Leaving Europe: Embracing, Grieving and Entering the Familiar Unfamiliar from the top of Mt. Vesuvius

Day 108
Mt. Vesuvius, Naples

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Photo: MO 2015

Ciao from a volcanic rock on the crater rim of Mount Vesuvius. In front of me is a mystical horizon overlooking islands, mountains and city lines. It feels just yesterday, it was June and I was staying up late, lying in bed, Googling places I wanted to see, and stumbled upon a picture of Mount Vesuvius. The alluring peak lit that
“I gotta go here” feeling in my heart, and it’s surreal to be here when part of me feels like no time has passed at all since that late spring evening back in DC from my bed.
The landscape reminds me so much of Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town, South Africa. Funny to think of the journey since that day in June five months ago. In so many ways, it’s like I’m back there- the entire rest of my travels still ahead of me. I’m reminded that we carry places with us, long after we’re gone, each latitude and longitude line sketching a story into our memory. Part of me is also reminded of Liechtenstein, I guess by the fact that I’m back to navigating unmarked paths on my own again.

It feels good to have open space to reflect on the Europe chapter of these travels. I’ve been here officially two months today, and it’s funny to look back on the daydreams I had about what my European experience might look like. I remember sitting on the steps of a bank in Lome, having converted the final amount of dollars into CFAs to get me through my last few days in Togo. I waited for a friend, who was running an errand, and began writing about how I was feeling a bit scared and intimidated of being alone in Europe for the next couple weeks trying to figure out the Camino. I still wasn’t sure how to get there from Bordeaux, where my plane would land in a few days. And it’s funny how now I’m having similar feelings of uncertainty arise about Asia. Maybe these are just the familiar feelings of approaching impending unfamiliar. The slight fear and the perfect piece of excitement as you let yourself feel the joy of what these places will uniquely bring. 

My heart feels more full since those steps at the bank in Togo. I now carry more places, people, memories with me. Carry in such a fulfilling way. It’s comical because as I was getting ready to leave for Europe, knowing the first thing I’d do there would be embark on the Camino, I was so aware of what I was carrying. I tried ridding every unnecessary layer- down to papers I no longer needed. I didn’t know back then that I was still carrying heavier, nearly invisible layers with me; namely the layer of perfectionism that has thinned mightily over the past few years of my personal growth. Its tattered pieces of cloth still drape my shoulders from time to time, but it was on the Camino I would soon shed them until I couldn’t feel their threadbare strands anymore.

Now I approach Asia and I’m still aware of what I’m carrying. I’m still entering a new continent with that small twinge of fear, the fear that comes along with facing the unknown alone as a solo traveler. But it’s not all-encompassing and the Camino taught me to whisper softly to that fear, “It’s ok. I know you’re looking out for me. Thank you. You and I are gonna be just fine. Your life is about to expand again. Let’s make some more room to welcome in new places, people and memories- together.”

My heart is full from the people and places I’ve met on this Europe journey, many pre-existing bonds strengthened, and having even more room available as I let go of that which needed more space. We get to choose who and what we carry. I’m so grateful for those which I hold in my heart and mind and for the gift of memory. But sometimes we forget.

Photo: MO 2015

Photo: MO 2015

So if I should forget, here’s to biking through the city streets of Amsterdam. Here’s to strangers-turned-friends who helped take care of your blisters as you hiked an 1100 year old pilgrimage. Here’s to new friends who encouraged me to spend the extra Euro on a glass of wine so that I might learn to savor the sweet pleasures we’re bestowed through our senses, no longer letting the gossamer strands of family addiction tell the story of my relationship with alcohol. Here’s to learning just a little more on love and the paradoxical blend of complexity and simplicity that comes from hearing another person’s beating heart. Here’s to the view from the mountaintop and the view from the valley, duct-taped together poncho and plastic bags wrapped around your blistered feet serving as your sole source of fortitude to keep moving one foot in front of the other. Here’s to fireworks, festivals, the kind woman who welcomed me in for the night in Germany when my bus never showed. To conversations with locals that turn into guided tours of their favorite places. To question marks. To exclamation marks. To booking a ticket to another continent with less than 48 hours ’til takeoff. 

And so these are the landscapes sweeping. The camera fade into the next scene, next chapter; the Asia chapter. I don’t want to leave Europe. Yet I’m ready and some outside force bellows a clarion “onward” and I must go forward, making pilgrimage toward that sound whose fingers are only partially lit in the distance, just enough to see the next destination, one silhouette, not the whole picture. 

But oh the gift of what we get to take with us as we enter into our new scenes. What a gift to have people in my life that I had to say “see you later” to, whose “auf wiedersehen” brings tears to my eyes. It’s a gift to take with you the same legs that guided you on your first solo hike on unmarked trails, to carry the bravery you felt in the experience of staying at the mountaintop too long and then running back down trail alone in the dark after tearing holes in your clothes from tripping over tree roots, grateful once your feet reached the bottom. It’s a gift to constantly discover and re-discover all that lies within us, within the soul of another, the pulsating symphony of the places that have inspired us along the way. To experience with all of our senses. To keep palms open. To re-direct, start again, venture on, try, marvel, wonder and close my eyes underneath both sun and stars. 

I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

If you see me on the plane, there’s bound to be tears in my eyes, but they will be tears of joy and gratitude from having the human experience of embracing and letting go, embracing and letting go, that process we do hundreds and hundreds of times in our human experience with people, places, memories.

Embracing, grieving and letting go from the top of Mt. Vesuvius with a grateful heart—-

Photo: MO 2015

Photo: MO 2015

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2 thoughts on “Leaving Europe: Embracing, Grieving and Entering the Familiar Unfamiliar from the top of Mt. Vesuvius

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