Today marks the last day of my journey. Versed well in time and travel's fleeting nature, there wasn't a moment I didn't realize this day and I would soon collide. It's a day filled with mixed feelings. On one hand, I'm sad the trip has come to a close, but on the other, I'm excited to commit myself to another pursuit back home.
If you ever get the chance to visit Warsaw I strongly suggest you do. You must, however, promise to stay more than 36 hours. The city is different than many I've seen in Europe. There is undoubtedly a deference for the past seen clearly in the Warsaw Castle, The Royal Square, and Old Town. But walk a little further and there is most definitely an eye to the future seen through the sleek glass windows of skyscrapers just a stone's throw from the cobblestoned streets and cathedrals.
Of course, like Budapest, the history here has clearly shaped its modern day outlook. To know Warsaw one must respect its violent and tragic past. And one mustn't travel too far to read the placards describing the bombing, siege, and uprisings that occurred here during World War II. Warsaw is also the city where the Nazis established the largest ghetto in all of Europe. As I studied the black and white images dating back to the fall of 1939 I couldn't even begin to imagine what occurred just 75 years before. The senselessness of it all made me dither between profound sadness and anger.
Still, there were plenty of moments of levity in my day. I stopped at a Polish restaurant, which I'd never done. For years in New York I would walk past a restaurant called, Little Poland, but never actually set foot inside. In all my jaunts past this East Village eatery, I never once saw anyone inside. I suppose the giant "C" rating from the New York Department of Health didn't instill much confidence.
But while in Poland (the country) I decided to take my chances. I took a seat near the window overlooking Nowy Swiat Street and started off by ordering some pierogies for the first time, joking to the waiter that everyone probably ordered the exact same thing, which he confirmed. I suppose following the crowd isn't always such a bad idea. Every once in a while they're on to something.
Afterwards, I walked past the Chopin Museum, who is as revered here as The Beatles and sliced bread, before heading towards the Palace of Culture and Sciences. Most of the day's thoughts tangled with both the journey's imminent end, but more interestingly all the lessons I'd discovered along the way. It seemed these revelations had been biding its time choosing to make a dramatic last-minute appearance. As I've prefaced I don't claim to have all the answers, or any really, but in no particular order here are my truths:
1. No matter my current relationship to religion, Catholicism, God, spirituality, whether strained, or harmonious, I will always love the scent that greets you when entering a church. The mingled smell of oak and incense has always slowed time down for me, offering a rare moment of tranquility, whether the tabernacle sits in mid-town Manhattan, or on the secluded Isle of Iona. It is from this place an invitation to openness and flexibility in thought is always extended, at least for me.
2. A sense of purpose is paramount to living a life of meaning. It does not matter who you are or where you reside, if your day-to-day life is not filled with the notion that your life serves another's in some small capacity, you can travel to the ends of the earth only to discover prosperity of mind will elude you. A beachfront property in Croatia, nor weaving through the narrow streets of Sofia in a fancy sports car will suffice. If you haven't found your purpose then by all means keep looking.
3. I believe most people know exactly what they want out of life, but are afraid to admit it to themselves.
4. The world has taught me we are all different...and the same. We are all linked by the human condition and I'm confident each of us ultimately wants:
- to love
- to be loved
- to feel a sense of purpose
- to feel significant
5. It's true what they say, time does fly, but even faster than advertised. Proceed accordingly.
6. Be very selective with whom you share your dreams with.
7. It matters what people think and it really, really doesn't.
8. Most people do not go the extra mile to see an endeavor all the way through; tragic because it's rarely even that far away.
9. Whoever told you that you have all the time in the world lied to you.
10. Living life on your own terms, which is to say, an existence of nonconformity is like any other meaningful pursuit. It takes practice and time to hone your craft. But in time, you slowly get better and better, eventually skilled at shooing away the chatter and noise of those who project their own fears and failures upon you. The notion that you must live a certain type of life wanes in its ability to ruffle you because you have become a master craftsman in living life the way you see fit.
But what do I know?
There is an addictive quality about globetrotting. There are moments when you wish it would never end. There is a perennial sense of adventure in discovering new places and meeting interesting people. A feeling of expectation and even a rare comfort in the unknown can also make you feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities. One wishes they could live longer to ensure more time to see it all - to be anywhere and everywhere at once. The world I've discovered is a very big place.
Still, as much as I am a proponent of travel, I must say, the sense of adventure, of living unapologetically need not begin in an unfamiliar country. As writer George Moore once said, "A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it." Begin first where you are and slowly work your way out. Until the next time, go forth. Boldly. Not recklessly.
Lejla, a twenty-something economics student from Sarajevo, Bosnia I befriended one afternoon, shared this bit of advice with me: "To answer your question, I tend to never give up no matter how simple or hard and frustrating things are for me, and once my dad told me something that I can maybe translate into- Effort won't betray you. Now, when I need a confirmation that my effort and not giving up won't go in vain I remember that."