What makes me feel free? It’s a simple question and I have a simple answer. Traveling. Traveling makes me feel free. There’s this feeling I get when I’m seeing new places that I can’t get from anything else. It’s this feeling of wonder, excitement, and joy. Like looking at the world through the eyes of a child, living in a bizarre new world but being excited about the lack of certainty. The intrigue of trying new foods, talking to new people, and being immersed in a new environment.
Since 2015, I’ve been living and working around the world. From Barcelona to Chile, to Argentina and even China. As an English teacher, I've had the freedom to work from just about anywhere, and for the last five years that’s what I’ve done. But now, my days of traveling have come to a screeching halt.
On January first of 2020 I was surrounded by towering mountains in Guilin, China, a small town that sits on the banks of the Li River. I remember standing on top of a high mountain peak looking out at the incredible landscape before me and thinking that if this is how 2020 was going to start, I had a very special year ahead. Well, special is one way to put it. I couldn’t have imagined what was in store for me and the world this year. Shortly after that, my husband and I went on a trip to Australia to take advantage of our Chinese New Year vacation. It was during this trip to Australia when we started hearing about a virus that was rapidly spreading in China. People were getting sick and one really knew what was going on. I remember thinking that maybe we wouldn’t be able to return to our jobs and our apartment in China because of this virus. But that idea sounded so absurd. However, as each day passed, the more we heard about this virus and how fast it was spreading through China. We eventually made the decision not to go back. To take our backpacks that we had packed for our three week stay in Australia and to fly back home to California. We left everything in China. The apartment we had been living in for the past 5 months was just as we left it the day we took the flight to Australia.
Our life was turned upside down. Our plans, our jobs, everything was over. But at that point the virus was still something that was only in China, now at least we were safe in California settling into our new lives. We had a few job interviews and things were going to be ok. But that’s when everything turned upside down, again. We had heard from my family in Spain that my grandma had to be taken to the hospital because she wasn't feeling right. My grandma was known in her small Catalan town as the lady on the bike because she loved to ride her bicycle everywhere. She was healthy, happy, and always full of energy. So surely, this wasn’t a big deal. She would go to the hospital, they would fix her or do whatever it is that doctors do, and she'd be back on her bicycle in no time. Right? Wrong. Things got worse, and quickly. And after having settled into the idea of starting my life back in California, I found myself staring out of a plane window hoping that I would arrive in time to say goodbye to my grandma.
I did arrive in time to hug her, kiss her, and hold her hand. My grandma spent her last moments surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and her adoring husband. My grandparents were the perfect example of a loving couple. They raised a large family, lived a happy life, and loved each other every step of the way. People had said that if my grandma were to pass away, my grandpa would leave shortly after, unable to live without the love of his life. How tragically romantic I thought. But being practical I knew that you couldn’t actually die from a broken heart. Or could you? Less than two weeks later my grandpa had passed away. He developed an extremely rapid cancer and he too was now gone, gone from our world, but reunited with his love. The way he wanted it to be.
As my family was going through a really difficult time coming to grips with the sudden loss of both grandparents, we barely had time to realize that the world around us was also changing. The virus which at one point had pushed us out of China, was now starting to spread all over the world. It was no longer a thing that was happening ‘over there’, far far away. It was here and it was very real. My husband and I decided to stay in Spain to be with my family and we ended up quarantining in a small Catalan town in the Pyrenees mountains. Everything that was once a plan had completely flown out of the window and sailed far away. No more teaching in China, no more settling in California, now it was time to lock down in Catalonia. At this point we had become experts in adapting.
We spent the next five months quarantining in my grandparents home. Surrounded by pictures and memories of them everywhere. It was hard. The world was going into quarantine and things were just weird. We worked from home and waited for things to get better. Time eventually heals all. Now, five months later we are saying our goodbyes to our friends and family in Spain and in a week we will fly back to California. A full circle back to where we began.
What makes me feel free? I want to adjust my answer to this question a bit. Perhaps the answer to the question isn’t as simple as I thought. 2020 has been one hell of a year and after all of the forced traveling I’ve had to do, this is my new answer: What makes me feel free? The ability to change and adapt in the face of unforeseen events and to live in the moment makes me feel free. I've come to the conclusion that feeling free is a state of mind that you create for yourself. I feel free embracing my truth and accepting my journey every step of the way.