For over six months I’ve traveled along 14 countries, met countless people, experienced more things than I can list, grown more than I thought possible, and I’ve taken only a backpack…
And my pillow.
I’ve gotten more shit over this “frivolous” item than anything else from people- especially pro backpackers. “Are you kidding me with that thing?” They’ll say with a majorly judgy face. “What else did you bring? A snuggy? Your ex’s tee shirt?”
“No, thank you very much. And no, I’m not kidding.”
My pillow has been with me since that first trying flight out of the US, and I’m not about to part with it now. It has seen me through thick and thin. Long flights and overnight bus rides, early morning boat rides and hours in a minivan, all made easier by keeping my special feather pillow in tow. Make fun of me all you want, but guess who’s sleeping better than all the other backpackers?
I let go of all material possessions when I left to do this and I haven’t looked back- but this pillow is something of a symbol. Of home, of the comforts that used to be my life, of the long journey I’ve already been through…it’s a safety blanket-pillow. And I love it dearly.
I had no idea how attached I was to this thing until one night in Penang, Malaysia. I came back to my hostel after a few hours being out for drinks with my new friends and climbed into bed to find it missing. I was left with the old and grossly stiff stock pillow that comes in the bunk bed.
I had a gut wrenching feeling of panick, loss and sadness. I woke up every single person in the dorm room- like a psycho- asking who took it. “Do you have my pillow?! Tell me!! This isn’t funny!” I sounded erratic. “No! Now shut up and shut off the lights!” My room mates yelled back.
I walked out of the room and sat outside on the floor and before I could process anything logically a few tears started to fall. Was this the three vodka sodas talking? Or was I really this upset over a freakin pillow?
Then…as I’m continuing mourning the loss of my beloved pillow, the nice old man who runs the hostel came over to me and asked me what was wrong. He seemed very genuinely concerned. As I replied I felt so much shame and embarrassment: “Someone in my room took my pillow from home. It’s stupid I know. I’m really sorry to even be bothering you right now. It’s just that I’ve had it since the beginning and…” more tears. I willed myself to stop crying and being ridiculous but I just couldn’t stop and find any logical sense of calm.
It was like I reverted back to being a toddler who hadn’t had her daily nap or sugar fix. I was so mad, upset and frustrated knowing someone went into my bed and actually took something and that I probably wouldn’t be getting it back. I was so sad to imagine my upcoming travel days without my special pillow. How would I sleep? What piece of home did I have left now besides what I could wear on my back? Nothing.
I realized by this knee jerk reaction that I was not as disconnected from the material world as I thought I was. If a pillow can upset me this much, what else is hiding under the surface of my “attachments?” I questioned my personal growth as I analyzed my automatic reaction to this event. I felt embarrassed, screwed over and at a loss for any words that made sense.
Then little old Malaysian Charlie put his hand on my shoulder and looked at me with a face full of pity. He shook his head then said calmly, in his very-broken English: “You not wrong for being upset about your pillow. You good person. Feel so deeply. I see. I see that you care. Some people lose actual people and feel nothing. You feel this way over your pillow because it from home.”
I cried some more, then realized he was on to something. Something I had’t wanted to admit. I did miss home and everyone and everything that comes with it. I’d been going and going so fast I didn’t stop to feel the homesickness for what it was- the attachment I was still definitely carrying around.
At the end of this, I learned that I needed to slow down and stay in touch with my emotions as I continue on. I need to feel what needs to be felt, say what needs to be said and do what I need to do to be happy, authentic and content. It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement happening everyday and to, in turn, get away from myself.
I also realized I can’t be afraid to admit that I’m scared or homesick- because I am- and that doesn’t make me any less strong or brave. I can only continue to do this if I stay patient and true to myself, bringing myself the kind of warmth that comes with being at home.
I need to find home within myself- that’s what this is all about. I’m continuing on this road scared shitless but also a wiser and stronger woman everyday.
And in case you were wondering, the pillow has been safely returned and is packed neatly with my big ugly red backpack where it belongs.
Onward and upward.