In the top left drawer of the desk in my study, there is a freshly-minted passport, dated just last week. It replaces the well-traveled leaflets that I carried with me since college, which expired in December 2014. The heavy paper feels substantive between my fingers, the embedded holograms and the partially-saturated, layered images that are among the security features glean in the light as I tip the page one way, then the other. I study my two inch by two inch picture. My hair is cropped into a pixie cut, rather than worn in long, thick locks. My cheeks are thinner, my face is a bit coarser, and my eyes are just a tad deeper. I’m not smiling this time around, and Steve says that I look like some sort of Russian assassin in my dark sweater, but I think that I look beautiful. It is a face that tells a story.
The passport renewal application sat on my desk, entirely completed, for more than a year before I finally dropped it into a priority mailing envelope and USPS whisked it away to the State Department. There was no hurry. There was no penalty for an expired passport, and so I waited. Passports were for travelers. One of the queries on the application was to list the country to be visited and the dates of the intended trip. There were no intended trips in my future. Traveling was something that I enjoyed. Past tense.
Yet… I still keep Euros in my wallet. Just in case.
On the wall in my office at work is a “scratch map” that one of my best friends gave me for my birthday many years ago. It’s basically like a giant lottery ticket, except it’s a map of the world. It’s a white, plasticky poster with that gold embellishment stuff covering up all the countries, and the idea is that whenever I visit someplace new, I scratch off the gold to reveal the color of the country beneath. When Michael, the head of my division, walks into my office, he loves to wander over to the map, and invariably, his first observation is that there are no new colors peeping out from beneath the gold.
“So when is your next trip? Where are you going?” he asked me a few months after I returned from partial hospitalization at Walden. I deflected his question with rationalizations and justifications about spending most of my vacation time and travel money going back and forth to New England to see my friends and family. Plus, I was focusing on my recovery. That was my first priority. He feigned understanding, but he asked the same question again the next time I saw him. “If you could pick a place to go next, where would it be?” Paris, I was able to answer without a moment’s hesitation.
Our conversations about traveling occurred before the horrific, unconscionable terrorist attacks, but I didn’t change my mind following that unimaginable violence. I always wanted to see Paris. I mentioned the expired passport to my therapist, and she offered me the space to reflect on my un-mailed application. There would be many challenges to overcome if I wanted to venture abroad again. There would be many, many demons to face. My history of travel is, like most of my history, long and complicated. Yet, even as I described the mix of restrictive behaviors and mindful eating that I engaged in during one tour of England, German, France, and Switzerland that stands out to me as an amazing trip, I could feel joy rising inside of me. She stopped me. “You know that you’re lighting up as you talk about this, right?” I knew.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I felt triggered when a co-worker who is currently in Germany shipped a jumbo postal box of confections back to our branch. These chocolates and hazelnut bars were not just candies. While I might walk past a box of donuts and a bowl of peanut M&M’s five times a day without hesitation, suddenly all the muscles in my body coiled. My breath shortened and moved high into my chest, and my heart quickened. Memories of weeks spent in Germany, traipsing all across the country, unfolded like paper cranes. Delightful, joyful memories of kaffee und kuchen. Brilliant, sparkling memories of my American-German friend, Helene, and our sun-splashed adventures. Transcendent memories of castles, cobblestones, and tiny villages tucked into valleys between towering mountains. Thrilling memories of bustling, humming cities, buzzing with half-understood chatter in thick accents. Comforting memories of hot pumpkin soup, fresh local vegetables, and colorful Marktplätze. Unwanted memories of the jet-lagged tour of the Ritter Sport factory when I was very, very ill. Cringe-inducing memories of self-imposed starvation and dizzy spells after walking miles on nothing but eine tasse kaffee and a handful of studentenfutter. Unbidden memories of loneliness, anxiety, and poorly concealed binges. Shameful memories of selfish outbursts and utter, depressive meltdowns. Pleasant memories of sun-splashed, carefree flexibility. Loathsome memories of self-pitying tears. I allowed the memories to come, the welcomed and the ones I would rather forget. Around 3pm, I finally tried a piece of the chocolate with my afternoon cup of steaming, hot, black coffee. Each sliver of bitter darkness melted away on my tongue, mingling superlatively with the sharp liquid. I thought I didn’t like solid chocolate. I didn’t know if I could be more confused.
Sitting on the middle-most bookshelf in my study is the 2015 edition of Rick Steves’ Paris. Michael provided the push that I needed to shell out the $16 at Barnes and Noble. “Even if I don’t intend to make the trip soon, I can still start thinking about it,” I decided. That was the first step. Renewing the passport was the second. With that embossed, blue booklet in my drawer, the most concrete obstacle is no longer existent. The only barrier preventing me from moving from here to there is me. And as I’m starting to realize that it’s not about the food, the eating, the weight… the time-zone changes screwing up my circadian rhythm and meal planning… that barrier appears more and more like a smoky screen… one that I am slowly waving my hand through as I attempt to clear the air.
The emerging realization terrifies me.
Because if I cross over into this intuitive, mindful, present, wholehearted life… what will happen? Can I permit myself to enjoy the chocolate? Is it really possible? To live this life that I am imagining in which I traipse across Europe, through local marketplaces, sampling the fresh produce, relishing the pumpkin soup, and savoring a treat of kaffee und kuchen? Des pâtisseries? High tea with scones and clotted cream? Baguettes? Schnitzel? Tapas? Why do I have this feeling that the only way to know is to take that leap, to let it all go? All my rules, all my control.
It terrifies me! It electrifies me!