This is not my usual kind of blog post and really it’s more of a reminder to myself that the lessons I learned on the road are important. I should not forget them.
Doing nothing is good
My days would usually start with a frenzy of activity. There was breakfast to be made, my belongings to be put back in panniers, my tent to be dismantled, and my bike to be made ready for the road. I rarely rushed doing it, but it had to be done, occupying my mind and body for the first hour of the day. And then I was off, pedalling an inconsequential part of my travel. My legs knew what to do, freeing my eyes to take in the scenery, and my mind to wander where it would (which often was nowhere at all). A feature in the landscape would stop me or a bench in a village invite me to rest. So I would. Brakes on, bike leant on a wall or laid on the ground, I would stop and watch life go by for five minutes or an hour. I didn’t need to think, didn’t need to read, didn’t need to check my phone. I was allowed to just be there and take in the world.
It’s easy to forget this is okay. And I’m the first one guilty of it. I always have one more e-mail to reply to, one more book to read, one more blog to catch up with, and don’t I also need to go to the post office to send a parcel right now? No. I can stop and sit at my window to watch the garden stand still.
There are many hours in a day
If there was one thing I was rich with on my journey, it was time. I had no watch and my phone was buried deep in my pocket, an accessory to be taken out in case of emergency. Time didn’t matter. The days were long and mine to shape according to my stomach and fancies. I rarely had to be anywhere and there were no deadlines to reach. I could meander at will, knowing that the feature in the map that had made me turn left, would still be there the following day. I could sit on the grass and read for hours if I wished to. I felt like the master of my own time.
Back in employment, I let this lesson slip too often. I look at the pile of books by my opened laptop and despair. Where has time gone? Nowhere. It’s the same as it has always been, but I get carried away by the constant ticking of clocks on walls, phones, ovens, computers… I have time. It’s up to me to shape it according to my fancies.
A cup of coffee goes a long way
Cold and shivering from the rain and wind, I huddled closer to the tree in vain hope that its leaves would shelter me better closer to the trunk. Someone passed by and gestured for me to come out. We established quickly that our shared language skills were scarce but it’s okay the warmth in their eyes and their constant pointing at the café opposite the road were words enough. I followed them in, my muscles relaxing as the heat engulfed them. A chair was brought for me and a steaming cup of coffee followed soon afterwards. I would offer to pay but they would refuse, almost offended by my coins. Sometimes they would stay with me, sometimes not. Sometimes it was rain that made them buy me a cup of coffee, sometimes not. But always it was kindness for the stranger on the other side of the road and a need to let me know I was welcomed here.
I am not invited for a coffee any longer, my vulnerability eradicated by the simple fact that I blend in. But not everybody does. There are people who are alone and sometimes cold. It costs me nothing to bring them a warm cup of tea.
It’s important to make time for conversation
Complete strangers opened the doors of their home, sharing the sanctuary of their privacy with me. They cooked extravagantly, a feast they would have to pay with scarcity the following week. They showed me around their town, proud to reveal the gems to be found in their locality. And then I would leave, a sadness gripping my heart and theirs most of all. I knew I would meet more people further along the road but they would have to remain where they were. Lonely and deprived of human contact in a world where time is made to feel scarce, where busy is the golden word, and were strangers are to be avoided at all cost.
So I remind myself to talk. It’s quite cold today, isn’t it? The person turns their head incredulously and for a second we may be awkward, an unspoken rule has just been broken. But I’m smiling and yes it is rather cold but they’re saying it should warm up next week. And in the minutes that follow, we become humans again.