Traveling has its ups and downs and teaches us plenty, often when we least expect it, and especially when we think we are in control — much like in life.
As it happened, I found myself in a surprising and improbable classroom in Brighton, England. The lesson plan was on humility.
When I left Brooklyn last summer, I set out searching for something; only I wasn’t sure what. On intuition alone, I hit the road, feeling my way toward it — an ‘it’ I couldn’t name, yet somehow trusted was there. After all, isn’t adventure about being startled into awakening?
What I was hoping to find was an essence of truth, some meaning, something tangible to hold onto as I ambled along. The reason being, and like many, I felt a bit lost in my life.
At 38 years old, I’ve grieved the deaths of my parents, lost my career, my home, friends, and a sense of who I was. I felt feral, cast out into the wild.
My search has taken me to 5 countries and counting. So far, I’ve been to Canada, Scotland, The Netherlands, France, Ireland, and England, where I am now. I’ve encountered glittering moments of illumination, where everything seemed to make sense. Other times, I’ve felt staggered, peering over unimaginable edges of insecurity and doubt — edges that I fail to regret pitching myself over. After all, I came out here to learn, to expand.
Brighton was not on my go-to list of places to see, but I’d met a woman while I was in Liverpool previously, and she offered me a room for three weeks, two blocks from the seacoast, free of charge. However, after ten days, and with no warning, she asked me to leave. A situation which, in the short term, put me on the street with no money, and no plan until my next payday. I’d been in some tricky situations before, but this one knocked me in the knees.
With few options, I called a friend for help, and that afternoon, I moved into a hostel. For my remaining time in Brighton, I'd be sleeping in mixed, 16-bed dorm.
The hostel I moved into was a strange place — quarter homeless shelter, quarter long-term housing for drifters, and the remaining rooms are rented out per night for supposed travelers like myself. In truth, there wasn’t much difference between the other lodgers and me — we all needed somewhere safe to sleep at night. Still, I allowed a curious fear to erect a wall between us and I couldn’t explain why.
It didn’t help that the interior of the hostel was sad looking, dated. The wallpaper was sun-aged and peeling at the edges; its rose motif reminded me of my grandmother. Dalmatian spots of chewing gum, cigarette butts, and shadows of spilled liquids formed unique and somewhat beautiful constellations across the red carpet, and some of the Victorian windows were missing glass panes. On occasion, a gull stopped in for a visit.
I kept to myself by going for a long, seeming endless walks. I looked desperately online for other places to stay, texting and emailing friends for help. I couldn’t get out of my way long enough to reframe the situation into a moment of healing, expansion, and awakening. It was impossible for me to reduce the space between my expectations and what was.
One afternoon, while walking along the seafront, I realized that my search was futile. Eleven months on the road and there it was — there was nothing to uncover. It doesn't exist.
It is a strange experience when a moment fuses together into a single thread of coherence, the seeming crescendo of an entire life's work. Only then, I wasn’t sure where to go. I didn’t have to search anymore, but now what?
At first, I stopped mid-stride, saddened. Looking out across the sea where it spilled beyond the horizon, I felt defeated, disappointed, and curiously abandoned. I let out an involuntary cry, a wave of sound joining the laughing gulls, the thundering waves, the surf as it tumbled fist-sized stones.
As I stood there, the voice of an old friend echoed in my ear. His name was Kevin, and he knew at a young age that it wasn't the destination in life that mattered but the journey.
In fact, how Kevin understood life was far more profound than knowing; his philosophy was more akin to trust — a trust that was vast and deep and so foreign to me that I thought it was so damn beautiful.
We met during our freshman year of college. At the time, the very notion of active presence was a revelation to me. Still, I resisted. I thought life demanded achievements to assert its virtue; I had no other bar to measure my moral worth. It was this same line of thinking that was anchoring my journey, and that came apart that afternoon on the seafront.
I knelt down and turned over a rock. Then, I turned over a few more, unsure of what I was looking for or what I would find, knowing it didn’t matter. I closed my eyes, listening, feeling, thanking everything and nothing at once. I felt at peace.
The following morning, I joined the other lodgers for breakfast, and everything felt different, my shoulder’s softened. And afterward, instead of getting up to leave, I stuck around, introducing myself.
We were all there for different reasons. For some, it was because change came like a comet — the end of a relationship, the loss of one’s job. For others, they were only passing through, either for fun or like myself, a spare moment of down luck.
Though, the real moment of learning came when I realized that the fear I was feeling had little to do with the other lodgers or the hostel. In fact, what it had to do with was the fear I attached to accepting my life for what it was. But the moment I did, I was free. The it I was searching could only come from within myself.
Kevin passed away thirteen years ago, but his words came to me like a beacon, a headlight, the north star. A reminder that any day you are alive is a magnificent one, and if we allow it, grace will return us home.
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, educator, and seeker — seeker of truth and beauty. Her work aims to assign a meaningful, accessible, and loving language to themes of loss, trauma, and heartache. You can follow her on Instagram or contact her via her website.
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