With nothing to run from, and nothing to run to, I left without a purpose. I fought with my inner Type-A and skipped the standard comprehensive, color-coded itinerary planned to the exact second. I scoured through the infinite depths of Expedia for economy class plane tickets; bypassing the impulse to upgrade for that one extra foot of leg space—I knew better. First class was too cozy, too comfortable, too covered. Progression never came from a place of contentment.
I arrived as an outsider by default. I took on the title of “tourist” with zest. To be a tourist is to be entangled in negative connotation—I played the part anyway. Why is there a stigma to be a tourist, a sense of notoriety? Why must we be sheepish to acknowledge that we are foreign and unacquainted with a culture, a language, a location? A tourist exists, by definition, as a willing stranger. They leave familiarity on the basis of faith, because they’re enticed by the unknown. They are motivated by fascination, they are stirred to action by a concept of what they imagine they’ll encounter.
I identified with the plight of the tourist. I cheerfully bought the overpriced souvenir mug, made in China. I took advantage of my obscurity and embraced the typical tourist clichés. Despite warnings from jaded locals, I steered towards the tourist traps and deliberately ensnared myself. I took pictures of the same unchanging landmark from one hundred-two different angles because I don’t have photographic memory, no, not even close. I filled up my iPhone camera roll with duplicates, carbon copies with imperceptible variances because my retention of detail is inconsistent, it’s flawed. Despite our premeditated, self-imposed pacts to commit rare moments firmly to memory, our foolish overconfidence in our abilities of recall often fail. We are bound by the fallacies of our human nature, the same impatient inclination within us all that seeks out generalizations and summaries, allowing for the minutiae to slip by the wayside. In and of itself, the act of remembrance is defiant. It goes against our instinctive penchant to forget. Our struggle of recollection is a predisposition evolved for the purpose of self-preservation; faulty memories are psychologically valuable. Life can be traumatizing—forgetfulness is a useful mechanism if we want our existences to be relatively unscathed by those inescapable life ordeals. As our emotional wounds add up, we become complacent to the foggy stupor and we learn to enjoy it. We surrender to amnesia. We avoid the effort. We care to forget because it’s less strenuous for our brittle bodies and aged minds. Awareness—that was the key. Awareness of my innate limitations, awareness that my mind would inevitably fail me. I took pictures, hundreds and hundreds, because I did not, would not, consent to become neither victim nor prisoner to the circumstances of human flaw. I would remember, damn it, I would remember. I would not make the mistake of depending on my memory alone. I would have reinforcements. So I took pictures, so many pictures.
Time was my currency, but I was a millionaire. I thought. I thought a lot. The air was clear, and my mind was too. Humans measure breaths to gauge the strength of the living. I took extra deep breaths, just to be sure. I was hyper-aware of my surroundings, like a superhero with heightened senses. Human minds are extraordinary when they’re rid of superfluous noise. My focus realigned, honing into the linear patterns of peeling wood, the faint but pungent smell of mildew, the fusion of textures in a single spoon of chowder.
I roamed with intent, in no particular direction. I wanted to find myself, so I had to lose myself first. I took no prisoners in my private game of hide and seek. Wandering allowed for complete immersion into the savory and unsavory nature of people and places. There’s irony in the superficiality of the mighty and the wholesome state of the little man. In a nomadic state of being, I discovered the difference between loneliness and solitude to be striking; I liberated myself with the latter. There was a simple contentment to ask and answer my own “what”, “where”, “when”, “why”.
My self-imposed isolation was relative. We all have an innate need for human interaction, an instinctive yearning for the occasional presence of thoughts and ideas that aren’t self-generated. Through usual day-to-day interaction, humans tend to take other humans for granted. People are dehumanized with vague nouns like “coworker”, “clerk”, or “professor” that supposedly describes a person. Yet there’s a failure to differentiate between a label and an individual. People are the byproducts of both pure and mediocre experiences. They overcome crippling disappointments and celebrate their accomplishments. They have unique quirks and profound thoughts. That sassy grocery clerk moonlights as an amateur stand-up comic on Saturdays. That biology professor goes to laughter yoga twice a week. The countless nuances that make up a single person’s existence aren’t discoverable unless an active decision is made to ask. So I did exactly that. I probed and dug with the zeal of the FBI, and in return, many answered back with identical enthusiasm. The success of an interaction was determined by positivity exchange; the remarkable power of pleasant words, a genuine smile.
I came back with an ability to pinpoint the limitations of my being and distinctive awareness to the boundaries of my persona. I came back with a clear awareness of my own personal progression and a pronounced understanding and acceptance of my past. I came back with an epiphany that there are extractable messages from every human experience, and reducing people to simplified archetypes squanders the significance of individual perspective.
I left without a purpose, but truer to say, I left without knowing my purpose, because I found one when I got there.