I almost didn’t make it.
Today, I am in Mallorca, one of Spain’s jeweled islands dotting the Mediterranean Sea.
That just a few days ago, the entire trip was in jeopardy, due to my own negligence, has tempered some of the fevered excitement I always imagined would carry me on my first transatlantic trip, as I am mindful of just what a blessing it is to be here.
It was exactly a week before I was to leave that I learned I would need a visa to travel to Spain. Considering that I had been planning the trip since the spring, it was a great folly on my part that I hadn’t investigated such a significant detail. Though not a U.S. citizen, I assumed that as a permanent resident, or green card holder, I had the same privilege of being able to travel visa-free to Spain — until I awoke two Fridays ago with an unshakable foreboding that prompted a mad scramble to determine if this was the case.
Countless website searches, phone calls — most of them fruitlessly swallowed in inefficient mazes of automated messages — and referrals to miscellaneous agencies later, it turned out I was right. I did not need a visa, but that news came only after an anguished weekend spent alternately crying, fretting and desperately compiling whatever paperwork I might need to secure myself an expedited visa (my only connection to a live human during one terse phone call and the website for the Embassy of Spain proffered this as my only hope for salvaging the trip, though neither could guarantee success).
The lesson here seems obvious, but all the admonitions against catapulting myself into such adventures without carefully thinking and planning things through, while worthwhile reminders, weren’t as meaningful as the reinforcement of how truly fortunate I am to have the friends, family and co-workers that I do.
In many ways, this trip is bookended by my awareness that the contraction or expansion of our lives is as much dependent on our own decisions as it is the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves.
On a winter night earlier this year, an e-mail from Ellen Bass popped into my inbox. I had discovered and devoured the works of the award-winning poet from Santa Cruz, Calif., a year earlier and signed up to receive her newsletter.
But this e-mail was a specific announcement for a workshop to be held in Mallorca, at a “remote and gorgeous retreat center” located in the foothills of the Sierra de Tramontana mountains.
“If you’d like a chance to sink deeply into your writing, enjoy delicious food, go to sleep in a simple, yet elegant room, wake to sheep bells, this is the place.”
I sat transfixed at my computer, staring at the e-mail, as I felt a rush of exhilaration and the insistent unfurling of a sweet, wild yearning. Everything about the experience, from the picturesque tranquil setting to the opportunity to so freely immerse oneself in the craft of writing, called to me in a way that few things had in a very long time.
So of course, I forwarded the e-mail to one of my dearest friends, Shannon, hoping to similarly intoxicate her with the visions already spinning in my head. And she was tempted, but amid more practical concerns that included working on her Ph.D dissertation, she gave me the go-ahead to voyage on without her with this emphatic response: “You HAVE to do this.”
I will always appreciate that, in that moment, she seized my happiness at just the prospect of such a journey as deeply as if it were her own. And in the weeks after, as my euphoria gave way to doubt, chipped away by the voice that deemed the trip a foolhardy indulgence for someone who had just bought her first house — I could not possibly go to Spain in the same year that I had just bought a condo, I rationalized — I was grateful for the swelling of an entire chorus urging me back to my initial impulse. Among that circle were the friends who saw how animated I became just talking about potentially going and assured me that it was my duty to embrace anything that made me feel that alive. While I felt constricted and small thinking that convention dictated a different response, I noticed that whenever I seriously entertained the idea of following Bass to Mallorca, it was like a spark erupting inside me, injecting a fresh vitality into an otherwise routine yet contented existence.
My boyfriend Zane gave me the final push. Taking one look at my rapturous face as I again extolled the merits of the trip one night over dinner, he asked only when I would be sending in my deposit, and then cajoled me into a handshake agreement committing to that deadline. And so I was on my way.
Until a little over a week ago, when the dream collapsed around me. But even as I floundered in suffocating panic and despair, Team Mallorca rallied mightily to enfold me in a sea of support. There was my brother, who called to remind me that I knew how to navigate such tumultuous passages and that it was time to claim for myself the trust I was always espousing as an anchor of one’s faith. There were friends who recounted their own similar experiences, helping me to feel less alone and softening the severity of the drubbing I subjected myself to for my own inattentiveness. Countless suggestions poured in, too, from places and people I could call, to options I could pursue even while overseas, to a gentle invitation to sit back and stop trying to control or fix the situation so that an answer on how to move forward could arise from the stilled chaos. In the frenzy of a morning punctuated by unexpected absences the Monday after that tense weekend, and before I managed to get an embassy officer on the phone who gave me the good news, my supervisor took the time to prepare a letter confirming my employment — one of the requisites for a visa — and sent it along with his prayers, while Shannon was even willing to drive down to Washington, D.C., with me to camp out at the embassy.
Today, as I sit here, I carry all of them with me. And I know that this opportunity would not be mine were it not for those cherished individuals who so determinedly held the space for the unleashing of a deeper joy and inspiration in my life and who rushed forward — fiercely and optimistically — to shore up those tumbling ramparts when it would have been easier for me to concede defeat than cling to hope. In those moments of dread and frenzy, they helped me find a quiet resting place where I could hear the only promise that mattered: that there is a natural flow at work in our lives, delivering us, always, to the places where we are meant to be and the things we are meant to explore.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times