I believe in my ability to thrive. The train ride to the Orkney Islands was a terrific ten hour
venture from the Scottish lowlands. I sat with nothing but a 20 pound note in my pocket. Well, that and a bunch of traveller’s cheques deemed worthless by the recent loss of my passport. No passport also meant no identification outside of myself except for my presence on the train car. The hours spent on the train only served to remind me that I was thousands of miles and an ocean away from my home.
Orkney was green, but entirely unfamiliar. There were no Appalachian Mountains to protect me from the starkness of my isolation. I came to Orkney stripped of the items I used to identify myself with and insecure in the notion of who I was as a person. If I thought the trip would provide a distraction from my troubles, I arrived misled. The bareness of the land forced me to determine whether I liked the person I was becoming.
It was standing on the edge of the Orcadian coast, with nothing between the North Pole and my feet but the Norwegian Sea, that I had my greatest personal discovery. Life could leave me completely alone. I could fail at everything I attempted; but, I would still have myself: my mind and my spirit. No matter what kind of discouragement was thrown at me I could not only overcome it, I could thrive. Being content without moving towards some new accomplishment was foreign to my busybody self. This was the first time I had given myself permission simply to be me.
On my last day in Orkney I walked into a local bakery. The owner was a woman in her 70s who anxiously took in my crumpled wind blown face to mean “outsider.” We chatted about Pennsylvania, the weather, our families, and our life pursuits. But more than the memory of her savoury desserts or even the beautiful inflection of her dialect, I remember her final goodbye. “You’ll be back to Orkney, now, won’t you?” I smiled, thinking about how financially difficult it was to go once. “Well, you need to come visit me in Pennsylvania first,” was my reply. “No, no… I don’t think I’ll ever get to America. But you’ll be back here. Orkney’s changed you and you’ll always want to return to remember what that felt like.”
I’ve often thought about that brief exchange and how visible the changes to my inner-self were witnessed in my outer. Now that I’m back in the United States at a school 2,000 miles from one home and 6,228 miles from another, I wonder if those changes are still visible. Amidst the nights when my human nature overtakes me, and I get caught up in lost keys, drooping bank accounts, and failed assignments I think back to Orkney. I remember the rocky coast, the stripping wind, and the feeling that Emily, without any conditioning required, is thriving.
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