World Hum recently ran a beautiful piece by Jeffrey Tayler that examines a bittersweet, often-overlooked side of travel–the roads not taken and the loves left behind. For me, it evoked the transiency inherent in human relationships; a transiency that is felt more acutely for us vagabond sorts.
The natural cycle of friendship unfolds faster for the wanderlust-prone. Intimacy and separations can occur suddenly, and those bonds that form so quickly on the road are often severed with equally jarring swiftness. Itineraries change. Alliances form and shatter. People dance in and out of your life. You share moments or weeks or months with someone, only to move on to a different city, country or decade; the relationships left behind gradually fading in the corner of your memory like postcards you forgot to send.
Over time, those people who played central roles, however briefly, in your daily life recede from your thoughts, occasionally reappearing as flickers of landscapes left behind. Friendships cultivated during my own trips abroad in my teens and early twenties will surface in an abbreviated jumble of sensations: A languid summer meal with Isabelle V. at Sormani in Paris, a dim train compartment en route to Calais with Ineke S., the sound of Marc G.’s buoyant tread on the staircase in a weathered Swiss chalet, the coconut-honey smell of Joey L.’s sunscreen as we lounge on a pebble-clotted Hydra shoreline.
Time and distance can erode even the closest of friendships. Too often we take for granted the essential role proximity plays in maintaining ties. The most earnest intentions to remain in contact can be derailed by the weight of the present, by new adventures, but mostly by the reality of no longer being in one another’s daily orbit. Looking back on his first trip overseas, Tayler acknowledges these eventualities.
“I’d kept in touch with a few of these friends, but not for long. Their time in my life came and went, but their memory, passing before my mind’s eye in quiet moments, still burns softly on, ever on the brink of dying out…Their hair would be gray, maybe some would have grown happily paunchy, others turned alcoholic or gone mad with despair.
Would I like to see them again? I suppose, yes, for curiosity’s sake. But I won’t make the effort. We met, shared vignettes, and parted opportunely. Pursuing them now would violate implicit leges vitae: accept time’s gifts, and later, do not intrude. Live in the present. Savor friendships. And, at the right time, let go.”