For purposes of this blog post I attempted to calculate the number of miles I traveled in the past thirteen months since I left home for New Delhi. I made a spreadsheet and did my best to remember each trip I took in the past year and a month. By the time I had documented each flight, each connection, each weekend bus trip, I had reached Row 86.
There is a cheesy quote that you can find in most travel books and even though it is a bit overused it still has an impact on me.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
– Hilary Cooper
To me, the quote is a reminder to live an extraordinary life. Extraordinary means something different for each of us. I used to be confused by the word extraordinary. How could extra ordinary be synonymous with outstanding? It seemed like a contradiction. Then I looked it up and realized the extra does not mean “super” ordinary, but rather “out of” or “beyond”. Living an extraordinary life means living in a way that is remarkable (worth talking about) or surprising. It means living in a way that shakes things up once and awhile; keeps you on your toes and interested in staying present to the string of moments that is your life.
As the quote suggests, not every moment is extraordinary – we wouldn’t be able to breathe! But if ever so often you seek those moments of breathlessness, of awe, of spellbinding joy, you will find, at the end of your days, that you have lived an extraordinary life. Extraordinary also seems to me like a naturally balanced word. You must spend enough time cultivating your own unique version of ordinary in order to know what lies beyond. To live in a way that is extraordinary we must know our own comfort zone and explore our edges.
To me extraordinary means getting to know and understand the human family in as much of its diversity as I can experience in a lifetime.
Since I left home last July I have taken planes, trains, and automobiles. I have traveled by tuk tuk, rickshaw, camel cart, and my own two feet. I reconnected with dear friends I hadn’t seen in years and built new friendships with people I hope to know for the rest of my life. I visited eleven countries I had never seen before, drove through ten of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. I visited temples, mosques, churches, and gurdwaras. I tried new foods like South Indian dosas, authentic Turkish kebab, Tibetan momos, a full Irish breakfast, haggis in Scotland, and Bosnia’s traditional fast food chevapi.
On Monday I returned home to Minnesota and for the first time in thirteen months I do not have a trip planned in the near future. I don’t have a plane or bus ticket purchased and there are no road trips on my schedule. Traveling became my ordinary so now it is time to switch things up a bit and do something different – for me at least – which is to stay in one place for a while.
Fall is my favorite season and as summer fades into autumn here in Minnesota I am looking forward to pausing, grounding, and hibernating a bit – which is pretty much what I have been doing since I got home on Monday. The thing about extraordinary is that it is not always easy or comfortable. The moments that take your breath away sometimes knock the wind out of you.
Needless to say, I have not finished the mileage count, but I’ll leave that for another day when I make my own Mastercard commercial. For now I will focus on reconnecting with friends and family, drinking plenty of apple cider, and carving a pumpkin or two. I will also be documenting the second half of my time in India, the month I spent in Europe en route to the States, the travel I’ve done within the U.S. since I got home in June, as well as my current goings on. So the blogging continues!
Thank you all, dear readers, for your attention and interest as I have shared my adventure over the past year. I’m not going anywhere for a while…and I hope you’re not either 🙂
I am writing to you after a delicious dinner of macaroni and cheese and fresh steamed green beans. I had reserved this cherished box of mac for the end of a rough day when needed comfort food from home, but instead I made it tonight to celebrate a happy end to what began as a difficult week. Thursday marked my one month anniversary of arriving in India. It feels like I have been here much longer than one month. Spending a whole year somewhere has a much different feeling than spending one semester abroad, as I did in Chile, but the initial period of adjustment is very similar in both cases. This week I reached the point in that adjustment period when I was questioning everything. Why am I here? Why did I leave home? And what in the world will I do for the next ten months? The root of these existential crisis-y feelings I might have been the boredom that also crept up on me this week.
