Stripped. A piece inspired by Stockholm.
When you travel alone, you're stripped of everything familiar -- familiar faces, languages, currencies, and surroundings. In the solitude this sort of travel provides, you learn two important lessons -- who you are and if you like who you are. On my recent trip to Stockholm, I found myself standing at the threshold of a park, hesitant to enter. I knew there was no gate to open, so why not just walk in? I was struck by this hesitation because hesitant wasn't the person I knew I've become. Twelve hours earlier, flying from Edinburgh to Stockholm, I had a connection through Frankfurt. After passing through customs, I thumbed through my passport to find the just-stamped page with entries on both 8/11 and 11/8. Mirror images of dates, representative of the 2 solo trips I've made in Europe: Munich & Stockholm. For months I've thought, and wrote, about the less than favorable time I had in Munich. With slight anxiety, I feared Stockholm would present me with the same. But as I stood at this literal threshold, I realized the difference: me. The me I've become because of the countless thresholds I've crossed, the chances I've taken, and lessons I've learned in between. I've heard before that crossing a threshold can cause you to forget why you entered a room in the first place. In my case, these thresholds I've crossed through traveling have stripped me of the baggage I had, and left me just one thing to carry -- myself. I now know that the experience I had in Munich had nothing to do with the city itself, and everything to do with me. I was someone different then, fearful of strangers, uncertain of myself, and generally unable to find peace. I was self-conscious of the image I gave traveling alone, eating alone, touring alone. I put on a brave face, but I was defensive on the inside. I shied away from crossing thresholds - literally & figuratively - that I easily could have managed. I wandered about aimlessly and hesitated to invest in conversation. Wheels up? Sure. Heart open? Certainly not.
On the other side of this mirror is Stockholm. I've read that travel teaches you "to survive on the strength of who you are." I unfortunately can't give the author of that quote, but I couldn't agree with him or her more. At one point I happily caught myself walking ever so confidently in a city I had never been to, feeling drawn to the places I wanted to explore. Even with a wrong turn, or three, I still managed to find everything I set out to see, plus some. There was no timidity in those steps. And most importantly, I never felt alone, because I had me. That feeling of a constant companion is exactly what's been tagging along, and enabling me to find inner peace. As I wandered around the Gamla stan, or Old Town, of Stockholm, I found myself intrigued by the window display of an antique shop. I made my way in, and was greeted by a kind older man. I started to browse while I listened to him explaining the items for sale, weaving stories of history, nostalgia and wisdom. I didn't know if he shared his stories with everyone, but I did know that I usually didn't stick around long enough to find out. I only had 1 day to see Stockholm, but I strangely wasn't in my typical hurry to leave. As he waxed poetic about the influences on Swedish language, I felt humbled in that moment, for I knew only with a lifetime of experiences is such wisdom available. Then to my surprise, the old man sat down at his piano-turned-display case, and started to play Amazing Grace. He asked if I knew the words. Well of course I did, and what better way to show him than to sing along? So here I am, literally singing "I once was lost, but now am found" in an antique shop in Stockholm. If I had ever believed in the universe's ability to send a message, now was not the time to stop. The message was loud & clear, and I felt the magic of that moment immediately. After the music lesson ceased, I felt I couldn't leave the shop without a few souvenirs to take home with me. As I exited out into the streets of Gamla stan, I knew I hadn't needed to buy anything to remember my visit to Stockholm. The real gifts from that trip were the ones I had brought with me; courage, confidence, and most gratifyingly, completeness.