About eight summers ago, I found myself catching a plane ride for the first time in my life. I was twenty-seven and slightly burnt-out. I was only on my second job yet was already feeling unmotivated, and I was in a relationship that I only felt half-hearted about. It was my ex who had actually bought me the ticket; he knew that I’ve never been on a plane before. Maybe he wanted me to have the experience, but I didn’t care then.
So there I was, mouth slightly agape while beholding the interior landscape of the then still brand-new NAIA terminal 3, wondering to myself if all airports in the world looked the same on the inside. The air smelled good, and the place felt big and clean. I can still remember the lingering scent of the fresh paint permeating throughout the wide open spaces of the almost empty hallways; which nowadays seems always full of people.
I was afraid at first. I braced myself especially when the plane was taking off. The sound terrified me. I gripped the handrail tightly, fearing the worst. Eventually I let go, and I felt peace. And once the plane was airborne, I felt like I was in heaven. I took photos of the clouds. Something that I still do until now whenever I find myself sitting on a window seat of a plane.
When I was in college, I was in a constant struggle of making ends meet financially. To help alleviate this, I tried working for a burger chain for a couple of months. I even joined an athletic scholarship program in the university as a cheer-dancer, which ironically, I now consider as the most joyless years of my life. Now as we all know, growing up brings us the most compelling and stubborn of life challenges; family and relationship problems, bigger financial responsibilities, and entering the wonderful yet unforgiving world of the adult workforce gives us another chance to showcase our human vulnerabilities.
Paying the bills, for example, is something that we’re expected to meet head on as mature, responsible, grown-ups. It’s an almost never-ending loop of self-repeating and hopelessly monotonous cacophony of real world obligations that some are able to dodge or escape, depending on one’s life skills or; if I’m being honest, the family & financial conditions you were born in.
The money matters, some says, is the easy part among the spectrum of adulterating human life problems; a quarrel with a loved one, an unexpected health issue, a freak accident, being laid off one’s job; these are examples of more urgent and debilitating concerns that are apt to blind-side on an idle weekday.
This gray-scaled perception of life, the kind that fuels negativity in one’s mind, is what I had until I was airborne on that plane. Something in me was stirring. And I’ll never forget the vision of the seemingly endless parade of white fluffy clouds extending in the horizon. I was entranced.
As traces of human civilization slowly vanished below, the thought that millions of people on Earth are continually living their lives while I’m hanging several thousand miles above sea level and experiencing a personal bliss of which they are oblivious of, equally horrified and captivated me. The possibility that life in my physical body could end abruptly, with a random bird accidentally flying into the jet engine or one fatal pilot error, sent all of my survival instincts on overdrive. But I was experiencing an epiphany.
Something in me was jolted alive and I felt that my soul had awaken. I realized that while I may perish then, nothing else mattered because I’m in the midst of a profoundly beautiful experience. Suddenly, my worries seemed inconsequential. And I’ve never felt so much more in control of my life as in that exact moment. I felt I was free.
I wasn’t the same anymore after that. I wasn’t the same person who stepped in as the one who got out of that plane. Something changed in me. Subsequently, my days doesn’t seem as bleak even though the bills still has to be paid. A weight has been lifted. Problems still existed but now I see silver linings; challenges became opportunities to exhibit strengths, and even failed relationships had a bigger purpose down the road; like the gift of a plane ticket.
I’ve known this kind of joy before. It felt familiar. It’s the same happiness brought to life by nostalgic memories as a child with my family on our annual summer long trips going up to the mountains; falling asleep halfway towards our destination and then waking up to wonderful views of curving roads and hillside waterfalls while the cool mountain air caresses my face. It’s the same sensation I get when I feel the gentle waves of the cerulean sea lapping at my feet while parts of my human body is laying still on the sand and I can smell the scent of the salty ocean on my brown skin. It’s the sense of awe that I have when I step into a city or town for the first time and nobody knows who I am and the things that I see are all different because I’m in a place that I’ve never seen before.
I had a rebirth. Traveling takes me away from the worldly and yet brings me closer to the world while taking me back to myself, and constant travel had caused this in a joyful loop. Travel taught me about gratitude, even of the smallest things. Travel gives me purpose and an ever-evolving perspective of life and other cultures. And I had to honor it.
The world has regained its colors and I want to make sure to never forget. That’s what I look forward to whenever I leave home.