I confess that it is not as easy for me to take these trips as one might think.
I feel guilty about spending money on a trip like this when there are people I know who cannot pay all of their bills.
I feel guilty about spending money on a trip like this with two kids in college.
I feel guilty about leaving my family and going off on these jaunts where I spend most of the time thinking almost exclusively about what I want to do and what I want to eat and where I want to go - without having to take other people's desires into account.
I wonder what excuse I could give for such trips if something happened to one of my loved ones while I was away.
I worry what people think of me, of us, of my lifestyle, of our choices.
And then I remember...
It doesn't matter what I do or don't do.
It doesn't matter whether I go or don't go.
It doesn't matter how much I spend or how much I save.
It doesn't matter if I go to Spain or I go to South Africa or I go to an orphanage in Nicaragua.
No matter what I do or where I go or what I say or what I write, someone is going to criticize me.
Someone is going to point out my hypocrisy, my selfishness, and my greed.
Someone is going to shake their heads and say, "..." - whatever they choose to say.
No matter what I don't do or don't say or don't accomplish, someone is going to have something to say.
So I went to Spain. I ate. I drank. I laughed. I cried. I wandered. I wondered.
I journaled. I prayed. I asked questions. I answered questions.
I asked for directions. I read maps. I put the maps away and just let myself roam.
I talked. I listened to stories of life and death and drugs and travel and food and romance.
I wrote postcards. I read. I took more than 1500 photos.
I watched election results I didn't understand. I listened to political pundits and ordinary citizens talk about candidates I couldn't identify.
I slept well. I played with Legos. I watched children play games and blow bubbles.
I shopped. I visited several museums. I sat on benches and watched people.
I made a pilgrimage to several churches and cathedrals in Madrid. I walked nearly 12 miles on the day of that pilgrimage.
I visited the home and convent and church of Santa Teresa de Jesus in Avila.
I flew to Bologna, Italy, for two days to visit a former teaching colleague of mine who has retired and moved back to her hometown. (She is fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.)
I walked and talked and ate and attended a poetry reading with her.
I met beautiful, interesting, talented, kind-hearted, curious, intelligent, creative people there.
I ate great pizza, pasta, and gelato - in Italy!
I drank strong coffee, strong wine, and bubbly water.
And every day, every night, nearly every hour, I gave thanks to God for the gift of life, of my life.
For the gift of travel. For airplanes. For taxi cabs. For freshly baked bread.
For sunshine. For rain. For borrowed raincoats and strong umbrellas.
For elevators. For staircases. For cars. For the subway.
For getting back and forth from every daily adventure safely.
For not getting sick. For not getting lost. For not being taken advantage of.
For bounty. For beauty. For friendship. For love. For shared experiences.
How can I say thanks enough? How can I say enough thanks?
Life itself is such a gift. Travel is icing on the cake.
Travel to see and stay and hang out with dear friends - it brings almost too much joy.
Did I mention that one dear sister-friend of mine, who is a flight attendant, worked a flight from NYC to Madrid in order to spend six hours with me there? Truly she is a soul-sister.
Who am I to deserve such miraculous plenty? I do not know.
But I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.