Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
~"Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent
I know the moments I will never forget from this year ~ bellydancing to Arabic pop while glamorous women in hijab cheer me on, saying, "Hot, hot!" ~ having my Bedouin guide Mahmoud place prayer beads in my hands as I meditate in the Bedouin museum and tell me "I feel something very strong about you" ~ climbing the cliffs to survey the royal tombs carved into the red rock in the lost city of Petra ~ lounging on cushions, smoking a hookah pipe and drinking apple tea as I watch the sun turn the water golden and silhouette the minarets at the Golden Horn in Istanbul ~ watching the Martha Graham Dance Company perform their interpretation of Greek myths in an ancient ampitheatre at the Acropolis in Athens ~ zipping past the Colosseum, illuminated at night, on the back of Antonio's scooter my first night in Roma ~ eating a whole pizza, the best of my life, from Pizza Man with Giamba in Firenze ~ gazing over Mt. Vesuvius and the hillside homes of Napoli with il mio amico Mario ~ drinking Campari in Barceloneta by the sea and telling jokes with Matteo in six languages ~ Life feels dreamlike and magical when I think about all I've experienced, lived, felt, tasted, seen in the past few months of my travels ~ unforgettable.
And then there is today. The sun is streaming through the window; outside is the whir of a leaf-blower as the neighbor rounds up the fallen leaves. It is November in New England and I am home. Whatever home means... I'm back from my travels overseas, staying at my parents' house in Western Massachusetts for a few days before heading to my beloved Troy, New York, then back to my other favorite U.S. city, San Francisco, for a while. I've just returned from a few beautiful days in mile-high Denver, Colorado, and before that, Boston. And of course, before that, Barcelona...
It is a bit of a shock to the system to be stateside again. My days are no longer filled with wide-eyed wanderings through cobbled streets and side-alleys, soaking up sunlight and the spectacle of street performers and the pulsing beats of music in other languages, drinking wine and campari and tasting sweets and seafood in tasty Catalan preparations, letting it all fill me...
My days here are filled with friends and family, another kind of beauty. The days are still slow and relaxed although I'm starting to feel the impetus to be on the go again. It's pretty unavoidable here in our work-work-work-driven society, where I need my daily meditation practice to keep my sense of calm and peace.
I came home early to celebrate the life of someone I love who has passed on (Sue Williamson, the director of my graduate program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government), to see my dear sister Carrie off before she flew to Mexico for a few months, to visit with some old family friends, and to wrap up some important business in my own life before resuming my normal work-a-day life. This means of course that my immersion program in Spanish was delayed, to be pursued instead most likely in 2007.
Sometimes it's just more important to be with the people we love than to pursue our adventure plans - and there is a lifetime yet to fulfill those anyhow. I have many to fit in - how and when, we shall see - Que sera, sera.... Venga lo que venga!
It seems fitting that my return home for Sue's memorial service at the Kennedy School brought me back to the space, place and people who inspired my travels in the first place. It is the Kennedy School that brought me 216 friends from around the world in my amazing MPA class. I am still knocked out daily by who these people are and how they give back to the world; I have never known a more inspiring, giving group of people.
It was my beloved friend and classmate Salma's wedding in Jordan that gave me the inspiration to head overseas this fall, and the friends who live along the Mediterranean corridor who gave me the further inspiration to follow the map through five more countries, following my heart on a journey that ultimately inspired me, changed me, made me more completely me.... A journey that reconnected me to my passion for languages, learning, people from around the planet, that reawakened my desire to truly be a global citizen and to give back perhaps in a larger sense than I had envisioned before.
I traveled to learn about the world and ultimately learned about myself; isn't that how it always goes?
All around me at Sue's memorial, my classmates, including public servants, heads of NGOs, military leaders, of all ages, colors, persuasions, pulled out kleenex to dry their eyes; no one was left unmoved. A group of a dozen of us got up to sing a song for Sue, which was a request she made before she died. We led the packed auditorium in singing "Seasons of Love" from Rent. Sue called the song, "How Do You Measure A Year."
This song asks us all that question, gives some possible answers ("in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife") and ultimately answers that you measure it in love.
I'd agree with that ~ The moments I will remember on my travels were connections with other people, forming bonds of love and understanding across cultures. The moments I will remember back here at home are moments with friends as we mourn Sue's loss and celebrate her life; time with family back in Massachusetts; time with beloved friends in Colorado; visiting with the community I love in Troy and my posse in San Francisco, which I look forward to doing soon...
My travels changed me and raised new questions for me about my work and larger purpose in the world. I am thinking seriously about ways to translate the work I have done and my studies in public policy and urban affairs into the global environment. Could there be a way for me to do work with other cities internationally, and also use my language skills and learn about other cultures in the process? Absolutely, there could, it's just a matter of when and how I would like to create this ~ Many questions to answer here stateside first, too....
Our lives are what we make them, how we choose to create them, and how full they are, how technicolor, how full of love and adventure, laughter and magic, is entirely up to us. I'm so filled with energy and inspiration again, that kind of happy energy that makes you want to do cartwheels around the room, after my travels and feel ready to channel it with force into the world again.
The questions of how, where and when exactly everything will work for me are yet to be answered, but I'm not worried. If travel has taught me anything, it's that we need so little to get by (a little food, a little clothing, some sunshine, love and friendship will do!).
Charting your own path is never easy, but always worth it - Follow your heart and your path will be the right one for you. I truly believe that, and want to continue to live that in the world.
I feel brimming with the spirit of adventure that defined this particular journey through six countries for me - I know there are many other adventures ahead, and I can't wait to embark on the next leg of the journey.
Lots of love to all who made it possible for me along the way.... And to those who are reading my stories, thanks for sharing the journey with me.
p.s. Tutto il mundo e un paese! All the world is one country. I think that is my favorite expression from along my travels - The further I go, the more I learn how much we are all alike, and how the future of this world depends on us all. I am lucky to be able to just play my part and I look forward to all the coming adventures....
To be continued.....
© Lisa Powell Graham 2006