I always had an adventurous heart, but “the bug” first bit me in 2013. I was an angsty freshman looking to thrive not just survive, and my grandmother had bought my older sister a trip to Ireland with our school as a (lavish) high school graduation gift. Two weeks before the departure date, my sister chose to cancel the trip. However, the ticket was already purchased, and the trip non-refundable. My parents called me into the kitchen and said, “So… when does your passport expire?” And before I knew it, I was on a plane, the youngest of an already tightly-knit bunch of acquaintances, with no idea what I was in for. As a young teen from the land-bound Georgia, when I stood on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic for the first time, waves crashing beneath me and wind in my hair, I saw life in an entirely new way, and everything changed. Thus, my heart for travel was born.
As monumentous of an experience as this (and other adventures since then) were, the problem with travel is that it’s a beast who the more often you feed, the more ravenous it becomes. Like collecting vinyls, the mentality that we get into of “I’ll just buy one now, then I won’t need more” is both incredibly ignorant and magnificently misleading. In the words of my co-worker, “Before I knew it, what started off as three Aretha Franklin records grew and grew into a monster that eats up a good couple hundred dollars of my paycheck every year.” Now, he is regularly having to buy and build new structures, just to support his collection–his prize.
The thing about travel is that as passionate as we grow about it, and as much as it feels like it fulfills us, we have to make room in ourselves for it. We pour money, time, and energy into it, and love to do so. But we don’t realize that with every trip we ignite on, this idol claims more and more square-footage in our hearts.
I’m a firm believer that traveling is a pivotal part of growing up, because it teaches the appreciation of beauty, spontaneity, wonder, capacity to dream, curiosity and (most of all) perspective. But in the words of a one of my sister’s favorite moody boybands: “too much of anything is still to much.” Curious passion for the world is a great thing–until it causes you to devalue where you are right now.
This generation is ill, sick with a case of “anywhere but here”–wonderlust gone terribly wrong. When did I start having to leave Atlanta to see beauty? Adoration of the extraordinary is easy, but maintaining adoration of the mundane after you’ve felt the extraordinary is easily one of the hardest things we will ever be called to do.
On that trip in the spring of 2013, when I was standing on that cliff off the coast of Dingle, Ireland, I bumped my phone somehow and it (seemingly independently) shuffled and played itself and “Hopeless Wanderer,” by Mumford and Sons, erupted. I jumped to my bag to dig through it in a panicked attempt to silence this disruption of the peace, but by the time I finally fished it out, the sea breeze had picked up and was carrying the melody over the cliffs and was (I kid you not) one by one attracting a small herd of sheep that had been wandering about, avoiding us previously. (Because apparently in Ireland, keeping sheep, heavy in fleece, on the brink of behemothic cliffs is about as common as a venti cup in worship on a Sunday morning in Atlanta.) “Leave it on,” my teacher surprised us all, “It’s doing something.” And it was. The lyrics read:
You heard my voice, and I came out of the woods by choice.
The shelter also gave the shade,
But in that dark I have no name.
So leave that click in my head,
And I will remember the words that you said.
They left a clouded mind and a heavy heart,
But I was sure we could see a new start.
So when your hope’s on fire,
But you know your desire,
Don’t hold a glass over the flame
Don’t let your heart grow cold,
“I will call you by name
I will share your road.”
But hold me fast, Hold me fast
‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer.
I wrestled long with my youth,
We tried so hard to live in the truth.
But do not tell me all is fine,
When I lose my head, I lose my spine.
So leave that click in my head
And I won’t remember the words that you said.
You brought me out from the cold,
Now, how I long, how I long to grow old.
But hold me fast, Hold me fast
‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer.
And I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under.
I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under.
The skies I’m under.
Man. That feels like poetry to me. But either way, it became both my call to worship, my anthem, and one of my favorite prayers to sing. “Don’t hold a glass over the flame, don’t let your heart grow cold,” because He says that “[He] will call [me] by name, [He] will share [my] road,” when I feel like I’m walking alone. But more so, because of the fact that he offers us a new life and calls us by name, not only can we actually want “to grow old” (which, if you’ve ever encountered serious depression, is often more a fear than a wish), but we can do so with joy, and “learn to love the skies we’re under.”
I think lately, as a culture, we have not only romanticized, but idealized the gift of traveling; we have confused “wondering” with “wandering,” and glorified ourselves as explorers rather than nomads. I guess because wandering about in search of something that makes us feel wonder is easier than remaining rooted, and choosing to be delighted in the everyday grind. We travel hoping to “find ourselves,” when more often than not we are actually running from who we know we already are. Traveling is easy because you can be whoever you want to be, and then just pick up and move on when the act gets old and your skin starts to show. But finding beauty in somewhere where there is no easy way out means taking a risk. Because choosing to see the beauty alongside the mundane isn’t possible without being willing to walk with your brokenness as well as your beauty on display.
Have you ever wondered why we say things to ourselves that we’d never say to a friend? If you sit in beauty for too long, it looses it’s touch. When you live with the same version of yourself, in the same city, around the very same people, life will suck the glory out of all three–if you let it.
Part of this “journey to contentment” that I’ve been on has included not just coming to terms with who and where I am right now, but learning to find the same worth in them that I find so easily in other people and foreign streets.
The bottom line is that wherever you are, there is beauty in and around you. Not because of who or where you are, but because of the person that set the stage and intentionally and lovingly and put you in it–exactly as and where you are designed to be, and are needed most. Life is so much more joyful to live, when you choose to focus on what matters: the good.
As hard as that risk can seem, the possibility of people seeing my brokenness with my beauty will never be more terrifying to me than the prospect of getting to the end of this life as anything less than thankful, and filled with a joy that circumstances alone cannot grant. Choose to love the world (the parts of it you pick and the parts of it where you get put) more than you love holding onto the fear of how it might see you. Choose to live life “coming like a child” (Matt. 18:3):
And fiercely grateful.
Learn to love the skies you’re under.
// A. Rose H.