross campus? Though each moment is completely different in nature, I realized that there is undoubtedly a common thread between the world’s most beautiful sights and other day to day interactions. For the first time, I appreciate that it is through these moments, in completely different countries, with completely different people, that the world offers clarity about God, about ourselves, about the meaning of life and about love. What this means going forward… I am not sure. For now though, this glimpse of clarity provides something to cling onto as I venture into foreign countries, and push myself to consider abstract ideas.
On that note, enjoy more beautiful pictures below!!