I ended up in Russia the same way I ended up everywhere else I have lived and worked overseas- by lucky coincidence and random chance. I also have to give props to graduate school end of term work for being so onerous that I finally gave in one night and accepted an invitation to happy hour (eating delicious things hour for me) so I could see the friends whose faces I had almost forgotten, since it had been so long since I had seen anything other than the inside of my school or the screen of my laptop or endless educational journals.
That night I caught up on the comings and goings and social issues of Vientiane’s finest. As it was getting towards the end of term and so many contracts finishing up, much of the talk revolved around who was going where and when. I had already committed to stray cat summer but had made no plans other than “somewhere in Europe”. Joe casually mentioned that Sarah wasn’t able to do her summer teaching job in Russia.
I’m sorry, what?
|The unassuming start to my trip- the Russian embassy in Laos.|
Sometimes when I’m making these moves I think of all the choices and luck that have led me to where I am now. Had I not met Joe and Sarah, of course none of this would have happened. But more than that, had I not avoided grad school, or had Joe not shown up, or had he not thought to talk to me about it- all of these things lined up to get me to Russia, which got me to Europe, which set off all of the things that have happened to me this summer. I can walk this back further, to how I ended up in Laos, because big parts of this summer revolved around people I met in Laos- Roman and Maike and Tobias and James. Even further back, I’m on this side of the planet just in time to reunite with Tiara, who’s now in Laos; Sven and Sam, two close friends from Laos, are mere hours away from me at the moment, where they are visiting Andrew, my old co-worker from Laos, who is now living in Albania and working at the same school where Tiara and I worked. It makes me wonder what inconsequential daily choices I’m making right now that will add up to some huge turn of events in my life- meeting someone at a hostel, applying for a random job, making friends on the bus, staying an extra year __________ or going home early instead…
Right now I have a lot of balls in the air for future opportunities of where to go and what to do next, a list of possibly maybes that are all appealing to me. I feel lucky to have had the luxury of turning down several jobs in June/July/August because they weren’t the right fit for me. I’m grateful that I have a profession I love that allows me to work anywhere and pick up work almost any time of the year. I’ve recently hit my “don’t freak out, but start being mildly concerned” number on my savings (I confided in a friend what my threshold was; he admitted that if he were me he would definitely be freaking out). I’m excited to see what kind of choices come out of the position I’m putting myself in right now. I have no idea where I will end up. I have no plans. I just know I want to teach and I want to travel. With those two desires literally the entire world is up for grabs.
The person I was even six months ago could not have handled this. At all. Not one bit. I remember that my greatest fear about going without a contract, walking into summer without a plan for next year, was what if something terrible happened medically and I had to use my savings and couldn’t travel. And that is exactly what happened. When I was diagnosed I was so angry. I couldn’t believe that after all these years of playing it safe, of planning, of being careful, the one time I threw caution to the wind my biggest fear happened.
But here I am, writing this at the border of Montenegro on an old rumbling bus while I wait for my passport. My biggest fear happened. It was the best thing that could have happened. Nothing fell apart. I’m fine. I’m still doing what I wanted to do. I have made decisions others in my place would not have made; I have willfully decided to be financially precarious and hold out until my next job before I pick up the mantle of being a Fully Financially Responsible Person again. I think my diagnosis at the beginning of this summer was the greatest test I could have had. I could not have dealt so graciously with this before my two years in Laos or the year before that in Albania. It changed me. It changed the way I see the world, the way I see myself, the way I view what I’m capable of. Finishing my time in S.E. Asia with that last final blow of a medical mishap was the final step in the process I didn’t know I had started, which was unwinding so much of my fear and anxiety about life and how I was living it.
The fact that so many random coincidences and quite a bit of lucky interventions have landed me right here on this bus seat gives me the freedom to just kind of throw up my hands in peaceful submission. I’ll bring my best, do what I need to do, and the rest is up to whatever mix of people and places and events conspire around me, which is all out of my control. I have a narrowly defined boundary of decision making impact- it’s approximately within the lines of my bone and skin, perhaps stretching out of me into a field into which others can venture and take what they want, but then there goes my choice and control. I can’t even control what my body does at this point, the whys and hows of veins and legs- even this is beyond me. My own body has a mind of its own. This final knowledge made me realize that nothing is guaranteed, and if nowhere is safe, not even my own body, I can be terrified or I can accept that there is an overwhelming freedom in that.
I’ve made a joke out of this being my stray cat summer. To take that further, I know I’ll land on my feet. I don’t when or where or how, but at this point I have made it out of enough that I know I can make it work. I want to push this as far as I can to see what I’ll do. I’m so curious about all of these things inside of me that are unknown, and won’t be activated or brought out until a new experience, or place, or person, or challenge illuminates it, triggers it, opens it up, spills it out. It’s a moment that flips something on inside like a switch, and suddenly there is a great big expanse that you never would have imagined you had waiting inside of you. I want to be open to being opened up like that.
I will probably always get anxious in certain situations- it’s who I’ve been as long as I can remember. I still sometimes have panic attacks that send me into quiet corners to whisper to myself that I’ll be fine, to breathe, to affirm the things I need to say to get out of that swirling falling feeling. I have doubts and get scared. I think of what if____________. That is usually when I know that I’m moving in the right direction. From my earliest memories I have tried to avoid anxiety and pain and fear, and gave myself a lot of anxiety and fear and pain about wanting to be so so careful and clean and quiet and neat and responsible and good, but this was an illusion of security. Bad things would and will still happen, and I was insane enough to think I just needed to be even more careful, as though the universe would tally my concern and correspond my suffering in ratio to it. I’m changing the game into something I can actually win, something that isn't rigged against me from the start. I’m following my fear instead of trying to avoid it; I hunt it down. I make this chase now: I seek it out, I dig it up, I call its name and tell it to show me its face, and then I let it lead me where I need to go, to places I never planned in this world. In my indecision and rootlessness I feel more decisive and focused than I ever did when making plans.
If travel is searching
and home has been found
I'm not stopping
I'm going hunting
I'm the hunter
I'll bring back the goods
but I don't know when