How to grow wings
I had my first overseas trip twenty years ago at the age of 29. I had two young children then - aged 2 and 4 - and we left them with their grandparents for four weeks so we could travel. It was a big thing to do and leaving them was really hard. It was also at a time in my life where I was suffering with anxiety. While I wanted to travel and have that experience the double whammy of leaving the kids behind and my anxiety made it a very difficult thing to do.
I was particularly anxious about the flying. I’ve never been a good flyer and still tend towards being a bit anxious. One of the girls I worked with that at that time gave me a card before I left. The card was a beautiful picture of a naked woman with wings, relishing in the freedom of flight and confident in the joy of her own ability to fly. I had decided to keep a travel journal and I taped the cardwith its glorious symbolism to the front cover.
I kept that journal and made eye contact with it from time to time over the years but I’ve never read it. I came across it again recently - all fat with with notes, maps, tickets and dogeared pages. For a week or two I toyed with the idea of reading it - I picked it up, put it down, picked it up, put it down.
I was hesitant to read it. While I enjoyed the trip and visited places I had only ever read about, there was so much other baggage travelling with me I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I didn’t necessarily want to relive some of the feelings and challenges I was having at the time - I missed the kids so badly I couldn't speak to them on the phone; I worried incessantly about things going wrong on the flights; I had bouts of crippling anxiety where my breath was so constricted I felt like I would have my last gasp. I also had a touch of concern thatI had written embarrassingly self-indulgent rubbish that I would cringe to read it.
Ahead of taking off for a four week trip to Morocco, Portugal and Spain, a few days ago I finally sat down with a cup of tea to read my journal. I picked it up with anticipation, ready for insights from my 29 year old self. But there were none. No outpouring of thoughts and feelings, no reflections, no observations. Instead I had written about the mundane detail of the trip - flight arrivals, cramped trains, size of hotel rooms, meals we ate (so much pizza!), queuing for gallery admissions, rude people, rain, how much things cost. Every. Little. Boring. Detail. Complete with glued in evidence- ticket stubs and the like.
My journal was completely silent on me. I had not written one word about me. It didn't even sound like the trip I went on. It was almost like it was written in third person. While I recognised and recalled the things I did and saw, I had neatly separated the doing and the feeling. The only cringe-worthy thing was how earnest the writing was, how flowery the descriptions were and how formally I had written.
I thought about this for days afterward - this disconnect between what I had written about and myrecall of how I felt at that time that still resonates so strongly with me today. Perhaps I was feeling things I couldn’t write about? Perhaps this was how I managed my feelings - by pushing them down, putting them out of sight. Perhaps I didn’t want to write about the guilt I was feeling for leaving my kids? Perhaps I didn’t want to own up to my anxiety much less document it? Perhaps I wasn't mature enough to know and recognise myself? Perhaps I just wanted to be a regular tourist, enjoying a regular holiday?
But that was all twenty years ago and I’m now well travelled and in fact, started writing this at 38,000 feet on an international flight. I must confess that as I was writing I was working hard to keep a lid on the memories and feelings from all that time ago.
I am no longer that 29 year old young woman with so much going on that there was no room to be me, to look inside, to see my and know myself. There was no hint in that trip of my travels to come. As I sit on the third floor balcony of my riad in the blue city of Chefchaouen in Morocco, drinking tea from a beautiful Moroccan glass and watching the sunrise light up the mountains I am so pleased and proud of what I have overcome to open myself up to this beautiful place.
It’s a reminder that with time and experience we grow and learn. That who we are today is nested in who we were yesterday, but who we are tomorrow is yet to come. And we can grow the wings we need to fly us there.