“The Beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”-Thomas Merton
I’ve been traveling along South Africa’s Garden Route for 54 days, and so far everything has gone according to plan. I’ve exchanged my photography for complementary accommodations, my filmmaking for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and my short stories with anyone that will read them. So why shake things up? Why do anything different than what I’m doing? Why mess with the bliss-filled balance I’m starting to settle into?
The answer comes as I lift my head out of my laptop to look around Johannesburg’s bustling OR Tambo Airport: because she’s worth it.
And this shakes me to my core. Until now, nobody has ever been “worth it” like this. It’s new territory for me. Frankly? I’m scared.
When I initially hatched this plan to travel around the world I only ever pictured myself gallivanting along out here, a lone wolf, and loving every minute of it – maybe because it’s in my nature as an only child. I’m happier alone than amongst friends, and more comfortable in the company of my own thoughts for a day, a week, or even a month than to carry on an actual real-life conversation with someone else. Or perhaps I’m putting a publicly acceptable gloss on this. Maybe I’ve chosen to dance solo through my future because I’m as selfish as they come.
Maybe I want to keep all the fluorescent-filled sunsets to myself and credit every new experience as my own marvelous and self-serving creation.
I fidget nervously in the International Arrivals area, checking her flight status for what’s got to be the hundredth time – and realize how much I’ve changed..
As I pursued this dream of mine something…rearranged, deep inside me. I could feel former habits and overindulgent tendencies being put under scrutiny, measured up against my new life with her. When I think about it, it makes perfect sense. How could I not change? How could I stay the same? How could I pursue something I love and not fall into it?
The glass doors underneath the Arrivals sign slide open, interrupting the type of conversation I love having with myself. A sea of jet-lagged passengers pour out and officially enter South Africa for the first time. I pick through the crowd, hunting for her bright and familiar face.
As I scan the weary torrent of strangers, all I see is all the times we shared together, like a million memories just cleared customs.
I met her just a few months ago. She was stopping through Miami to see a mutual friend. She was on her way back from Cambodia and on her way to wherever the wind took her next. I’ll never forget when we first spoke, because it was obvious she was already light-years ahead of me as a world explorer. She left her boring desk job years ago and floated across the world, as if she was on her very own hand sewn magic carpet. She made didgeridoos in Australia, helped the homeless in Nepal, and motor biked through Kazakhstan, of all places.
Somewhere during the course of her solo travels she developed this worldly, independent, and genuine inner peace vibe that I so drawn to, that I could see in her soft hazel eyes every time I was brave enough to look into them.
She’s a street-smart, born-again yogi with a past filled with so many obstacles it makes mastering quantum physics look easy, so I won’t even try to sum her up, I could never do her courage justice. What I will say is that her past has turned her into the strongest person I’ve ever known and given her the type of qualities usually reserved for superheroes.
We went on walks, filmed the sunrises and sunsets together, gave the birds that flew by funny little names, and took a few road trips across flat Florida. I tried to teach her simple things like how to swim and play cards. She tried to teach me more important things, like how to break down the barriers around my heart and welcome love in. As I wait for her, I think of the one thing we didn’t do: we didn’t plan anything. We didn’t draft a blueprint for how this is all going to work nor did we install a system of checks and balances for how two people who are so accustomed to moving through life alone are going to come together and try to travel as one…
As another flight that isn’t hers spills out of customs, I wonder what it will be like when she finally walks out. Will we pick up where we left off 54 days ago, or will we have to reintroduce ourselves and relearn each other like it’s an awkward first date?
Will her long dark hair be pulled back and held together with a stray pencil like it normally is, or will it be draped down across the small of her back? Will our first embrace feel more like friends or long lost lovers?
As I ponder that fork-in-the-road question she emerges from the gate, as if she’s sprung out of my thoughts, back into my life.
All of her belongings are packed sparingly inside her backpack, just like mine. All of her dreams are spread across a smile that reminds me why I’d rather struggle together than succeed alone. She makes her way into my arms, embracing me in a way that secretly lets me know that this might actually work. It’s an embrace that’s founded on choice, not necessity – she doesn’t complete me and I don’t complete her, but together, we’re better.
Two souls, greater than the sum of their parts, not needing to become one to be happy together.