Last week I had an idea.
I would write a post called “What Travel Taught Me About Love.” Not just romantic love, but all kinds of love. It would be enlightening and speak to everyone’s soul (including yours).
Then I sat down to write it, and I couldn’t come up with anything. The more I turned the word ‘love’ over in my head, the less meaning it had. It’s like that with any word – say ‘doorknob’ 20 times and it’ll lose all meaning.
Love is like that – meaningless when overanalyzed.
But there was one story that kept surfacing in my mind when I thought about love and travel.
Two years ago, Jared and I had just come off the most horrific overnight train journey we’d ever had, the journey where my first bout of Delhi Belly made its appearance. We stumbled into a rickshaw and collapsed into our hostel bed, oblivious to the crush of life that is Varanasi.
Late that afternoon, our bodies craving nutrients, we climbed the stairs to the rooftop restaurant and ordered a plate of toast. A young woman brought it up to us, along with some mugs of chai. She lingered, wanting to be sure that it was okay; that we were okay. Her husband, the owner, encouraged us to stay on the rooftop; he would teach us to fly kites.
While Jared took over the spool of string, the shy young woman approached me, silver rings glinting in the sunset, to ask about our marriage. While in India, we said that we were married. It wasn’t true, but it made travel easier.
“Is it a love marriage?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I said.
“My marriage, my family arranged,” she said, inclining her head towards her husband, a man who appeared to be 10 years older than her.
She told me about her sisters and her mother, who she rarely saw. Her brother, who had been taken on at the guesthouse as part of the merging of family interests that came with her marriage. Her plans to offer henna hand painting to tourists at the guesthouse, the ideas she had to improve business.
She wanted to know about our lives and our love. How did it happen, our love match? When did we marry? Did we have babies? Would we have babies? Where was my mother? Did I miss my family? We agreed that no matter what, it’s hard to be away from your family.
“You are very lucky, a love marriage,” she said.
Jared offered to take a picture of us on the iPad.
“Wait,” she said, lifting my scarf and draping it over my head. She tilted her own head to one side, satisfied with her work. “Better. You are Indian woman now.”
What did this experience teach me about love? That it’s universal. We all feel it; we all want to feel it; we all miss being apart from the ones we love. But we already know that; it’s the nature of human emotions, that they can be shared.
I don’t always open up to conversations with strangers on the road, especially when I’m sick. I’ll withdraw, make excuses, and duck out. If pressed, I’d say that my friend in Varanasi is the same way, that she keeps to herself. It’s easier, especially when people rapidly cycle in and out of your life.
But talking about love drew us both out of our shells. It bridged a gap between our two very different cultures and gave us common ground. The word love might lose its meaning when overanalyzed, but its reality will always be able to bring people together.