I’ll shortly be landing in Manchester and my Nepal volunteering trip will be over. I’ve just been having an interesting mid-flight chat with an academic in the plane’s kitchen about middle aged men who visit Thailand. That, along with the novel I’m reading, has got me thinking – what is our purpose? What are we all here for? What we are all really doing and why?
I can be pretty sniffy about some people’s tendency for self indulgent, isolationist escapism. But, loath though I am to admit it, maybe there’s something universal about the urges and thought processes that send many of us to far flung places looking for something more. I don’t like to equate myself with the thousands of mamils, backpackers and their like who flock to Thailand and anywhere that does paragliding or windsailing. But maybe this phenomenon isn’t just driven by self indulgence and selfishness. Maybe we’re all driven by the same sense of wanting to make something broader of life experience. Maybe this urge is not gender or life-stage specific. Maybe we all yearn to define ourselves in a way that isn’t standard. Maybe the relentless hedonism of young travellers or early retirees with money isn’t entirely self indulgent. Maybe there is an element of existential self identification in there.
And is it perhaps that same motivation that sends me half way round the world to travel by dusty broken bus and want to make a difference to people living with very little compared to what I have? I thought I was travelling and studying to fill a void. A gap where there should perhaps have been a significant other, dependants and a career. Definitely, for me, there is an element of that. But, I now realise there’s also a underlying motivation that runs much deeper – and this is perhaps more fundamental. I am seeking to become what it is I want to be.
I realise now that, for many years, I’ve been pretending, unsuccessfully, to be what I’m not. I thought I had no choice. But I see now that actually I can, even at my no longer tender years, allow myself to be what I am. To find my thing, to join my people, to say what I think and act how I feel. To be right. And to do so without needing to fit in, confirm or function in places that have values so different from my own. I am finally becoming brave enough to step out of the line I have always found it so hard to toe. To feel bold and empowered and optimistic instead of disfunctional and failing. It’s a growing warmth and light within me. It may take time. I will need to be strong. It’s lonely breaking out of something. But then, I was always lonely when I tried so hard to fit in. I’ve made some important first steps with this trip and I am determined to keep walking firmly in that direction. Wherever it may take me.