As we celebrate six months of nomadic travel, I am contemplating the pace of change and the impermanence of the world as it is right now.
You see, we are visiting a city that I first visited seven years ago, almost to the day, and I am struck by how much difference less than a decade can make. Seven years ago, I got my very first passport stamp in this “city” (that looked more like a small town). It had an unfinished airport, a simple town square, a population of young boys who had just discovered skateboarding, a few hostels, some family owned sodas serving up cheap, plentiful casados, a movie theatre/shopping center that appeared seemingly out of nowhere along a dirt road, and a bus station.
The Liberia we pulled into yesterday had morphed in just seven short years into a full blown city. The movie theatre we once crossed a stream and traipsed down a dirt road to find is now a full scale mall sitting on alongside a freshly paved highway. McDonald’s and Walmart signs glow, brand name clothing stores like Billabong have appeared in the center of town, kids yell/sing American pop lyrics as they giggle hand in hand on their way to eat pizza, and the quiet, basic hostel I once stayed in has been declared an historic building and now houses a very lovely hotel and restaurant. Even the flock of ladies who used to pounce on every bus that pulled into town, selling juices, waters, snacks, and sunglasses, has dwindled to just a handful of persistent women. Perhaps most interestingly, the beautiful white church that was once the marker by which everyone gave directions and was open at all hours for prayer and contemplation, has gained an all encompassing fence that we are told is now locked every evening. It struck me as I settled into our hotel room that, had I not been in this exact spot seven years ago, I would have no idea of the changes that had taken place.
There were four thoughts (that I have thought before) that I deepened my understanding on last night.
1) Time passes and how any one of us chooses to spend it is up to us. This is not a revelation, everyone knows this. There’s no getting around it. At some point our 80 (or so) years is up. It is up to each of us how we spend that time. If seven years is enough time for an entire city to burst into commercial and economic prowess, it is certainly enough time for any one of us to make a personal shift in the direction of the life we desire.
2) Change is not a mystery force, operating outside of human influence. Everything and everyone changes. Change is one of the only guarantees in our universe. Some changes offer progress and benefits beyond what we can imagine in those quiet, previous moments. Some changes rip away that which we previously held dear and we will mourn that loss forever. We are the creators of that change. For better or worse, we control the puppet strings and we, as a whole, define how and what changes to a large degree. If we work cohesively, we might just like the changes we produce.
3) If we push everything off until “tomorrow” what we can do today and constantly perpetuate the concept of “someday” while hiding behind a protective veil of “practicality”, we will miss out. Not all change is bad, not by a long shot! But when change happens, what used to be is no more (or is a shadow of what it once was). You may like the new. You may like it a WHOLE LOT! But liking the new doesn’t change the fact that something was lost in the process. There is a certain level of awareness that is required in order to not miss out on the experiences and the moments that we would regret never having if change were to burst into the town square tomorrow. Maybe you don’t wish you had gone to Afghanistan before the war happened or NYC before 9/11 changed everything … but maybe you’re one of the people who do. And maybe you’re wondering what other places you might lose the opportunity to experience as they are right now if you don’t get moving.
4) I am not just a traveler, I am a witness, for my brief visit to this earth, to a little piece of the collective history of our universe. We all are, no matter what corner of the world we happen to be in. This is a thought that deepens my belief in each individuals’ connection to the web that is our universe. Think of all the languages, stories, and collective memories we have lost partially because we forgot, as a species, to share what we saw with those who didn’t get the opportunity to see the same for themselves. How many stories are we still trying to piece together through pottery, ancient writings, and unearthed archeological sites because we forgot to tell (and listen) to the stories of the people, experiences, practices, and places that came before?
All this from one night in a hotel that had once been a hostel, seven years ago! I’d say it was one night well spent.
Not everyone wants to travel. Not everyone’s idea of “fulfilling” involves selling most of their wordily possessions and schlepping the rest across borders every few weeks. Fair enough. Travel is not the only way to lead a fulfilling life of intention. But no matter where each of us is or what our ideal lives look like, we should all keep in mind that the moment that exists right now will only ever exist as it does for this brief moment. It cannot be recaptured or copied. The march of time that brings change is made up of almost imperceptible beats…. unless you’re paying attention. When we are distracted, time and change seem to whiz by. When we stop, focus, and see each moment for what it is, suddenly the possibility for what each moment could be is also illuminated and it becomes clear that any moment is just as good as the next (or the next …) to get moving in the direction we were meant to go.
Seven years will pass. And seven more….. How will you spend them?