Today started out as a typical day in Quincy, MA – my hometown, and also a comfortable landing pad for me to intermittently visit after months here and there. My loving family welcomes me home from my travels with open arms, yummy food, and a free bed to sleep in. I usually stay for a month or so, picking up odd jobs and reading travel memoirs and self-help books to keep me motivated. I also use this time to do a lot of errands. Today’s checklist included getting fitted for a new pair of glasses, something I’ve been “meaning to do” for a few years now. I have a crappy health insurance plan that pays for a very limited selection of frames; nothing like the ones that make people stop you on the street and proclaim “I love your glasses.” But since I’m sporadically (f)unemployed and try to save where I can, I went to one store that accepts my insurance and thumbed through the two dusty trays containing the less-than-ideal frames. I briefly considered a pair of fun blue frames, but quickly decided that they weren’t for me. Knowing that the next place would have same two trays, I went anyway thinking that just maybe I would get lucky and find something the first place didn’t have. Little did I know the inspiration I would find in Dorothy, the sweet, attentive, post-retirement-aged Pearle Vision employee who smiled brightly as I walked through the door and sat at her desk. But more on Dorothy later.
You see, I’m recently home from a summer working at my favorite job with an incredible group of inspirational teachers and international high school students at a semi-academic, semi-campesque program. Just before that, I’d returned home from 4 months of backpacking through Southeast Asia. In an attempt to settle down and live a normal life, I had planned to start a grad program when I returned from my last trip. Alas, my travels once again reminded me that I’m not interested in that lifestyle, and I promptly deferred my program’s start date so I can continue my love affair with new places, people, and experiences. Since I usually come home between my epic adventures for some down time and money saving, that typically means I spend a lot of time wondering what’s going to come next for me, and worrying that I might never be satisfied with staying in one place. And it’s not often that I find people in my hometown that understand my wanderlust or my motivations to follow it.
Which brings us back to Dorothy. She immediately reminded me of my grandmother, and I patiently listened to her gush about the frames that were available to me (thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah, I know exactly what’s in those two lousy trays”). I tried on the same pairs I had 30 minutes before at the other place, and graciously accepted her compliments about this shape and that color. I almost walked away from the same blue frames I had been considering in the first place when I suddenly heard myself ask Dorothy how long they would take to be done. She told me 3 weeks. I told her I was leaving 3 weeks from yesterday for a trip to Europe, and inquired if they could be done a smidge sooner. She politely replied that she couldn’t make any promises, but more excitedly asked where I’d be going. I casually mentioned the Camino de Santiago – the 500 mile stretch of trail across northern Spain (that I’ve walked part of before, always aspiring to walk from start to finish one of these days). That’s when I saw Dorothy’s eyes light up with excitement, and I found the most unexpected travel inspiration in all my years of seeking it out.
Over the next 30 minutes, I listened to Dorothy’s stories of gallivanting across Europe, tales from at least one trip every year. She told me of traveling with her daughters and granddaughters, and also of solo adventures like this summer when she cruised down a river from St. Petersburg to Moscow. She raved about the beautiful way Budapest lights up a night, a sight she couldn’t quite find the words to describe. She reminisced about the time she brought her family to Ireland to teach them about their family’s roots. She proudly narrated the time when two of her daughters followed many of her old travel trails on their own backpacking adventure the summer they graduated from college. Listening to her stories, I realized that she was exactly like me – a woman after my own heart. A kindred spirit in the most unexpected of places.
As I left the store, beaming and genuinely excited for the blue glasses that she convinced me were perfect, I reflected that you just never know where inspiration will strike. I’ve been procrastinating writing about the last few months, something that helps me process and reflect on how far I’ve come after traveling so far and what I’ve learned from people I’ve met along the way. Leaving that store, I felt a sudden urge to write about my chance meeting with Dorothy. She helped me remember what I already know deep down – that I never have to stop traveling as long as I still want to do it. She also reinforced something I’ve been trying to embody in the last few months – the importance of being open to new opportunities and ideas. They often come at the most unexpected times. Dorothy sparked something in me today that I am so grateful for, and I plan on telling her all about it when I go back in to pick up my glasses in a few weeks. Just not on Thursday, her beloved day off.