Reflecting in Russia

Summer has arrived in Yaroslavl and I’ve been incapable of staying indoors. I’ve covered what feels like the entire city by foot in the past few days, running Forrest Gump style from river to shining river. I’ve got the blisters on my toes to prove it.

I know the city well by now. I know where to stand back on the sidewalk because the buses splash the puddles as they pass by. I know how to get to either of the two rivers from any point. I recognize neighbors on the street. It’s becoming a sort-of-home to me.

And just in time for me to leave. This experience has been the most solitary of this year of travel. But I needed that more than I knew. I needed to step back, to slow down, to simplify, and to listen.

Today I ran from the volunteer apartment to the embankment of the Volga River. I stood there for a while, watching the black water and listening to the fountains on the strelka below. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself in any number of cities in the world. A warm breeze, the sound of moving water. Memories came back to me without any particular rhythm or logic. I didn’t anticipate a stretch break turning into one of those sappy end-of-the-movie montages, but it did.

It’s been nearly a year since I left my job to travel, but I feel like I’ve lived three lifetimes since then. I feel significantly older and happier for all I’ve experienced. In Peru, I found community. In Colombia, love. And in Russia, what have I found? Myself, perhaps?

For a long time I bristled at the idea of traveling to “find yourself.” When people asked me if that was my reason for this year-long journey, I always said no. I know who I am already, thankyouverymuch. If I didn’t have a strong sense of self to start with, I probably wouldn’t have made the decision to do all of this. I wouldn’t have known how badly I needed it.

But I am undeniably more self-aware than I was before. Sometimes excruciatingly so.

I have made more mistakes in the past few years of my life than all the previous years combined. I’ve hurt people. I’ve seen ugly sides of myself that I hope never surface again. And I had to learn some things the hard way, like a child who doesn’t listen to his mother’s warnings and touches the flame to find out that it burns.

Despite all the dark shadowy corners I’ve had to shine a painful light into, I am proud of myself. I don’t like everything I’ve ever done, but I like who I am and who I am working to become. Most importantly, I am achingly grateful for what I have and I am optimistic for what is yet to come.

What Russia has given me is a strong dose of humility. I came here to discover and to learn and to serve, to find out what it is about this place that has always tugged at me. I’ve been staring into a dark pool of water hoping to see through to the bottom, but instead of I’ve seen my own reflection more clearly than ever.

Tonight I am leaving Yaroslavl for St. Petersburg. I’ve said goodbye to the children I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with at the hospitals and shelters. I’ve made the requisite tourist stops in the city and stocked up on snacks for the long train ride. I don’t know if I have earned the right to call this place a home in the last six weeks, but it has nestled its way into my heart for good, next to so many other people and places I now carry with me.

But my heart doesn’t feel heavy, it doesn’t feel cramped. I know there is more space to fill. Is there ever a more hopeful thought than that?

18 comments

  1. This one is lovely, although I really like everything you write, and your photos! Russia can have that effect on you if you are there as a person, interacting with others as individuals, not as tourist viewing subjects and objects. Keep us up on your life when you return to the States (I’m assuming), as well.

    • Thanks so much Joanne. You’re right, Russia, like many other places, has a way of stretching you and pushing your boundaries as a traveler, if you are open to the challenge. And I’m not quite back in the States just yet! More traveling to come. πŸ™‚

  2. Beautiful, Meghan. I missed this the first time around, and so am glad to have seen the email notice.

    I can hardly express how much I enjoy and appreciate your writing here. You’re doing remarkable things, in such (to me) exotic places, and have a genuine flair for bringing your experiences to life for your readers. I’m learning quite a lot, too – about the world, about people, and, I think, about myself. Thank you – for doing what you’re doing, and for telling us about it so beautifully. Eager anticipation for hearing about your next adventure!

  3. Alyssa Kronlund

    Following your journey has been absolutely wonderful!

    You are an amazing writer and your heart shines through each and every post. Can’t wait to hear about your next adventure!

  4. What a wonderful reflective post! I admire you! Looking back at my life, I strongly believe that your twenties are definitely the time of finding yourself and figuring it all out. Yes, if you are lucky you know who you are. I did. But it becomes clearer and more certain during this decade. By 30, I was ready to settle down and now at 40, everything is even clearer, and more certain than before. It is truly an amazing journey! I have no regrets except I wish I had the opportunity to take a year off too and travel. But when I add all my time away from home up now, it is almost two years of my life! πŸ™‚ Keep moving and looking forward to your next travels. Where will it be? Are there secret plans to go back to Russia? πŸ™‚ Oh by the way, we all make mistakes, especially when we are young. If we learn by them and grow, then they were worth it in the end.

    • Thanks a lot Nicole, and yes, I would have to agree thus far! Life pre-twenties was sort of protected in a bubble, and now it’s evolving having been exposed to the elements.

      And yes, I do have some exciting upcoming plans but I’m going to keep them hush-hush for just a couple more weeks! πŸ™‚ Thank you so much for your consistent support and readership, I love that we “met” on WordPress!

  5. This is such a lovely post. And you’re so right – I hated the ridiculousness of people saying “You’re going off to find yourself” but you really do discover a lot about the person you are when you’re away and you do change.

    I’m really interested to know what comes next in your journey, Meghan. I’ll keep reading. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Ceri, glad you are with me on the “finding yourself” bit! I don’t like the new-agey language, but if I’m being honest, it is sort of true.

      I have a feeling I still have a lot of adventuring to do. Thanks for following along. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Renee, and yes, I plan on returning some day! I don’t know if I’ll see my little friends again but I’ll always be thinking about them. Cheers to next adventures indeed!

  6. Hey Megan,

    I loved what you wrote. I felt the same when I traveled to Bhutan last month. Travelling does change your perspective about so much, including your own self. Anyway, best of luck for the rest of your trip!

    • Thank you Dazy, I’m glad you identified with it. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of travel to open our eyes and change us for the better. Bhutan must have been incredible for you!

  7. Su

    Gosh Meghan, this one bought a tear to my eye! So beautifully poignant and so honest. Life is a journey at any age but clearly this year has been a big dose of reality for you, thank you for sharing it with us. Being honest with oneself can be truly challenging, you have done it well! Good luck on the next phase of your journey, I will miss your Russian musings.

    • You’re right, Su. This has been one of those experiences that just shows me how much I didn’t know that I didn’t know before. Sort of a deconstruction and rebuilding of my mindset/world-view, which can be a pretty emotional thing to go through, especially when you didn’t think you needed it in the first place. Thanks for the kind words and for following along.

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