I wrote the following reflection in early April following a month with Unsettled in Medellín, Colombia. I never published it on my blog nor have I shared it with anyone, until now. I’ve been sitting on this post as I wanted to get it “right.” I wanted to capture exactly what my month with Unsettled meant to and for me.
In hindsight, I realize I’ll likely never get it “right” in that way. A month with Unsettled is something that needs to be experienced to be understood.
That said, rather than keep the reflection that follows to myself, I thought I’d share it here — on the eve of embarking on my second Unsettled experience in Cape Town, South Africa. I think it captures a large part of my motivation for living Unsettled a second time. So cheers to this next adventure, my expanding Unsettled family and many more moments spent embracing the unknown.
When I was in college, my swim coach often told me and my teammates to swim our own race. “You need to swim your race in your own lane,” he’d say. “You need to swim with blinders on.”
Back then, I didn’t understand the significance of those words beyond competitive swimming. I didn’t think of them as being applicable to life in general. But the metaphor is there — and I’m so grateful for it.
In swimming, it’s important to stick to your own race plan and pace. Looking from one lane to the next is an inefficient way to swim and an easy way to lose sight of your race and fall apart. There’s a time and place, usually toward the end of the race, for letting those around you motivate you and your race. There’s also a time and place, typically the majority of the race, for swimming with blinders on. For swimming your race in your lane. Yes, others can push you, but really, your pace and your push should come from within; they should come from you. It’s a strategic balance between swimming your own race and racing those in the lanes surrounding you.
To do that, you’ve got to be clear on your goals and how you’re going to pace your race — and train to be able to swim the race you want and need to swim — to achieve those goals.
This lesson and its relevance to life in general is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
During a recent layover in Atlanta, I walked into an airport restaurant in Terminal F. After I looked over a menu and decided to eat there, the hostess asked me if I wanted to sit at the bar or at a table.
“Table,” I said, wanting some space to relax and write before my overnight flight to Buenos Aires.
As the hostess walked me to a table, she asked me where I was headed.
“Argentina,” I said.
“What are you doing there?”
I think about my sister a lot, but this week, I’ve been thinking about her a lot, a lot. She’s spent the days leading up to her 25th birthday — a time in a young person’s life that’s typically about dreaming big, testing the water and living freely and fearlessly and without abandon — in a hospital bed.
For 4-5 years now, Kathryn has been living with epilepsy. Doctors haven’t found the right prescription to control her seizures through medication, and over several months, she has undergone / is undergoing a series of tests while hospitalized to see if and how surgery might be an option as well. She’s living with a great amount of risk, but it’s not the kind of risk you want or seek out in your 20s — or ever, really.
I think about my sister, and I cannot help but imagine how terrifying it must be to be in her shoes. For so many reasons. For reasons that don’t even cross my mind, reasons I can’t comprehend. I think about my sister and everything she’s facing, and I think about how she’s taking it in stride, how she’s working two jobs, how she doesn’t complain, how she isn’t quick to anger. When it comes to my sister and her health and her life, I think about a lot of things, but more than anything, lately, I think about how brave she is.
Brave. That’s the word I keep coming back to.
“You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney
I don’t know that there’s a better set of words to capture the feeling of exploring the world and building home and community in more than one place. Michigan will always be home – this visit was a good reminder of that – but every time I travel and connect, or reconnect, with people and places, I feel a pull on my heart; I feel the truth of Miriam’s words.
Leaving is not easy. Saying “goodbye” and “see you later” is tough – sometimes painfully so – for me. Especially when it comes to my family, pets, good friends, the places I love most and experiences that dig deep and leave me wanting more.
For someone who’s made a lot of changes throughout the past year and embraced a lot of challenges — many planned, many unplanned; some good, some I wouldn’t choose to relive; some new, some repeats — change still scares the sh*t out of me.
Tomorrow I’m traveling back to the U.S. for my cousin’s wedding, a visit with family and friends in northern Michigan and a trip out to California for work. I’ll then be returning to Bariloche, a place I’ve come to love deeply, a place in which I feel at home and at peace, a place that inspires me to keep chasing and living big dreams.
This post isn’t about Bariloche, though. This post is about change and some recent thoughts on it. Throughout the past week or so, as I’ve thought about stepping back on U.S. soil and spending time in familiar spaces, if only for a few weeks, I’ve reflected quite a bit on change and how returning home after considerable time away often reveals change.
Winter has arrived in the south of South America, and I am loving every second of it. Honestly, it is glorious. It’s been nearly four years since I’ve had a winter, and it’s true what they say: you don’t miss something until it’s gone. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m at the foot of the Andes in Bariloche; mountains covered in snow make winter a little more magical.
For better or worse, Michigan, my home state, has four distinct seasons. I didn’t realize exactly what those seasons meant to me and how much I actually liked them — or at least appreciate them for what they are and what they mean to me — until I’d moved to and lived in Berkeley, California.