Four years ago–pretty much to the day (I think) one of my best friends Annie found me crying on my Vespa in my dorm room parking lot.
I had just found out that the study abroad program to Thailand–the place I had been dreaming of going for years–was full. And I couldn’t go.
And that day the coordinator lady said “well you could go to Malaysia”. And after I google searched where the hell Malaysia was in the world…
I said “okay”
I don’t know how I feel about fate exactly. I don’t love the idea that my future is already mapped out and that I’m not in control. But I would be lying if I didn’t have this sort of “things happen for a reason” mentality.
Today, I got on a bus from Kuala Lumpur and rode the hour north with my friend Fabbian to the small Malaysian town of Tanjung Malim.
As I got off the bus Fabbian showed me TM’s new street art walkway (very Georgetown-esque) and I went to Hitz cafe where the owner Jolene recognized me immediately and remembered my old favorite dish: cheese-baked veggie rice. (Couldn’t bring myself to break the “vegan” news to her).
And I caught up with my friend Gemma who was working there now. And then I walked back to the campus where I had spent so many hours waiting for buses, riding buses, working on audio projects, learning Malay musical instruments, and-let’s face it-spending way more time on my travel/social life than school.
I took the bus back to KAB. The place where I had passed countless hours sitting in the gazebo area reading book after book on my kindle. (Yeah, schoolwork wasn’t really that heavy)
I can safely say that without the friends and the crew I had made it felt sort of ghostly and empty. I knew if I knocked on the door Kara wouldn’t be there. Lenny wouldn’t be there. Joske and Therese wouldn’t be in my room if I went to check it out.
And nastolgia is definitely a good word to describe the feeling of being back at UPSI over 3 years since I had left.
But the real thing I felt was gratitude.
I had so much gratitude for all that this place had brought me. All the Malaysia had meant to me. The independence and confidence and curiosity that grew in this tiny Malaysian town. The love that I had for all these people from so many places. And the love I felt.
And I said goodbye to Fabbian. Said goodbye to Tanjung Malim. And boarded the very familiar bus back to Kuala Lumpur.
And I remembered the day four years prior when I was crying because I felt like everything was going wrong.
In literary epics, usually the hero returns home at the end of his journey–and usually this serves to emphasize the transformation that has occurred.
And as I left Tanjung Malim I couldn’t help but feeling that this was sort of my “Return”. And I found myself putting these last four years into that context. And remembering what Tanjung Malim started in my life.
I almost didn’t go to Malaysia. I almost got in the car with Ellen and started the Camino at a different place. I almost went to teach in Italy. I might have gotten into the Thailand study abroad program and never gone to teach for this year and never met the people I met, never lived in Phrae, never loved some seriously amazing kids.
And so being here I can see just how much I’ve changed over the course of this hero’s journey. (I mean obviously I don’t think of myself as a “hero”–this is merely literary-based speculation).
And all I can think is thank god.
Thank god for all the people I’ve met. Thank god for all the people I’ve loved. Thank god for all these places I’ve been. Thank god for these strangers who treated me like family. Thank god for my actual family. Thank god for all the frustrations and confusion. Thank god for all the nights I cried, all the people I’ve had to say goodbye to, and all the times when I didn’t get what I wanted.
And thank god that I said “okay”.
And maybe it’s not fate. But all I can say is that if it’s not…then I got really, really lucky.