For When It’s Too Late to Turn Back.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetIn May 2007 I found myself climbing the side of a mountain in Northern Ireland without being entirely sure how I got there.

I had joined a missions team at my evangelical university, and we planned to spend two weeks ministering to local youth in Dundrum, a little bayside town of Northern Ireland. The climbing-a-mountain thing was one of those spontaneous group activities that seemed like a fantastic idea until I was actually doing it. The mountain peak didn’t seem so, well, vertical, when I was admiring it from sea-level.

But suddenly there I was, fingers gripping rock with every last ounce of strength I had. I didn’t know if I could make it to the top without killing myself. I didn’t know if I could make it back down without killing myself. I had to decide which would be the more honorable death.

I usually tend to dwell on that euphoric moment when I reached the peak of Mount Donner with pride, but today I reflect on the in-between moment, when I was clinging to the side of the mountain and had a singular thought running through my head as I looked back down the steep incline of how far I had come:

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

In September 2008 I found myself embarking on a semester abroad alone. I was sitting on a flight I had just boarded by myself after tearfully saying goodbye to my fiance for the next three months. I had been anticipating this experience since high school, had been planning and saving for this particular trip for more than a year.

To this day, I still say that it was the best decision I ever made for myself, choosing to study abroad. It widened my worldview by thousands of miles and it helped me grow in a million important ways. My memories of that time are still so vivid – – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the memory of good meals and remarkable moments.

But I also remember that in-between moment, after I left and before I arrived, when the wheels went up and Chicago shrank to a spec outside my airplane window and I was all by myself. All of the anticipation I felt, all of my bravery and courage and motivation, felt like it had been sucked out of the plane. I could hardly breathe.

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

There is this hard, messy part of every adventure that no one wants to talk about.

The part where you realize that you are very far away from home, and you’re really on your own. The part where your expectations meet reality. The part where it gets frustrating and expensive. The part where the plans you make collapse into one another like a stack of dominoes. The part where you have to tell yourself, “it’s too late to turn back now.” The part where you say a few swears because you’re scared.

I don’t think this feeling can accurately be called regret.

I don’t regret moving to Nashville.

Just like I didn’t regret climbing that mountain in Northern Ireland.

Just like I didn’t regret boarding that plane to Europe.

What I’m feeling is anxiety, and I know that this anxiety I feel doesn’t mean that I made the wrong decision. I don’t necessarily want to be in the position I am now, broke and struggling to make things work, but I also don’t want to be anywhere else. I just want to move forward. I’m under no illusions that I would be any happier or more fulfilled if we had stayed in our rundown, overpriced, single-bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs.

In fact, I knew that it was entirely possible that there would come a point about six weeks into our new life here when money would get tight and plans might be out of sync and I might miss my support system back home. If you’re at all like me, you spend a lot of time trying to prepare yourself for every conceivable consequence before embarking on adventure, but in the end it doesn’t save you. The inevitable moment will still arrive when expectation meets reality and you have to keep going, no matter what. Even if you do feel like a chicken-shit.

And just like all the adventures before this one, there will come a day when I remember this with season with gratitude, pride, and fulfillment. And maybe even a little compassion for whatever in-between moment I find myself in then, too.

Paris : A Recollection.

In a quiet moment at the Musée D’Orsay, I sit on a bench and watch a painter make his peace with a replica of Latour’s La Nuit. In strokes he layers pastels over the soft concave and convex curves of her body, wraps her in a cloud of lavender and gray.
Patrons tread quietly on marble tiles, stand arrested by the colors of Cézanne, Degas, Delacroix, Klimt. They peer out the second story windows at a brilliant sky. By my eyes, the clouds are different here than anywhere else in the world, brilliant white cotton and silk spun mountainous over sacred monuments. And the sun shines bright across twinned balconies, long bedroom windows, blue rooftop after blue rooftop.
By no surprise I am in love here, and with here. I am unsure if it is the expected or unexpected that raptures me, the idea or the tangibility. As with art and life, romance and relationships, idealism and realism beg conversation.

