Excerpt from The Mystical Backpacker

by  Hannah Papp

It was exhilarating to leave behind all that had held me back. My job. My apartment. The brooding Hungarian man I’d been seeing. All evaporated behind my forward motion, dispelling like early-morning fog in the first rays of dawn. No shadows to haunt me. No regrets to raise questions in me. I felt as though I’d been freed. The days ahead were fully my own, and the prospect of filling them with joy, rest, and discovery was exciting. I felt as though I had created a situation within which more was possible for me than ever had been before. I wondered if I would meet kindred spirits or perhaps even my soul mate? Would the perfect job land in my lap? Would a new locale woo me into the future I saw myself in? For I definitely had a vision; in it, I was in a small room at the top of a building. I had a small wooden writing table pulled up to a breathtaking view. The sun was streaming in, and I was content.

Knowing I was about to leave everything behind, I felt the worries of my daily life had been swept away. I didn’t have to get up and force myself to go to a job that didn’t fulfill me. I could walk away from situations and people that were weighing me down and choose to be around those who lifted my spirits up. This was the first time in my life that I wasn’t putting other people’s wants or needs above my own. For the first time, every choice could be mine. Every direction could be the one in which I was pulled by my own needs. I was totally free!

Truth be told, such utter freedom was a bit unnerving. It didn’t feel entirely safe without those checkpoints. When you live alone, it’s nice to know your place of work will wonder where you are if you don’t show up or your friend will start calling everyone if you aren’t at the place where you were supposed to meet. I had never spent days upon days, as I was about to, without regular interaction with people I could depend upon to cause some sort of ruckus if I disappeared. Not that I was worried about disappearing: I wasn’t. It was just that in doing something for the first time all by myself, I felt a bit like I was walking a tightrope without a safety net. My senses were heightened. I became aware of footsteps behind me on the sidewalk in a way I had never before. In cafés, I could feel when someone was watching me and would look up from my journal to find I was right. I had gone from moving through the motions of my days like an automaton to becoming hyperaware of the present moment. This was new and thrilling.

So, where was I going where I’d be so far from everyone else? Initially, my only desire was to experience places and things I had only imagined experiencing. I wanted to see the Pantheon—would it really amaze me? I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel—was God’s finger as big as me, or more the size of my arm? Would Davidbe as perfect in person as it was in my textbook’s photos? Would Botticelli’s Venus, Monet’s water lilies, Renoir’s pastel dancers pulse with a thousand colors and brushstrokes? I wanted to see the Colosseum in Rome, the Santa Croce in Florence, the Art Nouveau Metro stops in Paris. I wanted to touch Stonehenge (not realizing at the time that you can’t anymore) and to sit in the reconstructed Globe Theatre and imagine myself to be in Shakespeare’s time. I wanted to see Gaudi’s undulating Casa Mila and the odd wet-sand-castle cathedral of Sagrada Família in Barcelona. My studies had incited my imagination, and I craved knowing the Real Thing: thecanvas, theline of thesculpture; to feel the stone of the buildings throb in cold pulses beneath my hands, to breathe the holy air of timeless art and space. More than anything, I wanted to stop doing the endless work I felt I had to do in order to “get ahead.” I wanted to actually experience the life’s work of brave and inspired people who created the world they imagined.

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