Lonely Planet

7 days ago, I was on a flight headed for Ho Chi Minh City. “Headed for” are the key words here. What I was really doing at the time, and what I was unaware that I was doing, was that I was headed on a flight to Beijing where I would miss my connection to Ho Chi Minh city and have to spend the night all by myself with a stranger in a less than delightful hotel room in a less than delightful city.

The time between leaving San Francisco and arriving in Ho Chi Minh city was spent completely alone, since Tracy was on a different flight. I found myself idling away hours in the airport, walking through dozens of duty-free shops, bookstores and travel stores. I purchased a simple alarm clock, a small container of hand sanitizer, and a few pens so that I could write whenever I felt the urge to share something with someone. I thought about the title of the popular travel guide series “Lonely Planet,” and decided that it was aptly named. As I made my way slowly to my gate and noticed the travelers streaming past me, I felt an incredible sense of loneliness, but simultaneously, a strong sense of lightness and freedom. Having left my devices at home, with nothing to entertain me other than reading the manual for my cheap travel clock or scribbling down my thoughts in the notepad I’d purchased, it dawned on me that there was no way for anyone to reach me, and that I was in an airport alone, flying to a foreign country alone. I watched as families and couples walked past me, many of them excited about the trips they were about to take, scurrying around in a frenzy to reach their gates on time.

Most of the time, I am well aware that it can be lonely on this planet we live on. For anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowded room, I am sure that it is easy to relate. Traveling alone brings this awareness to a whole new level. Stripped of the distractions and the people we depend upon to quell this feeling of loneliness, we become completely aware of the artifice of the constructions we have made around our lives, and how easy it would be to destroy those constructions and build new ones. The lightness is all at once freeing and unbearable.

Richard Bach once said, “Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.” As I wandered by the shops and restaurants, I became increasingly aware of the truth in this statement.

A few foreigners standing in front of me in line at a Starbucks attempted to order a coffee in broken English. I walked to my gate, sat down, pulled out a book and began to read.