So it is with memory – was I really there? I’m glad I wrote it down.

[Best friend returns from Paris tomorrow. Oh how I wish I could go back.]

Travel Memories : Life Goal Accomplished.

I stepped through the sliding doors of O’Hare and watched my fiancé drive away, willing myself not to chase him down and make him take me home. Three months traveling alone had suddenly lost its appeal. Despite my misgivings, I dragged my two gargantuan suitcases to the ticket counter before anyone could run over me with their own half-ton luggage.

Once my baggage was checked and sent off to board my flight, traveling alone felt slightly less daunting. My tickets in hand and with renewed determination in my steps, I found my way to my terminal. I had a phone call to make.

I had spent that summer living with my aunt and waitressing at a family diner in Janesville, Wisconsin. Howie, a 78-year-old retired GM assembly worker and one of my regular customers, came into the restaurant for breakfast and dinner every weekday. I’d flirt with him casually as I took his order [he had the specials memorized], listen to his latest encounter with Betty, the woman that he walked with at the shopping mall each morning. Every day Howie asked her out on a date, and every day Betty told him no. I’d tell him about my weekend and about my travel plans for the fall semester. He’d never been outside of the continental United States. At the end of the summer I promised him I’d send a postcard from each city I visited.

But when I arrived at the airport, I realized I had forgotten the receipt that had his address scrawled on the back. I called the diner, knowing that at eight in the morning he was probably still sitting in his corner booth finishing up his one pancake with peanut butter and a slice of ham.

Mimi, the manager, yelled to Howie that he had a phone call, and from across the restaurant his voice echoed through the receiver,

“For me? Are you kidding?”

“It’s Bethany,” she shouted back.

Several geriatric steps later, he picked up the phone, his breath heaving,

“Doll, is that you? You miss me already?”

“Yes, Howie! I realized I forgot your address.” I scrawled it on the back of my ticket envelope.

“Say, where are you anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be on a plane?”

I explained that I was waiting in the airport.

“You nervous?” he asked bluntly.

“A little,” I admitted. “Matt just dropped me off and it hit me: I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

“Listen, your old man Howie has never been anywhere in his life. All this nothin’ will be here when you get back. You wanted to do this all your life! Just take your ticket and go. Don’t forget to write me. You promised. And when you come back, you come out and see me and we’ll have a hot date and you’ll tell me all about it.”

“It’s a deal, Howie.” I replied. The wrinkle of worry across my forehead disappeared; a grin spread across my face. Who cared if anyone else in the terminal was watching.

“Alrighty. You take care a you and I’ll see you real soon,” he said, and hung up before I could really say goodbye.

Howie said what everyone had been telling me, yet hearing his voice as I sat in the airport solidified it at the right moment. It was too late to go hunting down my luggage and make a coward of myself. He was right. I was ready for this. And I was finally doing it.


After years of daydreaming and wondering if I’d ever be able to go, I was embarking on my greatest adventure, my biggest dream. And there were many moments when it felt surreal, when I stood at the edge of the Untersberg overlooking Salzburg, or stood atop the Eiffel Tower overlooking the winding web of Parisian city lights, or when I leaned my head against the window of the train and watched the tracks wind around the Alps, and thought:

Am I really here? Am I really doing this now?

I was afraid to shut my eyes, afraid I would miss it.  I luxuriated in each moment, each meal and city tour, anxious that I would gobble them up all at once and it would be over too soon. I journaled constantly, my hand glued to pen and paper, commemorating every memory to words so that on days like today, 3 years later, I wouldn’t forget.

And I wrote to Howie, careful to share as many details with him as I could fit in the tiny space on the back of each postcard. There was never enough room, so I almost always sent two postcards from every place I went. That’s the beauty of writing: it can vicariously transfer experiences, allow one person in one place to connect with another on the other side of the world.

versailles 2

And there were many moments when it felt scary, when I worried that leaving my home and my family was a mistake, when I went a whole week without hearing Matt’s voice, when I was utterly weary of trains and planes and dirty hostels. There were moments when being surrounded by the same group of friends every waking moment for 3 months couldn’t erase a certain isolation and loneliness that settled into me the longer we lingered there.

