during my year abroad, while my heart was constantly teetering on the edge of homesickness, it also nestled comfortably into a nomadic lifestyle. something about the discomfort and displacement energized me more than the concept of a grounded “home” ever had. to be so completely out of my element that I could no longer depend on the people and environment to bring me comfort and strength but had to find that within was invigorating and addictive.
however, that teetering was replaced with one big plunge on christmas eve of that year. my sister got engaged. I was in Prague.
when I received her text message, although I’d been traveling for 5 months, at that moment I felt the farthest from home. i was torn and confused. all of a sudden my confident decision to spend a year abroad seemed empty and selfish. My heart felt vacant. I realized in vain that life was going on without me back home. people were changing and life was happening that i wanted to be a part of it too. i was collecting stamps on my passport and anecdotes from foreigners and unbearably beautiful vistas that would be burned permanently into my mental bank, and it all felt significant. but my sister was engaged. all those miles and moments suddenly became a heavy weight and all I wanted to do was fly back across the ocean to be with her and her new fiance to celebrate.
because that was impossible, i made a decision at that moment to instead embrace and commemorate the occasion in the best way I could. i had waited years to visit Prague, because it’s part of my family’s heritage but also upon learning about the Charles Bridge from a stranger in an airport. “it’s the most romantic place on earth,” he told me as he described the tradition of kissing your lover there at sunrise, overlooking the ancient city. it was where he had proposed to his fiance, at sunrise. he showed me a picture of their silhouetted embrace just before he boarded a plane, to sweden, to visit her. i promised myself to be part of that silhouette one day, with a lover.
as it happened, i was traveling with my roommate and not a lover, and it seemed one couldn’t materialize at the hostel where we were staying who seemed worthy enough. so instead i chose to commemorate their engagement by staying up all night on Christmas Eve and then slipping out of my hostel room quietly, just before sunrise. perpetually late, I saw that the sun was threatening to peek over the horizon and so I ran throughout the quiet city until I arrived at the Charles Bridge. it was not hard at that moment to realize why it is known as one of the most romantic places in the world, seeing the sun coming up over the horizon and paint the tops of the pastel colored buildings in a soft light. it was captivating and heart shattering and it was mine, for the moment.
It was so apparent standing up there that the world was created for lovers to explore hand in hand, marveling at its beauty. and that beauty is never hard to find, whether across the ocean or at home in virginia. the hard part is finding someone to explore with.
and so instead of consecrating the moment with a lover, as i’d always imagined it happening, i dedicated that moment so many other loves in my life because of which were the true reasons why i was there. for my great grandmother, who risked her life to begin a journey from Czechoslovakia that without which, inevitably, I wouldn’t have been standing there, grateful for her. for her daughter, my mema, who dedicated her life to a love that lasted 55 years, beyond her own mortality. for my parents, whose love and support instilled in me a strength and belief in myself to give me the courage to travel. and to my sister and her fiancé, whose love I knew would be one that would continue to grow and inspire me for the rest of my life, no matter where i found myself.
and that is why we travel. to confidently and determinedly move towards destinations unknown, building our own courage and appreciation of the world. to understand and appreciate our heritage, our upbringing, our presence. to have moments that we could never have without leaving the comforts of home and to share those moments with the ones we love by intentionally painting them into every landscape, every moment, every mile traveled. and to know that because of that love we are never really too far from home.