Our Indonesian Visa came through right on time, and we were able to catch our 6:30 a.m. flight from Darwin to Singapore. We wait out our 10 hour layover in what has to be the cleanest airport in the world. There is nary a speck of paper, food, or other detritus on any carpeted floor, all tiled surfaces are polished to a gleam, and the bathrooms include natural lighting, frosted glass stall doors, and a woman who seems permanently installed to make sure a paper towel never dare dangle its corner out of the wastebasket.
With all it’s many positive qualities, Andrew found it a shame they were requesting one handover one's first born child in exchange for the purchase of small draft of beer. Andrew spent most of his day reading a few sentences, then looking up at me and asking “should I buy a beer now?” He’d lean forward in his chair intending to stand and proceed, only to fall back, frozen in place by the Inner Cheapskate who simply could not pay $40.00 Singapore Dollars, or $30US for two small beers.
As our plane landed in Bali and the sound track of what seems to be all hotel hallways in Bali soothes Andrew’s frayed nerves, he almost cried tears of joy to be back in Indonesia. He spent the entire hour of our three course, $3.00US breakfast (Balinese coffee and orange juice included) extolling the virtues of this ever so reasonable cost of living.
With only an hour and a half ride on the “Fast Boat,” we are clambering aboard Sonrisa’s decks and passing our duffle bags over her stern rail. Peeking my head down her hatch, I give Sonrisa a sniff and she’s just fine. No stink, no mold, no water intrusion, nothing scary. We find a few cobwebs, one of which has tangled up one of our little geckos, it might be Murdock III, but he is still alive. I free him, only to discover the cobwebs have stuck to his feet and are now making it impossible for him to climb. He takes a few steps up the wall, then slides back down. He freezes with uncertainty. I try to peel away a bit of the cobweb, and he tries to run up the wall again. This process repeats itself three or four times until Andrew finds an old tooth brush, scoops Murdock III into his hand and gently brushes the cobwebs away from the gecko’s feet. The gecko runs away from the brush, up Andrew’s arm a few paces, Andrew brushes again, the gecko runs again. By the time the gecko reaches Andrew’s shirt sleeve, it tickles too much. Andrew removes Murdock III from his arm and places him on top of Lenny, our wobbly wooden crocodile from Timor Leste. A few moments later, he has disappeared. I assume he is recovering nicely.
We get settled in and I set up my writing station. I have a lot of photography and blog work to do. I have even more mental processing from the last three months: Bali, Malaysia, China, U.S., Australia…it feels like we have been traveling at a break neck speed with very little time for me to incorporate what I see and learn into my own philosophies.
We spent a lot of time on University campuses or with college graduates. We drank beer, lived in a van for a week in my sister’s driveway, and engaged in other college-like behavior just for the fun of it. As we watched my sister and all of her friends cast off, leaving their college selves behind and looking to determine what their next self will be: career professionals, graduate students, volunteer aid workers, I could relate. I, too, feel like I stand at the apex of a mystery about my own future.
This year’s trip felt different from our last trip home over Christmas of 2016. The last time we came home, the moment my scenery changed from tropical paradise to the grey walls of a plane, our sailing trip dissolved into a dream. The sailing/traveling felt unreal and far in the distance, like it never really happened. Being at home for Thanksgiving and Christmas felt as normal and continuous as ever. At the end of our celebrations, we half expected to drive ourselves back to Las Vegas and pick up at the office mid-legal brief.
“…but you’ve thrown all that away.” This is a comment heard a couple times this trip, maybe in jest?
This year, it isn’t the sailing/travel that feels unreal. As we cleaned out our house, visited the office, ate at the restaurants we love, visit with family and friends, and ride our familiar mountain bike steeds, it’s our old life that feels like a dream. I kept expecting to wake up in Sonrisa’s bunk having enjoyed a nice dream of being at home, “home” dissipating in that cloud of fantasy within fifteen minutes of sipping my morning coffee.
Something is fading for us, our old lives are slipping through our fingers like our beach sand. My self as it was is unraveling, leaving me a Leslie-shaped shell not yet filled with the ambrosia of cohesive ideas. I am the scattered energy of poorly assimilated new information competing for space with the old. It feels exactly like going back to school.
The questions posed to us this trip were different than last year’s questions, too. Last year, our family and friends asked us a series of questions you might ask anyone who recently enjoyed a nice vacation: “Where was your favorite place? What awesome food did you taste? Did you meet nice locals? Where would you want to travel again?” There was also the popular question about marriage on the boat: “How can you stand living in such close quarters?”
This year, the most common questions are different.
I came to terms with the first three questions, long ago. In fact, they are three questions I had to get comfortable with not knowing before I ever quit my job. Even if I gave a certain answer to any one of those questions, do any of us know whether my certain decisions will come to fruition? The future is a realm of mystery, one I have very little control over. What I plan to do is learn, explore, and enjoy as much as I can while I’m out sailing, and upon either completion of the circumnavigation or decision to stop, mix and match my new and old skill sets to offer something of value to someone else such that they will pay me for those services. Where best can these skills be used? In what capacity? I predict, hold hope, have faith that life will lead me to the best place at the right time as it always has in the past, so long as I uphold my end of the bargain and put in the work.
