Tonight we had a houseful for dinner. More people than plates or chairs. Luckily somebody had put some plates out on the street, free to a good home. Arthur ran out to scoop them up, while I loaded up the table with food. And afterwards we played games.
We both independently thought back to the last time we had so many bodies round our dinner table. It would have been the last supper, or perhaps lunch, in our old home above an Indian restaurant in Ulverston. We had a lot of happy meals in that flat.
It’s a joy that we’re building up enough of a community to do this again. It makes me happy to bring people together. It also makes us realise more keenly what we walked away from.
Friends matter. They’re almost the only thing that really does. And while we made a couple of real friends travelling, most of the time we just brushed past other people along the way. A couple of beers together, a shared bus ride. Maybe even a day or two of travel. And then saying goodbye. No depth.
I got so fed up of saying goodbye, that at some point along the way I began to withdraw. I was unwilling to start another fleeting conversation, unenthusiastic about getting to know another person just a little. Bored of never getting beyond the surface. I think this was a big contributing factor to my ailing mental health towards the end of our travels. It wasn’t great for Arthur and I either. Being each other’s everything and only 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is hard.
It can be lonely on the road.
I think we have a view of travel as a really sociable thing to do. Getting out and meeting new people, making new friends. But is it really sociable? Is making small talk, exchanging travel tips, maybe drinking a beer together, and then never speaking again, sociable? It began to feel anti-social to me. Empty and pointless. Alienating.
It’s hard to build any kind of attachment when you’re moving every few days. As soon as some kind of bond starts to form, you break away from it. You break it.
I’m so grateful for how much we experienced on the road. I don’t want to devalue that. But it’s lonely out there on your own. Even, or perhaps especially, if you’re on your own together.
In some ways I’m even more grateful to be staying still, weaving our lives into others’ again.
The image for this post is from a temple festival we stumbled into in Pekan, Malaysia, where we didn’t feel lonely at all, but very welcomed. Sharing food together with friends, old or new, is so important to me. This meal in Pekan is one of my favourite memories from our trip.