New York had me in deep in its clutches for the past few weeks. Feelings of excitement were instead replaced with anxiety. Did I change all the mailing addresses of my credit cards? Oh shit, I never activated the international calling plan on my AT&T service. Ah, I still have to call the parents to give my final farewells. I haven’t even confirmed my connecting flight. These thoughts consumed me as my shoulders were aching from the heavy backback (I thought I had done a better job with the packing).
And in the background of all of this, I’ve been having these dark nagging thoughts. You see, I am kind of freaked out by dying. Not the final death part, but the process of dying and those last thoughts you have. Will I see a light at the end of the tunnel or do I just…stop beating. I don’t want to find out. You might be wondering what this has to do with traveling around the world. By watching the mistakes of my family members, I have convinced myself all these years that it’s better to play it safe than to take risks because risks lead to failure, depletion of wealth, embarrassment, and an unpromising future. And now I am doing the very opposite. As much as I say I like spontaneity, deep down I like predictability, and this “adventure” is anything but predictable. What if the language barrieralienate isolate or even alienate us from the local culture? What if my friends back home forget about me? Will this trip financially drain us completely? What if there’s political turmoil? Are we safe? I am fearful of having our belongings lost or stolen. Or worse. We get assaulted or kidnapped! Such things shouldn’t be an issue in Turkey or Thailand however our planned trip to Kashmir and Khagan while in Pakistan are a bit risky. In fact we eliminated driving to Gwadar (southern part of Pakistan) due to safety concerns. It’s absolutely silly to think like this, but I can’t help it. I have a sneaky suspicion that all my freak outs are my psyche’s way of reacting to this deep rooted fear of taking risks. And somehow my brain has associated risk with death.
What’s even more bizarre is that when I hit rock-bottom in December of 2011, I actually did not fear death. I was flying to my grandfather’s funeral in one those small airplanes that only has three seats per aisle and no carry on could possibly fit in the overhead bin. We hit major turbulence and I guarantee that those of you who’ve experienced it think about the plane crashing at least once. I know I did. And in that moment I closed my eyes and said “I accept this too. I am prepared to die and for whatever may come.” I never felt so at peace as I did on that bumpy ride. But were did that serenity go? How come these fears have taken hold again? I don’t know, but I do think that whenever I am happy or something amazing happens (such as traveling around the world), I am afraid it’s going to be taken away again (i.e. lost baggage, kidnapping, etc).
Life, fate, whatever you want to call it, is not supposed to let you be happy forever and once you hit the top, you must come down. The roller coaster of life I suppose. Our culture has a deep-rooted belief in this concept called “nazar”. You are supposed to hide your happiness from everyone, even your friends and family, and if you don’t, then someone will be envious of you and (intententionally or unintentionally) give you “nazar” or bad karma. I didn’t think much of this until my mom told me all the terrible things that have happened to me and my husband in December was my fault–I showed-off my happiness to every one and brought nazar upon us. Seriously? This sounds ridiculous but she had me believing this for months.
I feel American culture not only embraces expressing one’s happiness but to some degree even flaunting it. I mean, isn’t that what Facebook is really all about? There are also tons of self-help books out there that teach happiness is simply a brain wash strategy. You tell yourself you’re happy enough times and eventually you start believing it. Drink the koolaid.
I think that happiness can’t come until you make peace with your inevitable ending–death. After this “treaty”, there isn’t anything you can’t face. One of the most inspiring speeches I have heard is Steve Job’s 2005 Standford University commencement speech. He was driven by this motto – live every day as though it may be your last. I am sure that’s why daredevils, mountain climbers and other thrill seakers enjoy doing extreme sports–to feel more alive by being closer to death. As I write this, I am beginning to relax and enjoy the moment. This is my time to feel alive. We will be in Antalya, Turkey by Thursday after a layover in Moscow and Istanbul. I am excited!.