You wonder why the surprising still surprises you.
After all, travel is full of surprises—that’s the beauty if it. You wake up each morning ready for anything (albeit, exhausted), and you never know what will fall into your lap.
Enter L. (Upon request, his name is abbreviated).
No wait, enter L.’s CS profile: a picture of some 20-year-old kid with blond, curly hair—wide-eyed, with one hand open to seize the moment, and the other pointed in exclamation! He seems ready to leap out of the photo with a shot of enthusiasm. Below the photo, you read his description: he’s open and direct, he is an adrenaline junkie, he enjoys pushing other people’s limits, and he lives like Bear Grylls—a born survivor. He’s a musician, a traveler, and a philosopher. The number of references he has—all positive—are staggering.
You wonder how a 20-year-old can have that kind of impact on so many people… So you message him, tell him that you are in Sofia, and looking to meet up with somebody interesting.
Needless to say, you meet with him. But before you do, you tell your host Yassen, “Jesus, I’m so hung over. Why did I agree to meet this kid—this twenty year old—at 9:30 in the morning? What the hell are we going to talk about?!”
You already feel older than you are (though lately, people are telling you that you are looking younger, which is always a plus). You already have difficulty relating to many people your own age—but at least the traveling community seems to offer individuals with a greater depth of experience. So what the hell, you’d give this kid a chance……..
First impression: he arrives exactly on time, practically to the second. He makes a point of mentioning this, then plunks down next to you, on the stone steps of Sofia’s Palace of Justice. You note the way his shorts (are those swim trunks or something?) cut into the flesh of his enormous legs—legs like tree trunks. Jesus!
You aren’t expecting L. Not at all. He’s a big kid, not exactly tall, but stocky. You can see, despite his belly, that the rest of his body is constructed as solidly as his legs—with large, round muscles through the arms, broad shoulders, and a neck like a bull’s. You cannot imagine what kind of activities sculpted his physique. All you can think is power. His body is packed rather tightly into his clothing, much like the contents of his small backpack, which bulges beneath its yellow rain cover.
He launches immediately into a conversation—albeit, one-sided, as you strain to shake the dregs of a hangover from your head—as naturally as a salesman, like you have already known each other. He is right to claim that he is open. Too open. Like a volume of information, the pages of which are turning faster than you can read them. Christ, your head! You implore him to join you in a search for coffee.
Twenty years old, and he’s packed more experience into those few years than you could fathom. You’re normally that person! He was a student of theology, speaks half a dozen languages, has traveled all over, hitch hiked thousands upon thousands of miles, and even spent 5 months alone in Africa, where he learned a local language and taught at a university. He developed and launched his own company, which generates twice the mean Romanian income every month. His prospects are limitless, his list of contacts formidably long. He is undoubtedly the best net-worker you’ve ever seen in action.
You hear snippets of “survival camp,” “national marital arts team,” “publishing,” “older women,” “67 jumps from airplanes,” “massage therapy…” His goal: to travel around Europe as a CS freegan of sorts—with no money.
You try to catch up. You want to know more about his travels.
“For travel, you never need more than two shirts, period,” he says. “If you do, people will give you everything you need. I have learned how to ask, and how to receive. How to say yes. I also know how to say no.”
Valuable lessons. Truly.
“I only do what I want to do,” he says, and you are reminded of what your father always told you: “Do what makes you happy. Nothing else matters.”
Will do, Dad!
You are happy when you are traveling. That’s what you think, at least. And what is happiness?
“Happiness,” L. says, “is a moment. It’s a smile. It’s a feeling. It’s yours. You cannot share it.”
Okay, so you’re happy (at least you think!). But there’s just one problem:
“And when you are traveling…? How do you deal with loneliness? Always staying on the move, not being able to establish permanent relationships with people. Feeling alone in a crowd?”
L. has a way of responding promptly, often with objective numbers, as though he has considered every possible question beforehand. “Knowing I have people makes up for loneliness,” he says, and finds a quotation by Muller Peter, “’If you can be happy in loneliness, and you don’t depend on anyone, but you still love them, then you follow the golden way.’ In the beginning, I wasn’t traveling. I was running. Traveling is just running from one place to the next. Sometimes you run from the pain of not being beside someone you love. To deal with loneliness, you have to have someone you really love. You have to have one person. Always.”
When you hear this, something tugs at your heart strings. Emotions, so many emotions, bubble to the surface and your chest tightens. You remember words you had written last December: the very same sentiment; a principle, you think, which has guided you for many years: your buoy—a person who keeps you afloat.
