“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”-Andre Gide
The letter is neatly wedged between notes from Kahlil Gibran’s book The Prophet and some of Alan Watts’s most enlighten theories about life. It has today’s date written across the front of it, and it’s never been opened. Around me, a handful of people sit patiently as the landscape of the Sinai Peninsula rolls past. I can’t sleep because these bus seats are too uncomfortable. I’m here for a while, and I’m restless. I guess it’s time to do this.
I take the envelope in both hands, slide my finger under the flap, take a deep breath, and rip it open.
“I have no idea where you will be when you read this, but here’s what I hope.”
That’s the first line. They’re my words. I wrote this letter two years ago, to myself – and I’m about to discover what my hopes and dreams were all along.
The sun has just come up and it’s been a long night. I haven’t slept for a second since we left even though I’m exhausted.
The Sinai Peninsula is beyond beautiful – and enormously dangerous. This is a risky journey and I’m still 15 hours from the safety of Amman. At the moment the bus is winding through a deep canyon, rock formations rising out of the ground around us.
I try to avoid thinking of the word “ambush” but it’s hard – this would be a great place to get waylaid.
But mainly, I can’t sleep because this bus is supremely uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter how I try and position my body or what I rest my head up against – it’s impossible to shut my eyes.
The sun is just over my right shoulder, deep orange, big and comforting. It feels so close that I could reach out the window and touch it. Seeing it like this has pushed away my need for sleep – and it’s reminded me that everything happens not just for a reason, but for a good reason. Crazy as it may sound, I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad I had to come this way and I’m glad I’m doing this, right now.
I turn and smile at the Palestinian family I first met when the bus departed Cairo yesterday. Elham and her teenage daughter Aram are so sweet, always smiling and waving at me. They can tell that I’m nervous and out of place, and they’ve been looking out for me. They check on me every hour or so and offer me crackers and updates on what to expect in terms of bathroom breaks and possible dangers. They’ve got my back – the very definition of “the kindness of strangers.”
On my lap is the leather journal my parents bought me a few years ago. I still get a little emotional when I think about what my mother said to me when she handed it to me – “this is for your travels, the tough leather exterior represents your father and the flowers carved into the leather represent me. Even though you’ll be far away, we will always be right there with you.”
Yes, I’m traveling across one of the most perilous travel destination on Earth (“there is currently a high threat from terrorism in Egypt. This threat is especially high in the Sinai”) – but I feel secure enough to keep reading this letter, to fall into my thoughts and my own past, and discover something new about who I was before I started this crazy, life-changing journey.
I wrote it exactly two years ago to the day. Even though I can’t remember what I wrote, my memory of my life at the time is all too clear. I had just decided on my dream, turning my living room wall into a gigantic vision board to-do list combo. It was a time when I hated my old job so much that it was forcing these life changing changes out of me whether I was ready for them or not. It was at a time in my life when the only thing more impossible than leaving to pursue this dream to write, film and photograph my way around the world was staying in Miami and not doing it.
It was a time when I wanted out.
I remember writing this letter around 11 PM on the balcony of my apartment and looking out over the ocean while I penned it, I sat outside on teak patio furniture that has since been sold. I remember it was unseasonably chilly that night, chilly for Miami at least – probably a balmy 70 degrees. I was at a spiritual crossroads – the first of many since I started charting my own course, seeking out a better life. I was filled with unbridled enthusiasm about having just figured out what my dream was, but I was also overwhelmed by the mountain of work that lay in front of me in order to achieve it.
I pause for a second then I read the first line of the letter quietly to myself, “I have no idea where you will be when you read this, but here’s what I hope.”
I chuckle to myself at the absurdity of it. Crossing the Sinai Peninsula with a group of friendly Palestinians? I’d never have guessed that one. It reminds me of a quote from The Alchemist that’s in my journal, “When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him places he had never dreamed of when he first made that decision.” Truer words are hard to find, Paulo Coelho. I read on.
“I hope you’re on your way, I hope your dreams are turning into reality and you’re doing what you truly love.”
I’m trying, believe me, I’m trying about as hard as any one person can possibly try.
“I hope you’ve embraced any and all challenges that have come before you. I hope you’re not still in Miami and afraid to pursue your dream.”
I look out the window at the Sinai deserts terraced sand dunes and think to myself, if you only knew all the obstacles I’ve overcome since I wrote you, you would be amazed! There have been countless walls, some I’ve climbed, some I’ve dug underneath, some I’ve went the long way around and some I’ve put my head down and plowed through. And in a weird, mixed-up way, all those walls are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
“I hope that you’re not alone, ever.”
“I’m not,” I say, “Technically I’m alone, but I’m not really alone, my 444’s are always with me and there presence in my life seems to be growing stronger by the day.”
“I hope that you’ve changed and grown.”
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It takes me a minute to remember who I’ve changed and grown from. I’ve run so far away from all the nine-to-five related annoyances that used to flood my body with stress that it feels…alien. A different world, a different life. Gone forever.
