By the time I got to Paris, I needed no project, no art or architecture to structure my days. I had miraculously reconnected to my oldest friend—myself. I was no longer furious with my body for falling apart on me. During my illness, I had listened to audiotapes by intuitive healer Caroline Myss. She talks about how hard it is to keep promises to ourselves. We say we'll drink more water, but we don't. We say we'll get up and go running, but we don't. We'll bend over backward to keep our word to a lover, a friend, an employer, even a stranger. But we let ourselves down. When we are ill, Myss says, we tell our body to get better, that we will appreciate it and treat it well, but our body knows better than to believe us. My illness had no simple cause. It wasn't because of smoking or poor diet or anything I had been warned about. But before I got sick, I had never taken my own need for care and attention seriously. I promised myself a million things—to try a yoga class, to stop filling my weekends with a gazillion errands, to get up early and watch the sun rise. I very rarely kept those vows, but I could be counted on to show up for anyone and everyone who asked.
So in Paris, I made a decision: It wasn't going to take another frightening illness for me to give myself a break, to say no, to remember what mattered most to me. Since then, travel has become more than a respite from the world I live in; it's a way to refill my emotional well.
Six months after Paris I was negotiating the subways of Shanghai alone. I visited a different wing of a museum each day. More than once, I was surrounded by groups of men and teenagers asking me questions and making comments in a language I couldn't understand. But it was part of the journey and I braved it.
Next, I spent a solo weekend in Brussels—eating dinner in a popular café, searching out the most exquisite chocolate shop, going to an outdoor rock concert with 30,000 screaming fans.
On my most recent trip, to Japan, I traveled through the countryside by bullet train. At one stop a Japanese businessman sat down next to me. He was preparing to give a speech in English at a conference and asked if he could practice on me. I agreed. The speech was stultifyingly boring, but there was something wonderful about being read to, something very Anna and the King about the way he was at once self-assured and desperate for my approval. After he finished, he asked if he could buy me an ice cream cone from the food car. And for the rest of our short journey, we ate our cones in silence. My self-consciousness was gone. Sitting on that train, thousands of miles from my home, we were less like strangers than like longtime playground friends who need no words.
Veronica Chambers is the author of the memoir Kickboxing Geishas (Riverhead).
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