I lay in bed in the dark, eyes wide open.
My mind buzzed as my glazed stare traced the network of cracks on the ceiling lit by the soft glow of the nearby street light. Over and over again. Looking but not registering what was right in front of me.
I imagined those cracks reaching down from the eggshell-painted, cobweb-laden corner, penetrating deep into my very being. I wasn’t quite broken, yet. Just like that ceiling wasn’t quite caving in, yet. But cracked to the core, very much so.
Over time, I learned the cracks well. Passing many sleepless nights imagining them into different shapes. It was like that favorite childhood pastime of cloud watching, but perhaps a touch more morbid. Then slowly, bit by bit at first, and suddenly all at once, a glimmer of confidence began peeking through the ever widening cracks in my soul.
When you stare down your insecurities and fears for long enough, you just might find the fault lines in those cracks. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you follow one crack to the end and realize that perhaps it’s not a crack at all. Perhaps it is instead a chasm opening its arms to you, encouraging you to jump in and find yourself.
Then finally I decided it was time to jump.
I began to transform those crawling, winding, reckless cracks into plans. One night they became an aerial view of game trails of the Serengeti, another night the intricate web of waterways through the Okavango Delta, another still they became underwater tunnels between towering coral structures, full of life and color and the unknown.
Yes, full of life and color and the unknown, every bit of it.
It took some time to work it out. Months of planning and goodbye parties and preparations. Months of negotiating, mostly with myself. And months of facing my decision to cast off all societal expectations and walk the tightrope of those ceiling cracks, right into the very chasm in front of me.
All the while, people told me just how brave I was. I didn’t quite get that. Brave? I am quitting my cushy job, leaving my stable life, foregoing my expensive education, all for the thrill of following a dream.
It sure didn’t feel brave. It felt natural. It felt easy. It felt like the obvious next step. It felt like a lot of things, but brave was not one of them.
And so, I went and did and saw and ate and ate and ate. I traveled through the countries of this blog, from the deserts of Africa, to the great blue expanse of the Indian Ocean, to the spice of South East Asia, and into the unsettling comforts of Europe.
And then I came home. And then I understood. And then it made sense.
Brave they said.
Brave for leaving. Brave for adventuring. Brave for striking out into the unfamiliar. No my friends, diving through the cracks of my ceiling into the great world beyond was not brave. That was perfect. That was life-redeeming. That was existence at its fullest.
Coming home was the brave part. Coming home was the hard part. Coming home was darkness after years of beaming light. After a year, or two, or three away, how do you ever truly come home?
Well first of all, you don’t.
And second of all, you can’t
And finally, really, you shouldn’t.
When you have learned so much and seen so much and been a part of something so much bigger than yourself, it’s impossible.
What you do instead is leave pieces of yourself in the world, scattered across every village and local shop and endless dirt road that gave you a glimpse of the magnitude of life around you. You leave yourself in every corner of the wild world, made whole by the very fragmentation of your self. You call on those pieces, when your cubicle desk and your office job begin to pull you apart. You remember the boundless joy of that smile from a stranger or the fear at the feeling of true solitude, and then you are you again.
After coming home, the changes I saw in myself reflected in those around me was scary. Scary because it had happened so imperceptibly that I didn’t know I was new. Scary because I was suddenly a stranger in what should have been a very familiar world. And scary because I realized I liked it. This me who came home with humility and perspective and kindness and wholeness, I wanted to keep this me.
And so I have. It is not always easy. When the world presses in around and the obligations of life threaten to take over, I fear the backslide. Some days it seems easier to just forget the whole big universe out there. But then I remember that I can’t ever go back.
I have left myself in so many places around the world that it is no longer an option to put myself back together again. And I don’t want to. It’s better this way.
I like imagining myself in the puddle at the bottom of a bowl of Pho or in the mournful tones of the Uilleann pipes or in the tiny offerings left on the streets of Bali. Because this way, I am everywhere all at once. Because this way, I am more whole than I ever was when I was whole. Now I visit my self around the world, in moments and memories and hopefully someday again soon, in life. Because the path lying ahead will be guided by this new me and the journey remains unfinished.
And so, what I thought would be the greatest adventure of my life began with a few ceiling cracks, a bit of desperation, and boundless imagination. Turns out, I was wrong. This trip wasn’t the greatest adventure of my life. Life is, in fact, the greatest adventure of all.
But we’ll get to that.