Friday, January 13, 2017

Reflections of a Wandering Jew

Overlooking Granada, Spain

It was my third day in Granada, Spain. 

I spent the daylight hours awed by the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains and energized by the adrenaline of exploration, hopping lightly from one spot to the next, in full embrace of the unknown. 

I didnt think I would cry that night. 

After all, I was on on vacation. In one of the most beautiful places in the world. With my best friend beside me, holding a box of tissues. 

Of course, I was grateful to be in this romantic new city, uncovering ancient architecture and trying fresh olive oil that made my taste buds want to dance Flamenco. 

And from my Instsgram and Facebook account, I appeared to be living the dream. Just released from the army, my life packed up in suitcases and garbage bags at my friends house, no address, job, or relationship "tying me down," I was fully "liberated," some might to be fully present, to take this new stage of life by storm. 

It was only after speaking on the phone with a close friend in Israel that the emotional dam collapsed, and I realized what was going on. 

I felt totally distanced from everything: from my Israeli life, from Hebrew, from Judaism, and most critically: from myself. I hadn't really given myself time to process all the change and the manic transition from the army to post army "freedom" to Europe. I was swept away, leaving any semblance of stability packed away in my suitcases, in the past. 

And once the adrenaline of the beginning wore off, I was shaken, left looking at myself from a birds eye view in a Spanish restaurant -- tons of Jamón hanging from the ceiling -- wondering: where am I? And what is this nice Kosher Jewish girl doing under so many dry-cured pig legs?

I suppose I needed to have the rug pulled out from under me to realize how important stability is--how great it is to have responsibility, a loving community, a sense of rootedness and belonging. 

Sure, there is something to be said for the nomadic life; it's certainly not dull, and there is constant change, stimulation, and new obstacles to overcome. 

But it's not for me. 
The famous lime-green backpack

It's funny, people have said to me, "I'm jealous of all this traveling you're doing, it looks so fun," to which I say: don't be. I'm living out of a backpack in order to visit family and friends who live so far from me. 

It's mentally and emotionally exhausting, hauling from one place to the next, each separation and union filled with tears of time spent and unspent together. 

Of course, in spite of all the complexity, I am enjoying myself. It has been such a blessing to reconnect with my loved ones in NYC, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco and now in Portland. 

And soon (this Sunday, welp) the next let of the journey begins: India, where I will complete (with G-ds help!) a yoga teacher training in Rishikesh. 

But it's important to note that all of this moving around hasn't been for the sake of moving around. And that's one of the points I'm hoping to make here. I'm not against traveling in any way. But I am for deliberate traveling, for moving around with purpose--whatever you make it to be. 

I've seen so many people travel for its own sake, consuming and checking off bucket lists and snapping photos to the point of mental and physical burnout. 

The rumors are true, there are travel burnouts, and I've met them! I've heard the pride-filled conversations of "where I've been in the world" that turned competitive, fast. 

Perhaps its a byproduct of social media, of society's attempt to tell us that where we are in life isn't good enough so we better buy their product, get our butts on the treadmill, or to some beach in Hawaii. 

I fear that this general sense of dissatisfaction with life, this incessant comparing to others, is hijacking our happiness and demolishing our gratitude. And unfortunately, travel has become a part of this phenomenon, and I want to challenge it. 

Let's take this popular quote by St. Augustine, for starters: 

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." 

I think quotes like these are part of the problem. To me, it's saying: "If you're happy staying in your hometown your whole life, think again. You're not happy, you've only read one page!" 

And while there is definitely merit to expanding ones' horizons, to meeting new people and gaining all of the beautiful adventure that often comes with travel, I don't think Mr. Augustine got the whole picture. 

In my eyes, French philosopher Marcel Proust summed it up pretty well, over a century ago: 

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." 

I believe that we can only appreciate the new landscapes once we learn how to truly "see" -- to appreciate the moment and our surroundings, to enjoy our stability, to find peace in routine and excitement in the changing nuances of every day. 

Because vacation can be a state of mind, and usually is. Sure, we can physically plop ourselves on a beach in Jamaica, but if our mind is filled with stress and anxiety it is as if we aren't there at all. The reverse holds true, as well. 

So don't let my Instagram fool you! While my trip had a taste of European sight-seeing and adventure, most of it has been regular moments with family and friends, with a lot of laundry in-between. (The benefit of living out of a backpack, amirite?) 

It's true: there hasn't been much external excitement in my day-to-day. All of the excitement was internally-inspired; excitement to reunite with loved ones, to help out a bit around the house, to teach a lesson on Israel to my sisters' 1st-grade class, to grab a coffee with my Grandma down the street from her Upper East Side apartment. 

Seemingly dull or not, I wouldn't have changed it for the world. 

Perhaps my riding a motorcycle with a Spaniard all over Lisbon is a better (and true) story, but when did my soul feel most joyful and aligned? 


~  While watching home movies with my parents (who are divorced yet more than amicable), sitting on the couch drinking tea and laughing at our 90s fashion. 

~ While saying the morning gratitude prayer with my 7-year-old sister, both of us still cozy in bed, the excitement of Chanukah propelling us into the new day.

~ While listening to my Grandma tell stories of her childhood in Belgium, her plight escaping the Nazis and then later, her life as a sassy teenager in NYC.

~ While reminiscing with middle-school friends at a restaurant in downtown New York, talking and laughing as though we're still socially-awkward 13-year-olds dealing with hormones and crushes. 

~ While deciding, with a good friend, (on our trip to New Orleans) to skip-out on bar-hopping  to talk about our issues and life goals over wine & cheese. 

~ While escaping the cold of NY winter in a Chabad house that I didn't know existed until I stumbled upon it on my way to another synagogue. #religiousgirlprobelms 

~ While trekking through a Portland snowstorm -- with both of my parents -- to my Mom's synagogue, just to make it in time for Torah reading; and, upon arrival, being greeted by a warm community that I've grown to know and cherish. 

These have been some of the highlights of my trip. 

It hasn't been glamorous, but it's been know, that old-fashioned, Jewish-penicillin chicken-soup-good. The kind of good that in the long run, matters.

Now, it is clear to me why the hashtag #lovewhatmatters has taken social media by storm. Because with all the BS that surrounds us -- all of the comparing, the commercials, the mind-numbing shows and social media-induced narcissism -- we are forgetting to pay attention to what really matters. 

And if traveling has taught me anything, it's taught me that we MUST love what matters.  

Because pretty views are transient
Food will waste away
Photographs will be deleted or forgotten

But the love we give in the world ripples infinitely, 
another candle in the darkness.

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