Starting from the day I stepped foot into Lyon School Elementary, teachers and peers recognized me as a unique individual. This was no surprise, considering they had just about every reason to. What other girl besides me would spend her recess participating in an intense game of football with the boys, rather than drawing pictures and playing house? Or had a notebook filled with philosophical ideas instead of the customary pages packed with original fairytales?
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that I was different, but growing up, this wasn’t necessarily problematic at all. In fact, it seemed to be highly encouraged. The world was in search of discoveries that were sparked from outrageous wonders of young kids’ imaginations. Where would the world be without Thomas Edison’s crazy concept of a light heated by an electric current, or early astronomers contemplations of a world beyond the familiar? The authority would never dare to get in the way of that, so as a result accepted my peculiar way of being. My mind could not reach even close to the dimensions of Einstein or Edison’s but us three did share a commonality in that we were a rare existence, essentially one of a kind in this world, and knew for a fact that our series of thoughts were incomparable to anyone else’s.
It’s a bittersweet world that I had created for myself. Without setting any limits, I’d experience a state of being absorbed in my fascinating surroundings, but in turn would appear as part of a completely alternate realm of existence to everyone around me. It became nearly impossible for me to relate to the typical classmate, and in turn got increasingly less likely that they would be able to relate to me.
My attitudes with regard to my trouble forming social connections were influenced by these early experiences. Although I’ve grown close to many classmates over the years, there was never really anyone who I could see myself being lifelong friends with. For this reason, the clichés supporting everlasting friendships and togetherness were ones I had automatically rejected as being applicable to me. When reflecting on significant parts of my life, I prioritized the value of my experiences over the actual people who had played a role in them. There was a part of me, though, that still wondered if it was possible to form a friendship that would last for a lifetime. For that reason, I was drawn to the idea of spending two weeks on the other side of the world with people who I hadn’t met before. There was a sense of hope that grew within me when I booked my trip with Rustic Pathways Australia, a student travel program comprised of various kids from across the country, as I was optimistic that perhaps I could finally find the peers who would make this cliché a reality.
Anticipating the departure, I expected that this experience would be far different from anything at home, simply because I would be put with a collection of peers who shared the same interests and values as me. This was true. We were all likeminded in the sense that we were open to new experiences and went on this trip in a pursuit of expanding our perspectives. Within a few short days of meeting, we felt like we had known each other for our entire lives. We all approached the trip with a desire to get to know each other and appreciate the insights that each of us had to offer. We ended up connecting on an incredibly deep level. Among the eight were Ellery from Vermont: an energetic, inspiring, nonconformist and Riley from New York, a banged up city boy who offered truly beautiful philosophical ideas he had derived from some rough experiences growing up.
We joined each other in some of the most exhilarating activities known to man. Whether it was being strapped together tandem bungy jumping off an 150 foot platform, riding up in a plane where we would jump from 14,000 feet, or gripping onto one another in an effort to survive a level five white water rafting trip, we were together through it all. We developed a connection of strength beyond description. Reflecting on my trip, I found that the most momentous aspect was not the activities I had taken part in, but rather my mates themselves who were by my side. For the first time, the cliché now seemed real to me. Maybe I’ve found those who I’ve been more or less patiently waiting for. It occurred to me that these new travel buddies had the potential to stay with me through the rest of my existence, joining me in future dangers that my real life journey had to offer.
When the trip was nearing its end, it was difficult accepting the fact that I’d be returning to my habitual peers. Saying goodbye to my travel companions would be tough. We spent time throughout the trip emphasizing to one another how important it would be to stay in touch, so that we could plan some type of reunion. Naturally, we all believed it would actually happen. We shared this idea that the reason relationships back home would build and break was because they just weren’t with the right people. Now that we’ve found those who were, the relationships we had formed in the past few weeks would stay strong for the rest of our lives. Could this uplifting premise actually be realistic?
The moment that my travel companions walked away to catch their separate flights, a profound truth became evident to me. All at once, I realized that not only were these people walking away down the hallway, they were also walking out of my life just as easily as they had walked in. All of the sudden, I found myself trying as hard as possible to take a final mental snapshot of them, fully believing that this was my last chance to see them again. This distinct mental picture taken on that day has stayed locked in my memory ever since. The image of the specific airport security member, Starbucks employee handing the customer his coffee, and most importantly those radiant smiles resting on the faces of my friends still remain ever so clear to me.
The second I was done composing the memory, this sudden realization sparked. Their existence in my life was merely temporary, still significant, but not lasting. They all had lives to get back home to, and so did I. Weeks after we had all arrived back home, everyone had stayed in touch. The discussions about visiting one another never stopped, but my genuine faith that it would actually happen was no longer present. Even though we came together intensely for a period of our lives, we are constantly moving on our individual trajectories that real human connection doesn’t even has the power to stop. Just as those who are not meant to stay with us for life come and go naturally, even those who are worthy of being life long friends do the same.
Each step of our journey is meant to be experienced alone, in order to build a sense of strength, and develop self-knowledge. Along the way, it’s great to form a connection with others, but at the same time it’s important to understand that these connections built are merely temporary. Others are there to make a permanent impact on the significant moments that life brings, not to be taken away with them.