Update: This blog also appears on The Huffington Post and can be read there!
We meet a lot of people on the road. And when we’re really lucky, we manage to meet ourselves.
Relationships, as I was told again and again during my engagement to Laura, change. People change, too, and so we find ourselves having to not only love the person we met, but also the person before us today, and the person who they will be in the years ahead.
It’s been a crazy two years. I finished grad school and moved on from an exciting career at USC. We got engaged and 9 months later, married.
I started a new job, and then a few months later, started a new job… again. We started this travel blog and somehow managed to visit 20 countries, many of them multiple times in these two years. Laura started grad school. We’ve celebrated the engagements and weddings of friends, and more and more, we have been blessed to celebrate new births almost everywhere we turn.
A month ago, I traveled to Europe. Aside from some work meetings I scheduled, and visiting an old friend or two, what I looked forward to most was the chance to just be alone with my thoughts and reflections. Being part of a generation that has come of age with social media and constant connection, many were shocked about my plans for solo travel: “Wait, you really are traveling for one week alone?” I was asked again and again. “How does Laura feel about this?” People not only struggled to understand my motivations, they couldn’t understand how my wife supported it.
I spent a great deal of time alone. I ate alone, walked the streets alone, and was amazed how even in the solitude I sought out, I felt an incredible connection to people and the goodness that is so naturally human. Berlin became a most holy city for me, as I wandered for hours on end, looking at street art, people watching, and sitting at this curb or that coffee shop to write down the reflections that were overflowing, begging to be put to paper. For the last year, I’ve struggled so much to journal and write, and there, in Berlin, the words wouldn’t stop coming!
As I grow older, I reflect less on who I am, and more on whose I am. At the root of it all, I’m a child of God. A Catholic, I am nonetheless smitten with curiosity at the other religions of the world and the various approaches people take to spirituality. From the Hindu faith, I have taken quite fondly to the greeting and philosophy that is “Namaste.” While walking through Bali a few years ago, I was struck by the small shrines to Hindu Gods, and the way people would greet us, hands pressed together, with Namaste: The divine in me, recognizes the divine in you.
And so as I go out into the world, I try and live with Namaste at the forefront of it all. When you believe that God is in everyone, you see him everywhere. As a student of mine reminded me recently, it isn’t that we find goodness to believe in it; rather, when we believe it exists, we start to see it everywhere. So, I am a child of God. And I’m tasked with bringing love, humor, and compassion to each person I meet. But I’m also a husband, and day by day, I learn more and more what that means.
My marriage is about my relationship with my wife, no doubt about it. But it’s also about so much more. For one thing, it’s about our relationship as a couple with our community. How do we interact not just with family and friends, but in service, in faith, and in kinship with strangers we encounter day in and day out? But just as important and discussed much less frequently, our marriage is about who we are as individuals. At the core of our love is a motivation not only as a couple but as individuals to be better people. It’s our unique gifts and outlooks on life that not only bring the challenge to our marriage, they bring incredible joy to it as well! I fell in love with Laura because at a crucial and confusing time in my life, she was the one that consistently challenged and motivated me to be a better man. At my lowest point, she brushed aside the blemishes and saw in me what I was at the time struggling to see in myself. Today, she’s still that person that makes me want to be a better man, and sometimes it takes getting out of our routines in order to remember just how special that is.
But perhaps most beautiful of all, Europe gave me a glimpse of whose I will be. Watching young parents with their children, I felt a strong yearning to be a dad. Thoughts of someday being a parent existed as a curiosity toward fatherhood for sometime now. Yet it was in Europe where the power of being alone with my thoughts allowed me to comprehend just how much my life is ready to change in dramatic and exciting ways.
And so when you travel, married, single, or as Facebook calls it “it’s complicated” I hope you go out and meet people. Stay at hostels, immerse yourself in the culture, and plan trips around seeing old friends. But also find a way to make time for yourself and if possible, long stretches of time alone. As a generation that craves constant connectivity, there’s something remarkably beautiful about being disconnected as a means of connecting to a you you might have forgotten was there. There is something about being stripped of all our familiar surroundings that provides us a great moment of introspection, if only we allow for it to exist.