As the bus bends into another canyon I catch a glimpse of my shaggy shoulder length hair in the reflection of the window and I see just how much my physical appearance has changed as well. I can’t believe I haven’t gotten my hair cut or shaved my face in over 9 months – what a difference from getting it cut every two weeks like I used to. I paw at the bushy beard that’s taken over my face, and I think about where I was back when I wrote this. I was just beginning to crawl towards these hopes and dreams. I think about all the baby steps that lead to this leap of faith and how all the choices I have ever made in my entire life have led me to this moment. I’m on a bus that’s rumbling towards the Middle East and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
“I hope you’ve told everyone you care about just how much you care about them.”
I think about the small group of people that I hold close to my heart, and I see all their faces stream across the canyon walls outside the window. They are a remarkable bunch; they accept me for who I am, and sometimes that isn’t the world’s best person. They know that I might not call them back anytime soon, they know that I’ll probably only return about one in five text messages and that it’s likely that I will forget their birthdays – but yet there still there for me in the most unconditional way.
“I hope you have enough money not to worry about money.”
I let out a sigh; this is a tough one for me. “I do and I don’t, but let’s talk about that some other time.”
“I hope you’re inspired and are inspiring others.”
I think about the thing that’s inspired me the most since I wrote this letter two years ago. The night before I left Nairobi to cross Kenya and into Ethiopia, I asked people that were following my journey via social media to send a little positive light my way because of how dangerous things in the region were there at the time. I was traveling across Kenya just a day after Al-Shabaab had killed 147 people at Garissa State University and I was strongly advised by many Kenyans not to get on the bus and travel to Ethiopia. But I got on the bus anyway, and when I made it to Ethiopia and checked my email the next day, I had received over two hundred emails from complete strangers letting me know that they had prayed for my safety. To this day, it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around it, to understand that these people who I had never met had taken time out of their busy lives to stop and pray to whatever god they choose to believe in for my well being. There is enough inspiration contained in that moment to last me a lifetime.
“I hope you haven’t forgot about the amazing people you met that changed your life when you traveled around the world the last time. I hope you’ve made more friends like them.”
I think about Louise in Sacramento and her lessons on gratitude, and Tina in Melbourne and how she opened the door to finding my passion. I remember Chanita in Bangkok, showing me what genuine kindness really looks like – and Rajinder’s gentle but immovable Indian faith. It’s impossible for me to forget Khosi’s unwavering South African determination, and I smile to myself at Luciano’s enthusiastic Italian approach to life. And of course there’s Yudy in Peru, connected to Mother Nature in a way so few of us are. Together they helped move my consciousness in the right direction. Each one gave me a piece of my puzzle – and it’s because of them that I’m finally starting to see my true self for the first time. They moved my consciousness in the right direction…and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have had what it takes to even begin this journey.
“I hope you’re working on the book that you wanted to write. I hope you’re pouring your heart and soul into it.”
Reading this line sends a shiver up my spine. Writing has always been the hardest thing for me to do and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly stopped. When I was growing up I had to go to Sylvain Learning Center twice a week after school because I had such a hard time reading and writing. I tell the letter that I still can’t spell, and that it probably won’t ever change – and that I still have no idea when to use there, their or they’re – but that I have 16 chapters written so far and that they are the thing that I am most proud of in this world.
The next line of the letter hits me like a ton of bricks.
“I hope you cry tears of joy when you read this because everything you just read resonates deep inside you.”
I don’t know how I knew to write this line two years ago, but it hits me at my core and I feel my soul rise to the surface of my skin and my eyes…and I can’t help but well up.
I’m not exactly sure what is making me so emotional. Maybe it’s because this letter has got me thinking about that kid that couldn’t read or write and how far he has come. Or maybe it’s because I just saw all the faces of the people I love even though I’m thousands of miles away from them. Or maybe it’s because I can literally feel the love that complete strangers have sent me in order to me keep me safe.
Whatever the reason is, the moment becomes overwhelming, in a good way though, and tears run down my cheeks. As they fall onto the letter Elham turns around and me asks if I’m okay. I blink, sniff, rub my eyes like my allergies are acting up and I tell her that I’m allergic to dust and that I’m great. Seriously. It’s just allergies.
I look back down at the letter and read the next part silently to myself, “I hope you’ve met your soul mate and that she is sitting next to you as tears run down your cheek and I hope she’s there to share this amazing moment with you.”
Again, I don’t know how I knew to write this two years ago, I must have been in some sort of transcendent zone that night, but seeing the word soul mate makes me heart thump – because she was here, and she would still be if it wasn’t for me, but now she’s gone and I don’t know if I been able to fully process that fact yet. I guess we have broken things off for good, or maybe we haven’t. I don’t know what to think about our relationship anymore, I’ve been so focused on myself and just getting across Africa safely that I’ve sealed that part of my life off. I know that at some point soon I’ll have to take the band-aid off that wound and deal with it properly, one way or another.
The last line is profoundly reassuring. It’s an affirmation of everything that has got me here, getting me across Africa in the toughest, riskiest journey of my life – and this final line is still bouncing around my head ten hours later as I step onto a ship that’s leaving for Jordan, taking my last steps on African soil, looking down at my feet and knowing I’ve finally made it…
“I hope that you know by now that all you will ever need is already inside you. I hope you know that everything is always going to be okay, even when it seems like its not.”