Reunited: a trip to London and some restless musings

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Big Ben yesterday afternoon

There are so many goodbyes involved in traveling. The people you make sure to see before you leave. The people you make sure to hug before they leave. Then there are the people you meet while you’re traveling who you may never see again. In March I wrote about the value of these brief, powerful connections that stay with you and continue to impact you years later. It’s hard and it’s also profoundly worth it, even when you know you may never see someone again. But this weekend I was reminded that with those connections often come incredible reunions and reconnections, whether they happen months or even years later.

The past few years have been full of these. I’ve been moving around a lot, with incredible people coming and going to and from my life as we each embark on our own journeys. I’m not (outwardly) overly sentimental, and I rarely cry or carry on when it’s time to say goodbye to someone or leave somewhere. The first of my big goodbyes happened when I left the US for Costa Rica at fifteen years old. That was hands down the hardest, because I was so young and scared. Then when I left Costa Rica, I was leaving incredible people who had taken me in and become my family. I got to catch up with them for an afternoon over tea in 2013, and then again when my sister Jimena got married in 2015. I went to Costa Rica for the week of her wedding and stayed in what had been my bedroom there five years before. I met family members who had been out of the country when I lived there, shared wedding cake with the grandmother, and cried as Jime and Angelica said their vows under twinkling lights on a bridge over a lake under misty rain.

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My incredible Costa Rican family

This weekend, I went on a whirlwind trip to London. I was restless, as usual, and Saturday morning I woke up at 4:30 to take a 6:55 flight to Gatwick. From there I took the train to the Farringdon station, where my cousin Milena came to pick me up. The last time I saw Milena I must have been about seven or eight years old, she would have been twelve or thirteen, and we were at her parents’ house in Paris. I remember that even then, she spoke perfect British English. I immediately felt like I was back with family, despite having gone over a decade without seeing her. Being in Europe, thousands of miles from home, it’s been even more important and wonderful for me when I’ve had the chance to catch up with relatives.

After dropping my bags off, I took a bus to the city center and met up with my high school friend James. He’s living in Manchester and about to finish a masters degree in Politics, and when I told him I was coming for the weekend, he planned a trip to see friends in London that would coincide with my visit. Our best guess was that we had last seen each other about four years ago. We walked along the South Bank, got hot cider from a stand in a market, made our way through Chinatown, and did our best to catch one another up on years of life and adventures.

Around 6:30, I took the bus back to my cousin’s neighborhood.  Another cousin of mine, Alex, happened to be in town for the night to visit his girlfriend. My childhood memories of Alex are even less clear than my childhood memories of Milena; I don’t know if we ever said more than hello to each other. I spent a lot of time with his younger brothers, and distinctly remember playing Monopoly with them and being furious that they thought I was cheating, when I was actually just winning fair and square. Alex, his girlfriend, Milena, and I went to a pub for drinks and then a diner for burgers. We talked politics, work, and school and played Jenga.

There’s this wonderful thing that I’ve found happens with these connections and reconnections. You’re halfway across the world from home, sharing food or drinks or cars with people who are essentially strangers, only you feel like you’ve known them your whole life. And sometimes maybe you distantly have, because you met as tiny kids and you share a great-grandmother, but it doesn’t feel real until you’re all back together again. And then other times it’s someone you were briefly friends with when both of your lives were very different, but you see them and you’re right back to telling inside jokes, and they remember the disastrous high school play you were both in, and even the details of who you had a crush on during the production.  And you laugh together at the people you each were six years ago, but you also appreciate the fact that those people became friends, because otherwise you wouldn’t be standing next to the Thames cracking up right now.

There’s something really special about sharing travel experiences, about being outside your comfort zone and day to day life with a friend. But I think what is even more incredible than that is when you’ve actually gone your separate ways for a while (and in the case of me and these two cousins, for more than half our lives) and then your paths cross again and not only are you as close as you ever were, but the connection is strengthened simply because it lasted. And you’ve changed and they’ve changed and not only are you close now, as the people you’ve become, but it makes you realize that you’ve been close all along.

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Walking along the canal with Milena

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this trip has really made me realize just how much people impact you, even if you don’t have much time to spend together. Sometimes you realize it before the first goodbye, and sometimes the realization comes much later. I am so grateful for all the reconnections I’ve had here in Europe. And as sad as I am that my time here is drawing to a close, I am grateful for all the incredible people I get to come home to.

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