Back in North America

I was so happy to hear the customs officer’s native English-speaking voice when I arrived at Vancouver International Airport from Shanghai several days ago. Thrilled, in fact. I was finally back in a place where communication would not be an obstacle. I no longer needed to brace myself for quizzical looks from strangers when asking for help, nor anticipate shoulder shrugs followed by the phrase, “No Eeeng-leeesh.”

This is my home turf (even if it is technically Canada), a place where I can maneuver with relative ease. Hallelujah. When the custom’s officer handed me back my United States passport, it signaled my re-entry home … ah, home … and entry into the next chapter of my life.

The next immediate chapter involves spending a month on a massive road trip. Yes, the traveling hasn’t concluded just yet. As physically and mentally exhausted as I am, I need to find a second wind. Although at this point, it could very well be my fifth or sixth wind.

The loose plan: I start in Vancouver for four days before taking the train to Portland. From there, I will rent a car and drive to Los Angeles. After spending several days in Los Angeles, I will hit the road via Route 66 on a 10-day drive back home to Chicago. The goal is to be home just before Easter. Then, I will likely sleep for one month.

It should prove a pretty epic finale to an otherwise incredibly amazing career sabbatical. I’ll get to experience parts of the country that are new, exciting, inspiring and quirky. But more importantly, this portion of my journey is an opportunity to reconnect with family, friends and former colleagues sprinkled along the West coast. This adds a very personal and very sentimental layer to this part of the odyssey.

A friend of mine — someone who made a massive road trip around the United States by herself last year — encouraged me to set an intention for my road trip. Little did she know that I had already adopted this idea.

My intention for the bigger journey, the one that began last November, has been “Live in the moment.” It is a mantra that has unleashed immense gratitude for my life and the people in it.

Now I get the opportunity to spend time with some of these important people, a few of whom I haven’t seen in years. Several of these friends have since had children whom I will be meeting for the first time. I have joked that perhaps I should dub this part of my trip the “Meet the Babies Tour.”

I am extremely grateful to have this time to reconnect and visit and catch up with these significant souls in my life. So I am going to borrow my friend’s intention from her last cross-country road trip: to give and receive love.

Love, after all, strings together our time on earth. I recognized this when I was alone in Nepal, hiking high in the Himalayan mountains. I recognized this when I was alone in India, walking to my yoga class just before dawn. I recognized this when I was alone in Thailand, gazing up at the stars from a sleep-aboard boat in Maya Bay. I recognized this when I was alone in China, climbing the Great Wall.

In each of these moments, I was physically alone, a soul among perfect strangers. But I wasn’t really alone.

In these moments, I was filled with love for everyone who wasn’t with me. I would go through the Rolodex of people in my life, and conjure them up by my side so they could experience each amazing moment with me. It may sound silly, but I took tremendous comfort in this.

Plus, in this respect, friends and family were always with me, radiating their love even when they weren’t physically there to do so.

Now it’s time for me to demonstrate my gratitude for this. Right after I find my sixth wind.

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