When David and I first concocted our plan of full-time travel, we were serious, but it was a bit of a fantasy, more than seven years away. It was a hobby, the planning and researching. It was something we did in our spare time, when not occupied with work, family, friends, and life. As the fateful day that we handed in our resignations approached, reality seeped in. My life’s work was ending. I had to walk into my boss, and good friend’s, office and quit. I had to tell the CEO, who was a great support to me, I was leaving. Most importantly, I had to say goodbye to my colleagues. I was leaving a life I spent more than 20 years building. I felt like I’d spent the last seven years standing at the end of a high diving board, dripping wet, toes curled over the edge, looking down nervously at the deep water far below.
I was a lifeguard through my teens and I’d seen many a kid take that first fateful leap off the high dive. There was always a combination of anxiety, fear and thrill as they climbed that long ladder and cautiously worked their way to the end of the long, cold, blue board. Most had cheering moms or jeering friends. It wasn’t a solitary activity. People watched and, let’s be honest, helped push them to make the leap. If no one was watching, it would be easy to crawl to the edge, gander down and decide, nope not today. But a crowd of onlookers made even the most terrified think twice about turning a heel and climbing down. Some still did, but most jumped. When I left my job, it felt like I climbed the ladder, walked very cautiously to the edge, stared down for six or seven years then turned back toward the ladder, walked the distance towards it, turned again and ran full speed off the end of the board, arms flailing, crashing into the water below. Leaving your job is absolute. It requires you to start life over, to reinvent. And we did. We moved to Portugal, bought furniture, traveled, and started to make friends. It was actually very hard, harder than I imagined, but every bit as thrilling and rewarding as that feeling of flying through the air the first time you’re brave enough to attempt the high dive.
We left our jobs on a Friday and were on our way the next Tuesday. We planned to go for a few months right away, come back to Denver for a few months, and then begin our official journey, first across the U.S. then tackle much of Europe over the next several years. Everything was going according to plan. You all know where I’m going with this. We got back to the U.S. at the end of January, 2020. The world fell apart mid-March, about two weeks prior to our scheduled departure date. At the time, it was hard to focus on anything other than the pragmatic: cancelling plane tickets and hotel reservations, figuring out a longer-term living situation in Colorado and just staying alive. That last part was the real focus initially. We’ve all been through this inexplicable experience together and we don’t need to explain it to each other, we all understand. There was so much unknown in the beginning. I have many friends that are front line healthcare workers. I’d stare at pictures texted to me of them donning protective equipment that looked like they were preparing for a Mars space walk and I’d worry about them. As I write this, we’ve all been living this for more than seven months and we’re told, the road to get back to normal is still a long one. The disease is less scary to me now, more is certainly known about it, but I think it’s more the fact that it’s impossible to stay scared of something that long. It’s amazing what time and circumstances will allow us to accept. How weird is it that it’s not weird that I walk around my neighborhood and everyone is wearing masks? When this is all over, will masks go away entirely? Will life go back to the way it was? I heard on the news this morning the Jefferson County official ended the snow day. On inclement weather days, they will just convert to remote learning. COVID just keeps on giving. I get asked, more frequently than I really understand to be honest, why I don’t just go. David and I are young, healthy, with no pre-existing conditions, aka very low risk. That question completely puzzles me. First of all, American citizens are not currently allowed in much of the world, including most of Europe. When I tell people that, they regard me suspiciously, but I assure you it’s true. Arriving in Europe with a U.S. passport would be like arriving with no passport, but that wouldn’t happen anyway because the airline wouldn’t let me on the plane, not that there are really any planes to get on.
A few weeks ago, David and I became official residents of Portugal (yay, yay, yay) so things did change for us a bit with that news. We can now technically fly to Portugal, once we certify a few million documents, but the flight must be direct. When we get there, we will not be able to leave because most borders within Europe remain closed. All those years with my toes curled over the edge of the diving board. When I looked down, I saw a whole new world of experiences. I saw new food, cultures, people, cities, towns, festivals, languages and traditions. In my mind, COVID sanitizes all of that. It forces us all into a white-washed sameness, anonymous clones, social distancing, hidden behind masks. So here I stand, once again, at the tip of the high dive, all my friends watching, cheering, encouraging me to take the leap. The difference is, I already did. Usually when I would sit on my lifeguard stand and watch a kid take that first plunge, I could guess what would happen next. There was the occasional crybaby, but almost all of them popped an exhilarated head above the waving water and paddled quickly to the wall. Almost all of them had to be told not to run back to the ladder to experience it again (because, of course, no running at the pool). Now, they’d climb confidently up the ladder, striding, arms pumping to the end of the board to begin a series of dives, cannonballs and can openers. They’d done it, they’d conquered it, now they were able to enjoy it. David and I already took the first nervous leap, we have no anxiety about it. Now, we want to enjoy it. So, when will we finally begin our life of travel? Well, unfortunately, that is not entirely in our control. But, when we do, we want to dive in full steam, take big cannonball leaps, make the biggest splashes we can. That is not to say we are waiting for things to be the way they were before COVID. That day may never come, but we, the world, will emerge from this. We will all poke our heads out, cautiously at first, then begin to reestablish normal lives. We will all be stronger and more appreciative of the experiences we’re afforded and the opportunity to connect with the world around us.
David and I are ready and waiting to take our joint swan dive off the board.