Sunday, June 17, 2012

Footprints

Last time I checked in with you guys, I had 1 more Korea Photo Dump for you. It's strange how easily promises like that can be broken, isn't it? I'm sure I'll get back to delivering you some good photo content eventually... for now, though, I'll be back to my sporadic-posting ways. I promise I have a good excuse this time, as I did just get an awesome job opportunity to work in video production and ELT content creation. It's going to take a lot of my free time for the foreseeable future, so bear with me. For now, enjoy some good ol' fashioned 'life-affirming' written content. You know...the stuff that I liked to write in High School that helped shape me into what I am today. Yea. We're getting to my roots on this one.


I've been in a strange position for the past month or so. For the most part, I like to live a very fast-paced life. I always thought that it was because it was "what you were supposed to do when you're young."I take advice from my elders very seriously, and everyone that I look up to in my life has told me that experiencing adventures like the one found in this blog is the right move for a 20-something year old. I got my degree. I have my wits. I support myself and am fairly self-sufficient. On paper, it seems like things are turning out how they are suppose to. That gave me drive and ambition, and it propelled me into this run-and-gun lifestyle I've grown accustom to. I've made this kind of life work for me, and I do love it.

What I didn't anticipate when I began going on these adventures was how much of my identity would be intertwined into being a 'traveler'. Let me tell you now, it's an awesome feeling knowing that people read this blog and talk about it with their friends. I've had old friends...ones I haven't seen or spoken to in years...come up to me and tell me how cool it was to follow my life in such detail. I mean, that's why I started this blog in the first place: to let my friends know how I was doing.

Over time, however, I realized that I was no longer just "Ryan Abella", but "Ryan Abella: the world-traveler." They both go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. And, when I flew back to the USA a month ago, I went through a major identity crisis.



It all stemmed from the fact that I had nothing to worry about in my life anymore. My career was branching off in directions where, no matter what I did, I would have a fall back plan that I valued as much as my 'dream job.' My debts were paid. I am healthy, and I had my family. Without anything over my head, I freed a lot of my thinking up to focus on who I was and what it meant to be "Ryan."

I took up to sitting on my front porch...alot. I would listen to the birds chirping or watch the sun set when I could. Sometimes I would read. Other days, I would call up an old friend and catch up. I seemed to have all the time in the world. I had to take a step back and realize that all that time was dangerous.

That identity crisis was looming, and it was an ugly self-degrading beast. It didn't take long to strip away that adventurous spirit of mine, leaving me a naked version of the man I've tried to become in the last 4-6 years.

Without travel I felt empty. I didn't know what made me...well, me! Who was I? What made me special? Was I really just a normal guy, masquerading as this interesting version of myself to ease those insecurities that comes with a creative mind? Was I even that truly creative to begin with...or was I just kidding myself?

Suddenly, with all the free time on my hands and the lack of distractions in my life, my mind began questioning and re-evaluating everything. Even though I'm only 23, I felt like time was slipping from me. Life was speeding up, faster and faster. I feared going to sleep and waking up, realizing I was 80 and alone, and facing that fate we all share without all the people I love because I was too busy thinking about myself. I didn't start a family. I didn't achieve greatness in my career. All in all, the final chapter of Adventures of the Orange Sweater would end with me going out with a whimper...with nothing to show for it all but some written words on the internet and a handful of pictures.

That's dangerous thinking, my friends. And, if I were an introverted individual, I'm sure that I would find myself mentally stuck in a place I didn't want to be.

Fortunately for me, when I am faced with emotional hurdles like this, I reach out. I make a point to talk with friends and family even more. Those conversations matter, and they are the conversations I've been missing when I've been too busy traveling and living abroad.

I started talking to my family about the people that have passed away in the past couple years. Before New Zealand, I didn't really know death in my life. I had been fortunate with having loving grandparents all around. My family was fairly healthy. But, as we all get older together, we have to start saying goodbyes that we just aren't ready for. I had to say goodbye to 3 grandparents in 3 years and, for 2 of them, I wasn't there for the family. It wasn't by choice. I was studying abroad at one point and teaching in Korea for another. Of course I came back for the services and to say my goodbyes...even if they were a bit late. But I never got a proper moment to mourn or to reminisce in the life that they lived.

Honestly, it took years for me to feel the force of losing them. I would tear up thinking about them and randomly elect to stay inside on a weekend just to let it out. I never got to mourn them the way that I should. Those days abroad were some of the worst in my life...sometimes even worse than the day I learned that they passed away. I was alone, and I felt like nobody would comfort a grown man crying over a grandma he lost nearly 3 years ago.

But when I am home...those precious months where I get to talk to my family on a daily basis...talking about my grandparents and who they were somehow finds its way into our conversations. The memories we shared were always about who then were, not what they did. They all did great things in their lives. If I live half the life my grandparents lived, I would consider myself lucky.

But we always talked about who they were...their nuances, their jokes and faces, their habits. When I talked about them like that, they suddenly became alive again. I could hear my Grandfather or smell my Grandmother again. They were more than just memories. They left a deep impact on my life and, as long as I remember who they were and try to live a life they would be proud of, they would never die. I honestly think that is the true path towards immortality: family. And, as time goes on and generations pass, their names might fade with the years. But they are a link on this long chain of people that allowed someone like me to exist.

My identity crisis felt the weight of that responsibility and was vanquished by their vivid memories. I am Ryan Abella: a product of all the people that came before me. They each made an impact on my life not by their actions, but through who they were and the love they instilled upon me. That makes me special, and that identity cannot be stripped away from me.

My adventures are important to me. It isn't what I do that makes me who I am, however. It's how those experiences and the people I meet along the way impact me, and how I impact them, that really makes me special. I'm a lucky guy to do what I've done, but blessed to have done it and share it with some of the most amazing people in the world. Who I am is completely dependent on the impact I have made in their lives.

I told you that I liked to sit on my porch these days. I think clearly there. It's relaxing. No wonder Grandpas and Grandmas like to sit and watch as the world goes by. There's something spiritual about it. One of my favorite pastimes on our porch is watching my niece and nephew play in the yard. They are funny kids with amazing personalities to boot. My niece talks a lot these days, and I love to ask her questions. She's pretty smart for her age.

I asked her one day, while playing with the hose and spraying down the driveway, "Hayden? What should I do with my life?" In her dainty, girly way, she takes one of her feet and places it in the water. She scurries over to a dry piece of the driveway, steps down, looks me straight in the eye and, with all the certainty in the world, tells me one word: footprints.

Yep. Footprints. Best advice I've ever gotten.

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