But. I did it. I achieved a life goal.

And the opportunity taught me that dreams, though they require sacrifice, are worth what you invest into them. I returned, changed and happy, satisfied and ready; whatever came next, I knew I was capable of doing it.

And when I slid into the booth across from Howie 3 months later, he grinned, his arthritic fingers wrapped around a thick stack of postcards.

Travel Memories : Exploring New Landscapes

There’s something deeply inspiring about removing oneself from the familiar. Like a fellow writer shared last week,
“Travel does so much for the soul.
It reassures a writer that the world is still a beautiful and endless space.” 
Sometimes, a change in scenery is all we need to remember that life is not as desolate, or boring, or mundane, or hopeless as we might have thought. And sometimes, the change in natural landscape offers new scope for the human experience because it offers different cultural, culinary, creative, political or social environments. Travel, the act of going to places that we’ve never been before, adds dimension to the way that we think.
Some people don’t yield to it, allowing new places and experiences to shape or inspire their thoughts and ideas. For me, the opportunity to travel is an opportunity to grow. I find it impossible to be indifferent to new landscapes, both literal and figurative. The more space I have physically, the more free I feel mentally.
Salzburg, the place I called home for three months, is nestled among the Alps. The air itself feels quieter and cleaner there. And like its natural environment, the culture of the city is quiet and contemplative, as though the people who live there are there to rest, to live as simply and happily as possible, to go for a bike ride or a hike, to sit on a park bench and whisper to each other in Deutsch.
It’s so different than the way I live my life here in Chicago, driving my battered minivan everywhere I “need” to go, jamming my schedule so full that the last thing on my mind would be to take time out of my day to meditate and reflect, the way that I used to when I lived in Salzburg.
berlin wall
Other places like Berlin, Munich, Rome, Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam presented opportunities, too, to examine the way that people live, the way that they process and commemorate historical events, the way they eat or enjoy nature, the way they entertain, the way that they get from one place to another.
The change of scenery renewed my creative spirit. The change of culture challenged my mind.
How do you navigate the terrain of a different way of life? 
It’s a question I haven’t stopped asking since.
1 : Ljubljana, Slovenia. October 2008.  | 2 : View from the Monchsberg. Salzburg, Austria. September 2008. | 3 : Amsterdam, Holland. November 2008. | 4. The East Side Gallery, the Berlin Wall. Berlin, Germany. October, 2008. 

book·ish : what do you read when you travel?

I stood in the airport before I left for the first of four flights en route to Austria for a whole semester, and realized I hadn’t brought a book. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the prospect of having nothing in my hands, nothing to preoccupy my mind for that much time. So I went to the book kiosk and picked upAtonement, and since I had already seen the movie, I figured I might like it. Did I ever! This is one of my favorite books of all time, and there could not have been a more appropriate novel to carry around Europe. When I read a good book, I love to become immersed in it, imagine myself as the characters. The setting for McEwan’s novel [1930’s and World War II Europe] was the perfect fictional backdrop to my travels and my studies. What are your reading habits when you travel? If you read books, do you prefer fiction or non? Autobiographical? Does a magazine suit your attention span better? Do you prefer a book to a digital reader?

1. (of a person or way of life) Devoted to reading and studying rather than worldly interests.
2. (of language or writing) Literary in style or allusion.
3. (of art and all manner of lovely things) devoted to the written word as a form of art and as a way of seeing the world.
4. (of anything of the aforementioned characteristics as they are found on the interwebs and reposted by Bethany, because bookish and writerly things always give reason for amusement.*
*All items posted in the book·ish section are found by myself and posted of my own accord unless otherwise stated. If you would like to be a sponsor or host a giveaway, please contact me at shewritesandrights[at]gmail[dot]com.