By: McKenna Lewis
A week before I left for Harlaxton my grandpa passed away.
Now, before you go so far as to close out of this blog and run as far away as possible, hear me out.
I think my initial statement would be better served if I backtracked a bit:
When I came into college at the University of Evansville, I knew that I needed to study abroad. No questions asked. I wanted SO badly to classify myself as a world traveler. As the months between me and Harlaxton started turningbl to weeks and then to days, it began to hit me just how REAL this opportunity was.
Of course, I had my list of places I absolutely had to see and, as early as I could justify for myself, I began to mark where I was going each weekend of the semester. Nothing else mattered aside from the fact that I was going to see as much of the world as I could while I was here.
Then it happened. I had gone back to UE a few weeks before leaving for Harlaxton to help with Welcome Week when my mom called to tell me that my grandfather’s time here on earth had been taken sooner than we anticipated and I needed to come back home.
A bittersweet experience because, while I was sad and dealing with so many different emotions, I was also happy that I could be with my family to sort through the initial grief and feel their love and support in person rather than 4,000 miles away.
When I boarded my plane for Europe the day after my grandfather’s funeral, I was overwhelmed with uncertainty. Uncertainty for friendships both at home and abroad, uncertainty for my mental health as I dealt with my grief, and uncertainty as to whether I would still be able to see as much of the world as I had originally planned.
Now, I must say that I’ve never been a big believer in coincidence. I will tell anyone that crosses my path that everything happens for a reason, regardless of whether you know that reason now or not.
I flew across the world with the question sitting idle in the back of my mind: what is the bigger picture behind the heartache I experienced right before this life changing experience?
And, much to my surprise, the answer started to come to me the minute I stepped foot off my plane. It was blurry as I walked through the airport, it was blurry as I sat on the bus to the manor, and it was blurry as I went through orientation.
But on the first night that I sat in the Bistro talking with new people like they were old friends and laughing until my stomach hurt, it finally started to become clear to me:
You don’t get a say in the cards you’re dealt. You don’t get a say in when you’re dealt them. And you don’t get a say in how other people’s hands will play in correspondence with yours. However, what you do get a say in is the way you handle each situation. You get to decide on the actions you take and the attitude you have while taking them.
You get to choose how to play your hand.
Through the people I had just met, I learned that I had the choice as to how this semester would go. I could be bitter about things I couldn’t change or joyful towards the opportunities I had moving forward. I could choose the fast track each weekend, rushing from city to city to see as many places as I could, or I could step back and take in the things I was able to and save the rest for next time. Because there will be a next time.
More important than anything, I learned that 10 times out of 10 the people you surround yourself with will impact your journey. Sometimes it’s the people you’ve known forever, sometimes it’s the people you met a few short years ago, and sometimes it’s the people you met a few short weeks ago.
Don’t let the potential for amazing moments in life pass you by because you’re too focused on getting off on the next stop on the tourist train. Embrace the moments you get with the people you get them with and believe that this moment in your life is good because of them.
I’d look around a new city in awe of the people I have the privilege to share it with before I stand in awe of the buildings any day.
So, how could I sum up all my learnings from this experience thus far? It’s easy. Traveling is about the destination, but the destination wouldn’t mean anything without the people standing beside you when you get there.
As for my grandfather? The sadness lingers, and it will for a long time. But for the next few months I will choose joy because I know that, at each stop on my journey, he is standing there with me, too.