“It is about showing people you care for them and that you love them,” L. Continues. “Traveling is about showing people that you do what you want, but that you still love them.”
But what if the person—that one person—denies you the ability to demonstrate your love? What if you have been denied that possibility? Then what? How can you cope with loneliness?
“You let that person go. That’s not love; that’s not real. And the biggest mistake people make is to say, ‘But I know that this person loves me!’” he says.
You struggle with this concept. On the one hand, he might be right. Who would do such a thing to someone they love—cut/them/out? That can’t be love. On the other hand, you think, How old is this kid? What the fuck does he know about love? About the amount of love, of pain, of punishment, of passion that can be bundled into a single person, over so many years?
You remember that “passion” comes from Latin, the root of which is pati, which means, “to suffer.”
To love with passion, you must suffer. To cope with loneliness—thinking of the one you love–you must suffer. Life, as the Buddhists say (obviously with more depth), is suffering; and Buddhists must show compassion, always. There’s that word again, compassion: “with suffering?”
You feel angry. Great… anger: another feeling, the origins of which are in anguish, grief, distress, and suffering. Anger, goddammit! Because of the difficulty of coping with loneliness. You surround yourself with people to keep yourself distracted. You curl up into a tight little ball at night, wishing there was someone else to keep you warm. Your head aches from having it pressed against the cold windows of rumbling buses, steel benches, wooden tables. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, loneliness.
You pull yourself together, listen as calmly as possible as L. expounds on other subjects, but thoughts on happiness, loneliness, travel, and running still linger. You can’t seem to put it all together, and you feel mentally exhausted. You wish, God how you wish, you had L.’s youthful energy—the same abandon, the same ease and simplicity of being.
Then again, perhaps it’s a farce. You are aware that L. speaks rapidly, eagerly, and openly about a number of personal subjects, and you are reminded of a time when you used to do the same. You used to claim that you were an open book, and that people could know all about you.
But years later, someone explained that there is a difference between telling and showing. Telling about yourself is not the same as showing yourself.
Telling, in fact, is a rather weak form of expression.
You had told Spaso, after all, that you were happy. He didn’t believe you, of course, and went digging for a reaction out of you—something you could show him. “You think you are a traveler? No, Maria. You are a runner. And a happy person doesn’t need to run from home,” he’d said. You’d rolled your eyes and refused to comment.
But in your mind: Where the hell is home?
For this question, L. has a prompt comment, “I am at home. It is about how you feel, not where you are.”
Spaso echoes in your memory, “You are not a traveler, Maria. A traveler is a person who feels at home everywhere.” Just like L.
So… what? Apparently, according to Spaso, you are not a traveler—more like a runner–and you are not happy.
But according to L., you can choose to be happy, any time, any place—and that feeling is yours alone. All traveling is a form of running, and because home, too, is a feeling, don’t worry about whether you run/travel from it. You can just as easily run/travel in it—this feeling.
And as for loneliness. Indeed, there is a level of suffering involved, but that’s a part of life. Happiness is not a fixed condition; no one can be happy all the time. Happiness exists moment to moment, in there with moments of suffering. It’s part of the balance.
“Balance is key,” L. says. “You have to balance the heavy with the light. A girl might be sobbing in a bar to me about her broken heart, about how maybe some boyfriend just dumped her—and I might say, ‘Hold that thought for an hour. Let’s play snooker!’ She’ll say, ‘You’re an insensitive asshole! Can’t you see I’m really hurt and upset?’ And I’ll say, ‘Of course, but listen, I’m doing you a favor. You have to balance all that pain with something light and trivial.’”
You consider this. “I wouldn’t say that. People need to feel like they matter. Then again, that would probably prevent her from wallowing in her misery. People like to do that.”
You like to do that.
People like to feel like they matter… indeed. Friends, lovers, family members need to feel like they matter. People crave validation; their precious egos scream for it.
“I’m lucky,” L. says, “because I am able to direct love and attention to a lot of different people. But don’t get sucked into me, or you will fall on your face.”
Your own precious ego prickles from this comment. What the fuck are you doing? Following some kid around with utter fascination and awe, a point—you believe—you’d made quite clear, especially when you’d admitted that listening to him speak with such energy, such infectious enthusiasm and passion, made you feel like crying.
“You are the attraction of the day,” he says to you.
That’s it?! That’s your worth summarized by some 20-year-old punk?
Are you surprised? What do you expect? Do you think he’s going to sit down and blog about you or something? You are AGAIN reminded of Spaso, who taught you how truth isn’t the slightest bit glamorous.
So you may only be the “attraction of the day,” but later L. writes on your CS page [Good things WILL follow].
And so they do.