It’s October of 1987 and I’m anxiously waiting in the “poste restante” line of the Singapore post office – two months and untold miles into my worldwide backpacking trip — absolutely starving for word from home.
Back in the day – well before email, texting and twittering downsized our world – the only way to receive correspondence on the road was to ask friends and loved ones to write you c/o a particular post office. The letter would then be held in “post restante” until you came by to claim it. In Asia, the levels of organization at “poste restante” varied from city to city. In Kathmandu, for example, the laid-back staff simply motioned you over to an unmonitored, wooden trough of cards, aerograms and letters, thrown together all willy nilly. It was then up to you to sift through the rarely-alphabetized sea of correspondence and locate your own personal items.
Singapore, by contast, boasted the best system around; in fact, the whole shebang was computerized–a rarity back in the late 80’s! You simply got in line, stated your name at the desk, and the clerk would bring you your mail. Slick!
So there I am at the front of the line, itching with anticipation. Letters mean so much to you when you’re traveling – especially if you’re out there alone, as I am, on an extended world trip. With a quick glance at his computer, the clerk smiles: “Your lucky day! Three letters.” Minutes later, I’ve got my greedy hands on a a real bounty: a card from my parents, a letter from my girlfriend in Japan, and an aerogramme (remember those?) from an old college roommate. Like Charlie Bucket clutching tightly to his winning Wonka bar, I grab my mail and hurry outside. Then, sitting comfortably on the lawn beneath the hot, tropical sun, I slowly peel open each letter, expecting — if not a “golden ticket” — at least some warm tidings from my loved ones far away.
Everyone, it seems, is missing me. My girlfriend, Yumiko (in Japan) is looking forward to our next meeting in California. Mom and Dad are worried that I’m safe. And my old roommate is hoping I’m having the adventure of my life. How bittersweet to be reminded that I have people in my life who love me. But they’re so far away! What in the world am I doing way out here in Southeast Asia: alone, lonely, and half a world from my nearest and dearest! What to do, what to do?: continue my journey, or head back home?
We all, I think, face dilemmas like this in on a fairly regular basis:
- Should I continue on along my current path forward or break it off and turn back?
- Should I make my choices based on my dreams/work/projects, or on maintaining and satisfying my relationships?
Back in 1987, I had a real, physical and philosophical choice to make: keep traveling to the places I’ve always dreamed about (Thailand, Nepal India), or return home to the welcoming embrace of my “support group”?
As the poet John Donne famously said, “No man is an island.” We are never truly alone –our ties bind us to the past and connect us to the future.
In the end, I opted to keep moving forward, north through Asia then west to Europe. In essence, I was “gambling” that my relationships would still be there when I got back. As it turned out, some were and some weren’t. It was the right choice, I believe, but not an easy one by any definition.
The choices today are equally daunting. This economy of ours is tough! In spite of our fears and insecurity, I say: Don’t give up on your businesses. Life is full of stress; I say, don’t give up on your dreams. Being a human often a lonely situation: I say nurture your relationships, no matter where you are. As long as you communicate, you don’t necessarily need to choose between your passions and your loved ones. The important thing is to keep moving forward.