Down to the bone

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

After raising 5 kids and packing them off to college, my cousin cut her hair, threw a few things in a backpack and trekked around Europe for a while on her own. I was floored. No make-up? No blow dryer? That someone could travel so light came darn close to impressing me more than the bravery required to travel the world solo. I, for one, have never traveled light in any sense of the word (though I long to in every sense).
Oddly, this memory of my cousin’s down-to-the-bone trek is what came to mind when a co-worker told me the other day how unsettled she’s been feeling now that COVID has settled into our lives like a chronic condition. While it seemed pretty clear in the first few months that this was going to be our spring of rising to the occasion, now that the season has changed yet COVID just carries on, she was beginning to feel unlike herself, almost dislocated. How do you do summer in a pandemic? Summer is when you get out and go places, when you see the world.
With the coming of this summer, though, we are tigers pacing a cage – we can see out, we know what’s out there but we can’t get out. We want to get our jaws on something so bad it’s making them ache. With trips to Disney getting cancelled and retirement visions of traveling the world (or just visiting grandchildren) getting revised, caged animal syndrome is getting the better of us. With nowhere else to go, what are you supposed to do with yourself?
It was this sense of dislocation I think that reminded me of how light my cousin traveled. There is something so down-to-the-bone about just a person, a journey and a backpack, which is kind of what traveling through a pandemic is like, only in the opposite direction. While my cousin’s travels were outward, so many things have fallen away for us we’ve been left with almost nowhere to go but inward. It’s disorienting not to have our usual, external landmarks to locate ourselves, so it makes me curious about our internal ones and who we really are down there so close to the bone. Maybe that’s where this season’s travel is going to take us.
It’s funny; in some ways, making that solo trip inside is probably scarier than trekking solo across Europe. But I bet there will still be rewards. With nothing on our backs but the essentials, maybe discovering how to be at home with ourselves is what we will chance upon.