The essence of travel for me is disorientation. I may not actually be lost, but I often feel like it. Not so much lost in a place, as lost because I am without the familiar. When this happens I come to a better understanding of myself. It as though truths that have been hidden from me for years suddenly appear at the most incongruous moments. And so it was in Nagykanizsa, a small, elegant city in southwestern Hungary. My first night there, while staying at a cozy and quaint panzio, I suddenly awoke sometime after midnight. While fumbling around in the darkness trying to find the bathroom it hit me that I was as close to the age of sixty as I was thirty. Being forty-five years old had never meant anything to me until this very moment. It was disturbing and surreal. For a moment I was seized by an incomprehensible fear, I wondered if I had lost my mind.
Tension crawled up my legs, my calf muscles tightened. I attempted to collect my senses enough to try and remember my name. Anytime I think I am losing it, I fall back on recalling my name and address, that bit of mundane normality reminds me of who I am or at least who I am supposed to be. This habit of reciting familiar information becomes a temporary cure for a lapse of sanity. What was happening to me? Fortunately I retained enough self-awareness to make my way back to bed. I lay there wondering and worrying what was going on, then I improbably fell back into a deep sleep. The next morning when I awoke, the realization was still there. I am forty-five years old and at least half my life, maybe much more, is over. It was a humbling thought. I have spent many hours since then puzzling over why I had suddenly realized such an obvious truth about myself. This was not a moment of midlife crisis, more like a midnight crisis.
Reaching Farther Than I Ever Have Before
The realization of my age in the wee hours of the morning was worth pondering. What had brought such a sudden awareness about? In a word, travel. Over the past ten days I had slept in five different places. At a certain point I lost track of where I had been and where I was going. I was left in a sort of perpetual present set in a foreign locale that was something of a stranger to me. By the time I arrived in Nagykanizsa, a place I had never visited before, the side effects from fifteen hours of flying, five hours of train travel and another twenty hours spent driving a car had my senses spiraling. The trip had become one of fluidity, constant movement. Thousands of kilometers traveled through the air, followed by hundreds of kilometers by rail and road. In retrospect, I now believe that I may have been trying to run not so much away from something as toward “it”. Whatever “it” was finally greeted me in the all-consuming darkness of a room five thousand kilometers from home.
The reckoning happened strangely enough in Nagykanizsa. Here was a place that meant little more than anonymity to me. I was anonymous, the city was anonymous and everything about it was new or unfamiliar in comparison to where I came from. In a faraway land while trying to fend off disquieting fears, I ended up finding the only thing familiar, myself. This is something from which I will never escape.
What did this realization of middle age, a surprise confrontation with my own mortality actually mean? Most obviously, that I was running out of time. I have been running out of time since the day I was born, but now I could feel it. It was strange to find such an illuminating truth about one’s own life while wandering around in darkness, but I discovered it nonetheless. At first I found this truth frightening because my life is getting shorter and shorter. Later, upon further reflection, I found it inspiring. Ironically, what happened just might provide me with enough motivation to push on further and do everything I can before it is too late. What did Nagykanizsa have to do with this? On one level nothing much. My self-realization probably had more to do with disorientation – the darkness and being half awake – rather than a particular place. Yet on another level, traveling to Nagykanizsa acted as a signpost pointing toward the future.
Losing My Way Forward – On The Other Side Of Midnight
Over the past five years I have found myself increasingly traveling to places in Europe that I never even knew existed. Instead of the usual European travel hotspots of Amsterdam, Florence, Rome, the south of France and Barcelona, I find myself in places like Przemysl and Presov, Keszthely and Kosice, Nyirbator and Nagykanizsa, always looking to satisfy my curiosity for the obscure in these locations that no sane tourist would decide to spend part of their vacation. I have no idea why I seek such places out, but one answer may be a subconscious desire to discover something about myself. This journey into the obscure, the impenetrable, the foreign, the unknown, I find comforting.
When I am standing in a place where I cannot understand a word anyone is saying around me I feel content. When I am lost and cannot ask for directions I love the challenge of finding my way. When I wake up well after midnight in Nagykanizsa and for no apparent reason suddenly become aware of time running out on my life, I want to travel farther than I ever have before. I came to Nagykanizsa because I had never been there. Then in the dead of night that dislocation took me to yet another place I had never been, a place that took me forty-five years to find and a few seconds to suddenly realize. What comes next, but the unknown? How far can I go before I finally run out of life? How far can I go before I finally run right into life? The answer lies somewhere in and beyond that darkness of Nagykanizsa.