As a child, whenever I complained of being bored my mom would tell me one must learn how to be bored, as life has plenty of boring moments to offer. Her lesson was not that I would live a dull life. Far from it. What she was trying to instill in me rather is that boredom, like frustration, anxiety, stress, and others are natural emotions that we will feel at various points in our life, on different days, in different places. These aren’t feelings that we need to run away from though. Rather, we ought to make friends with them because in doing so we learn that we are always in choice and in charge of our own experience. As a famous quote puts it, “you cannot change the wind, but you can adjust your sails.”
Three things turned my week around. The first moment that turned my week around was dinner with my host Rotarian and Indian grandfather, Gobind-ji. I visited him on Wednesday evening and had a simple but delicious home cooked meal followed by tea and discussion of the day’s events over the evening news. All of my family and friends back home should know that my Indian family looks after me always and especially when I’m feeling blue. It has been clearly articulated by Gobind-ji that I should feel like one of the family, so I am always welcome for dinner, and can bring home my laundry and get my own water or food out of the frig.
Second, Daniel and I took an afternoon outing on Thursday to the India Gate to see if we could catch a glimpse of some of the action of the anti corruption protests. There was only a small crowd at the India Gate, most protestors were likely at Tihar Jail where Anna Hazare in a tug of war with the police to meet his conditions for a public fast. Protestors or not, it was great to vent to Daniel about my frustrations and talk about what we missed most from home. He lived in Minneapolis last year as an Americorps volunteer so he knows exactly what I’m talking about when I say I miss lakes, Grand Avenue, fall in Minnesota, and Minnesota nice. After our outing we got dinner, Indian food, and ordered two sides of French fries. We reveled in the fried deliciousness with ketchup and the utter American-ness of it all. Then we decided we should probably have a drink to top off a great afternoon and toasted Kingfisher on his rooftop terrace looking out over a New Delhi night.
The third moment which really just completed the change from boring to great was an impromptu lunch and afternoon of fun with two new school friends, Anushree and Preeti. I met the two at the public meeting on campus I mentioned a few posts back. They are first years studying Spanish. Anu heard me speaking Spanish at the meeting and we struck up a conversation. They are as new to Spanish as I am to Hindi so we are perfect language exchange partners. I have been frustrated by my lack of comprehension of this new and difficult language, but speaking Spanish always makes me happy so it takes the edge off my steep learning curve. The two are very outgoing and we had a lot to talk about. We are all in the same boat – first years at a new school far from home (they are both from states in eastern India), learning new languages, and making new friends. I had lunch with the two of them in the canteen in their hostel (what we would call a dorm in the U.S.). It was neat to see more of campus, it’s a really beautiful area and being in the hostels makes me feel more a part of campus life. After lunch, a hostel tour, and great conversation, we got stuck in one of the magical monsoon downpours that happen often this time of year. We decided to ditch the one umbrella we had and splashed around in the rain for about half an hour. We all agreed the afternoon was one to remember.
On Friday night my roommates and I hung out with some Indian friends on campus. The highest point in New Delhi is on the JNU campus, a rock crested hill that reminds me a lot of the Heartley Park overlook in Duluth. The wooded path to get to the rocks reminded me so much of the path to Watab Island on the SJU campus. Walking around the streets of campus at night reminded me of many a late-night walk home from the Clemens Library at St. Ben’s. Delhi is not known to be a friendly city, but all will agree that the JNU campus is a cozy little bubble, more safe and much less conservative than the rest of the city. This week’s adventures have confirmed that I will do my best to spend much more time on campus from now on.
After living with myself for almost twenty three years I’ve learned that boredom and frustration know where to find me whether I’m at my parents’ house, in my college dorm room, studying abroad in Chile, or here in India. Wherever I go, there I am. So I spent the first part of this week sulking a bit, frustrated with Hindi, missing home and the advent of my favorite season: fall. But here I am at the end of the week celebrating a turnaround with Mac n Cheese (which Lesly tried for the first time and thinks is fabulous, cuz it is). And the cherry on top of all of this was an email from my Uncle Tom today letting me know that he’ll be in Delhi for business in September. It will be so great to see him and, as he put it, hear a real live Minnesota accent!
I hope all of you, my faithful readers, are enjoying the beginning of a wonderful week.