St Augustine of Hippo reportedly says, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I agree with the sentiment of the beauty of travelling – having the opportunity to visit and live in several countries and experienced different cultures. However, travelling doesn’t only teach us about expanding our horizon.
It also teaches us the finiteness of time.
I’ve mentioned previously here that it had been three years before I returned to Indonesia, due to one reason or others. So I am very excited to be back here. I made a mental list of the things that I wanted to eat, places to visit and activities to do. This trip is actually the longest that I have ever spent being back here in Indonesia for a holiday, compared to my previous trips ever. I am grateful that my supervisors allow me to take a long trip. Well, part of it to refresh my mind and to refocus for the next twelve months so I can finish my PhD. So, when at the beginning I didn’t eat a certain food or had a massage, I told myself that there would be time for that – I still had plenty of time. As I went through my journey, some days were well-planned and very tight whereas others were filled with unstructured relaxation (read: laziness) with the hours that could be far better spent ticking off the things that I wanted to experience while being here.
Flash forward to today – my last night in Indonesia before Yani and I fly to Singapore tomorrow morning. We both realised that we hadn’t bought martabak manis here and that I hadn’t got the chance to have a good neck and shoulder massage. One of my sisters also posted on my Facebook page that she, along with my other siblings, still hadn’t had enough of meeting Yani and me. As much as I would love to stretch this last 24 hours, my time is finite. If it’s time for me to go, it’s time for me to go. Some trips can be postponed, like say, for example during my time here in Indonesia if I want to spend more or less time in Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya. I can simply shuffle the dates around and accommodate that change of plan. However, the final departure is final. If I miss certain places or I don’t end up fulfilling all of my checklist, then, too bad …
Life is like that – when we are young and full of plans and ambitions, we’d think that we have plenty of time ahead of us to fulfil our plans. Some of us probably want to have the whole hog – get married, have a great loving family, have a fulfilling career and plenty of money. In our ideal, we probably plan to travel around, have the house and car that we want, yadda, yadda, yadda. Then we realise that we’re no longer spring chicken and that the decisions that we made in the past, bring their consequence to the present. Like for example, it will be extremely hard for me to be given the opportunity to see my grandchildren get married – unless Yani and I get serious in our procreation efforts and marry our offspring young. It is also hard for me, to say, fulfil my long-held dreams of exploring the rugged coast of Nova Scotia, Canada or revisit the Lofted Islands in Norway. Sometimes you can’t have all that you want. Something has got to give.
So my current trip has taught me about the finiteness of time. In the past, when I flew to Indonesia on an annual basis and life hadn’t taught me about time as much, I would be a far more blasé for missing experiences. There would always be next year. Now, although I still say the same thing, that I would do this and that on my return trip next year, there is a pang of uncertainty as I say it. What will happen in the next twelve months? My mum is getting on with age and several members of my family are battling serious illnesses. As much as I hope for the best, I acknowledge that the control is not in my hand. The next time I’m back here for another trip, my nieces and nephews will act, talk and think differently – the fruit of their own life’s lessons in the time while we are apart. Some will look quite differently as well. I can’t freeze frame time so that I can keep them the way they are – or inversely, me the way I am at the moment.
This trip has confirmed again the lessons that I have learned in recent months that we really need to be thankful of what we have now. Who knows when our final departure is. Yes, this is a morbid and serious thought, but we know that we are all queuing to our Gate. Some passengers are called on an earlier flight, some won’t depart as early.
So, if you have the opportunity to travel, do. Explore the world, make lists of things that you want to do, things to eat, people to visit, and places to stay. You don’t need to travel far and wide or spend a lot of money. Spend a couple of days or a week exploring a neighbouring town, valley, or island. Don’t be upset when you don’t get to fulfil all of the items on your list. There are probably wise and poor reasons why you spend more time in one place, or doing one thing, to the expense of other items on your list. It’s the same with out life. All of this teaches us about the finiteness of time and the necessity of spending your time and walking through your life wisely. We need to be reminded that we are truly not in control of time and ‘happenstance’ and cherish that vulnerability.