The things that change you


Maria Luisa Park, Sevilla

My suitcase is filled with 4 months worth of clothes, some chocolate bars to bring home as gifts, hiking boots and backpack, a few scarves and a turquoise sequined tapestry. Cien años de soledad and On The Road are still sitting on my nightstand, to be packed last in my carry-on. I take my last final in two and a half hours, leave Sevilla the day after tomorrow and Spain the day after that.

On my long layover in Boston, I’ll see two very dear friends, Susan and Willy, who feel like another set of parents to me. Then in Charlotte, my dad will pick me up and we’ll probably get chocolate Frosties, or maybe coffee for the ride home, and talk about what’s next, and politics, and Europe, and hitchhiking and Che Guevara and my little sister and all the things that lead to each other after a long time of not talking face to face.

And then I’ll see my sisters and my friends, and find a place to sublease for next semester, and find a job for next semester, and begin to try to figure out what comes after graduation. Some things, I know, will fall back into the same routines. There will come a time, as there did at sixteen, when driving my car is a chore instead of exciting. There will come a time when I might almost forget the taste of Spanish coffee and the chairs scraping, laughter and music of a Tapas bar. Details like this tend to hold fast forever or slowly fade away.

I still remember the Breton crepe restaurant where I played in a courtyard and learned the French word “livre” from my cousins. I remember my seven-year-old summer trip in the Pyrenees (or was I six?) and the hiking, hot nights, and cool ocean we drove to. I remember the carne and ensalada I ate at Lety’s grandma’s house in Mexico, and her sweet little cousin who went on a walk with us. But for each concrete memory, there are so many things that have faded. Names and faces and events, the little girl I befriended in the Louxembourg gardens. My first churro from a street vendor. My first Mexican dance. And I know that, inevitably, that will happen with Spain. I already struggle to walk outside and look at it through the eyes that I saw it with when I arrived. The architecture looks ordinary. The orange trees are just plants.

So then is that it? Is all you’re ever left with a few incredible memories? Maybe that’s sometimes the case, and even if it is, I think it’s absolutely worth it. To have had certain experiences, for the time that you did, has intrinsic value that can’t be negated by the failures of memory. But I think it’s more than that. I think that even when the details fade away, there are certain things whose impacts not only last but grow in magnitude and depth over time.

This adventure might be drawing to a close, but its mark on me is larger than this time period or these particular experiences. The Blue Ridge Mountains will always be home to me, but Cataluña and Mas Calamiche showed me that the Pyrenees could also be home. The connections with strangers and reconnections with family made me realize that language barriers are not barriers to humanity, and can always be overcome. I’ve come to realize that having deep roots in one place does not prohibit making a home in another, and that leaving does not invalidate the love you feel for anyone, any place, or any amount of time.


Mallorca Airplane Window Sunset

I love airports, bus and train stations, and the peace of the act of travel. It used to overwhelm me, all the plans to be made and routes to figure out, and now it’s where I go to reflect, to be calm. Moving is the only meditation I know how to do. There’s something limitless when you find yourself in transit. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking so much about the place I was leaving or my destination, and began to look out the window, or over the ridge, or up at the sky, and take in everything about that in-between moment. When the past is a continent away and the future is unknown, you learn how to be present. When you’re in a place you may never be again, you soak it in with all the gusto of the first time and the last time combined.


This trip reminded me of the value of solitude. Of mountains or oceans stretching out as far as you can see, and taking it in silently, away from the shouts and whistles and footsteps of the city. The feeling of walking to the top of a hill and being surrounded by space and meadows, with peaceful, smooth mountains on one side, and jagged snow capped peaks on the other. You learn a lot about yourself away from civilization. Crawling under fences and walking through forests with no one in sight or in earshot. You remember that the rest of it is constructed, invented, pretend. The rules we make to govern ourselves and others don’t exist out here.


A woman in Mallorca saw my French passport, knew I was American, and asked where I lived and I told her Sevilla. She smiled and asked me if I was a nomad. Maybe that’s the big lesson of this trip. Although I’m leaving Sevilla, I don’t think I’ll miss it particularly. What I’ll miss is the constant movement, the trips to new countries and cities, the ascent of new mountains. But that’s not something I have to leave behind. Anywhere in the world, there are adventures to be had. There are mountains to climb and cities to explore back home. Meadows and wooded clearings to sleep in and places to see the stars. Any fear I might have had of these unknowns has been replaced by yearning. It’s time to leave this place, and I’m ready for the change. But the adventures, the magic, the desire and learning, the seeking and finding, that’s only just beginning.


4 thoughts on “The things that change you

  1. Sarah, what wisdom you have gained from this trip. It’s going to be interesting to see where you go from here. I am very proud of you and excited to see you at home. Trish lives near Boston. How long is your layover? She might have time to give you a Christmas hug. Safe travels home.


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