It’s the last question that strikes fear into my heart. The first time it was posed, it caught me by surprise. It never occurred to me that anything in life could be “all the same, anyway.” I almost don’t understand the question. Maybe it's just me, but I hear a bit of an accusation: “you’ve given up your career, your home, time with your family and friends, and every day you are losing the tail end of your child bearing years…and really, isn’t it all the same anyway?”
My initial instinct was to respond with: “What?! No! Jeeze! Are you serious?” Instead, I tried to keep my own self doubt in check and explore their perspective. “Well, everywhere we visit is an island or land near the sea, I guess…” I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know what meaning to draw from this question. I suppose we do see a lot of greenery, beaches, and flowers. I wondered, do they read my blog? Does my blog make it all seem “all the same anyway?”
I feel uneasy. I’ve invested a lot into this life and this experience: financial security, physical safety, close proximity to family and friends, and most importantly, time and energy I can never get back. This question is akin asking a new mother "isn’t it just a pooping and screaming machine?” while standing in a line to order fast food. That would be awful, but for me, this question feels even worse. At least a new mother has a social consensus around procreation that says she is absolutely, without a doubt, correct her baby is worth her new physical scars, discomfort, time and energy. Clearly, I do not enjoy that social consensus. I cannot rest easy in the minds of billions of other humans around agreeing with me. "Isn't it all the same, anyway," feels like a challenging question asked so lightly of me as we walk through a parking lot or enjoy a quick lunch. But, the people who asked this question love me, they are family and friends. I don’t think their intention is to condescend, belittle, or lessen my experience. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I realize it’s an in-depth question grown from their curiosity, and it's a question that causes me to think. Isn't that the kind of question I like to answer?
Yes, it is. Sometimes, it takes me a while to process. I let this question sit while we explore more of Lombok. We see more beaches. We ride more scooters, and we meet more nice Indonesian people who invite us into their homes and feed us lunch.
We take a road trip and see more monkeys (giant black ones who jump and fuzzy brown ones who are dissatisfied with our rice wrapped banana), more rice paddies, a giant volcano peeking up over the clouds, rice fields, and waterfalls. We taste palm wine and enjoy Kopi (Indonesian coffee) over looking beautiful rice fields and oceans.
I return to this question over and over again. Each time I do, anxiety buzzes in the nook at the center of my collarbone. I know this question “Isn’t it all the same anyway?” masks the real question “Is it worth it?” And, this is a question I posed from the very beginning of this trip. I’ve been comfortable with not knowing the answer for this long. Why is it causing me stress, now? Even if these people have answered the question for themselves as “No, Leslie’s trip is not worth it.” I do not have to agree. The risk that it might not be worth it is just another part of this trip that makes me curious in the first place. It’s the hard part. No one will question you if you do all the things society says is good and worth it: just go to school, get married to a wonderful spouse, go to college, buy a house, have kids, build a career, buy a bigger house, save for retirement, have grandkids, retire, go golfing, and die. If we could take this path, we wouldn’t need to wonder for one day “isn’t it all the same, anyway?” I’m safe. You’re safe. Everyone is all safe so long as everything and everyone is “all the same anyway.”
But whose life actually follows that trajectory? Something always seems to bump us off this idealized track and onto something different - either by choice or by circumstance. And when we step out of line, suddenly the debate is raised as to whether our choices are “worth it.” If our life varies from the “social ideal” or from our friends lives, our highest priorities must somehow be mismatched. One of us must be right and the other must be wrong. One of us must be (dare I say it!) odd.
This is a fallacy that creates despair, loneliness, jealousy, disconnection, and fear between humans. Life is rarely black and white like that. Of course there are things that fall into black and white, right or wrong categories, but there are very few of those things. The lives we choose to lead will most often end up in the enormous spectrum of grey somewhere in between.
Don’t ask a lawyer a yes or no question, her answer will always be: “It depends.” And this is where I find myself today. Is it all the same? It depends on how you look at it. All of our lives are “all the same anyway” until you look closer. Then you find the devil is in the details, and in the details nothing is ever the same. From one minute to the next, one seemingly insignificant flower is not the same. Whether you are looking at the progression of one rose bud on the same rose bush planted in your own back yard, or if you are surveying the myriad of flowers strewn across the tropical islands near the entire Earth’s equator, there is always change, transformation, something different to see. You just have to look. From day to day, hour to hour, even if the flower somehow remained the same, the eyes of the beholder are different. Just breathing today is always “worth it.” The options beyond breathing are so numerous, it’s very difficult to say which is “worth it” and which isn't. How does one measure worth? In the accumulation of money, professional respect, service to others, our number/quality of friends, fame, the distance between personal transformation, time spent in love, time spent in awe…even this question of how to measure of “worth” has endless options to consider.
So, to answer the question “Isn’t it all the same?” Yes, it is all the same. Everything is more the same than it is different when you take a grand overview. All land is rock, all sea is water. All humans, we are mostly rock and water, too. So, there is no need to fear. But, look closer, and you will see an endless variety about which we can be curious - both inside one’s self and out. The sand on today’s beach surprised the hell out of me. It’s a collection of perfectly round sand balls, over which my feet roll and slide like a cartoon character, freewheeling over a spilled box of marbles. I’ve never seen sand like this before, and yes, I’ve seen a lot of sand now.
And for the first time, at today’s waterfall, I saw the sun cast light through the spray to create a rainbow halo that follows my eyes everywhere I look.
It’s always worth it to look closer.