Friends hitting the brick wall called ‘50’ were not happy about the event. It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming, drummed in my head: on its way ready or not. I needed to change the perception of that fast-approaching milestone that those friends were giving me – that it was the beginning of a downward slide. How could I look forward to this half-century event?
The germ of an idea was conceived. A late developer in some areas perhaps I could play catch-up with the traditional Kiwi penchant for travel. Apart from six weeks in the USA and four in Australia, my travels had been confined to the length and breadth of New Zealand.
Serious goal setting starts. I confide in friends who support my dreams and ignore the rest who say I am crazy. I intend to live until I die and know life is short: the too-early deaths of my younger son and husband have shown me the tenuous hold we have on life.
Defiantly I put a sign on my notice board, AGING DISGRACEFULLY it says. Alongside it a list forms, Italy; Scotland; Ireland; Alaska; Zimbabwe; and Turkey. As my bank balance grows, I measure it in chunks: enough for the plane ticket and then in multiples of 50 dollars – each chunk equal to a day’s expense as a frugal backpacker. Dreaming over the list, countries are added or removed as I devour guides and articles about far-flung places and daily my savings grow. No more Crunchie Bars or ice cream: I’d rather eat a meal in Istanbul I tell myself. Amazingly, instant gratification is learning to take a back seat after years of insisting I want it now.
Finally, right on target, I buy an ‘around the world’ ticket. My gift to myself for my fiftieth birthday: Mabel would approve as responsibilities are jettisoned along with keys to office, house and car: just another Baby Boomer who wants it all.
So, was Mabel right? Is the exploring of foreign lands more improving and amusing than crochet work? Absolutely: for me it starts at the airport, even my body tingles with anticipation.
Maori friends arrive with a traditional bone carving for me to wear on my travels. It’s been made specifically for me, the shape and carving showing the twists and turns of my life. They tell me it also carries the expectation that I will return safely home. They sing a waiata and our tears flow – do I really want to leave my friends and family for so long? Can I really find my way around the world? On my own? Will it push the birthday crisis out of my life?
Wiping tears, I go through customs and suddenly I’m a traveller – focusing on my trip and dropping off my day-to-day life like an old cloak. Already I’m living in the present – friends and family left on the other side of the security doors.
I find my seat, stow my gear, put the seatbelt on and read the safety instructions as we taxi to the runway. The planes energy travels through my buttocks and on through the rest of my body until it’s quivering in my fingers, toes and scalp. It feels like I’m on a horse that’s straining at the bit. Let’s go, let’s go each quiver says. I agree. Let’s get out of here. My emotions, so raw, so close to the surface that it feels like fear: adrenalin is coursing through my body, my mouth dry, and my imagination, always vivid, is running wild.
While I no longer think the plane is going to crash on take off, or that this will be my last view of home, I still count the rows to my nearest exits. Four back, or seven forward, I note and settle down with expectation. An adventure is about to happen, announcing itself in every cell of my body: finally the engines have enough power and we are airborne – I’m jettisoned off to explore the world.
‘Why travel?’ I’m asked and don’t have an answer: well not an immediate one that satisfies them or me. It makes me feel judged, strange. Travelling alone! Escaping? Keeping people distant? Escape or quest? I just know I’m travelling ‘to’ despite saying I’m ‘running away,’ from home.
Hungry to travel, I don’t know what I’m hungry for, and if I did, would I need to go? I don’t know where or what my private Arcadia is. If journeys are a way of gaining oneness with the world, then that oneness is my Arcadia – an emotional and physical trip to uncharted territories. Life will continue to chip away until whom or what I’m meant to be will appear – life will be the sculptor with me a block of stone. As I travel life will whisper or shout as it chisels and shapes me, showing what I need to learn.
Although I am not aware of it yet, I will be whispered to in a soup kitchen in New York; animals in Africa will ignore me – shouting in their silence how insignificant I am – and men and women in Turkey will tell me to be generous by their actions.
OK Mabel let’s go exploring, let’s see if travel improves me: first stop, the US of A.