My mother struggled for the last ten years of her life, struggled young, with cancer and Alzheimers and dementia. After she died, one of my best friends pointed out, that she thought that my mother had held until she knew I was okay, until she knew I had found the path again. It was as if my mother was the one who first knew what I needed to do was abandon the path that others paved for me and live my life again.
When she was sure, when she knew, that I had seen the light in the distance and was at least moving to it, when she was sure, absolute, that I was growing stronger, calmer, it gave her the strength a mother needs to let go and leave her only son behind.
From literally the moment I walked out my mother’s hospice room in Arizona last August, my father started speaking to me. It began silently at first but then the noise became louder and louder. The signs, the messages, were suddenly all around me. As Burma opened to the world, it felt as if it was opening just for me, through my father.
Aung San Sui Kyi, the timing on the lawsuit, the meeting with the literary agent, cleaning out my mother’s three homes and literally pouring through box after box of memories, everything said one thing: it’s time to go to Southeast Asia.
J, I could hear my father say my name after all these years, J, let me show you something, let me explain something to you, let me tell you what happened, let me say good-bye like your mother did. Let me.
It felt as if the foundation on which I have lived has always been shifting, the cement never quite hardened enough to completely and properly build on. I realized I needed to, had to, no choice in the matter, none, I had to take the time required, and go through the boxes, my life, the books, the pictures, and put it all together.
My friend KB got me to read “The Alchemist” and in it, one of the lessons is once you start on your Personal Journey those that love you and those you encounter will help you and they most certainly have. A new friend B, introduces me to a great literary agent. Old friends give me relatives to look up in Ho Chi Minh City and on and on it goes. Whenever I needed a push, a boost, another door opened and I kept walking through them all.
I spent hours talking with Dr F about the journey, the space and time it takes, what it requires, how to actually do it. In fact, I kind of expected someone to tell me “no, don’t do it” but no one did. So here I am, in Vietnam, on the other side of the world, alone.
When you travel alone, you appreciate your friends more, you miss your children more, and you also have too much time to think. You pour over the first half of your life, you stare into the second half, some memories become things that haunt you, day after day, aches become pains, others fade faster.
When you travel alone, you can’t escape yourself and that’s why I am here. Bumping along on the overnight trains. Walking the hills. Trudging through the steamy rain in the cities.
Having a purpose to your travel doesn’t make it any easier or less lonely it doesn’t mean I don’t want to get on a plane and go home but I won’t. The silence in the room, the quiet on the street, the face to face alone time, all in the part of the world that my father lived and loved and died, and that my mother followed him in after his death, that’s why I am here. To take that moment, to think back, to pause before I live again.
To walk, to think, to listen.
And not to leave.