Shawn and I met in Japan. We were just out of college, two young kids looking for adventure and a job that would support our wanderings. We ended up in the same town teaching English, me at the middle school and him at the high school.
We loved travel. From the first moment we met, we talked about where we wanted to go and what we would do in those places. When we spent a weekend day together even before we were dating, we would get up early and explore whatever city we were in for at least 12 hours. In fact, I have a vivid memory of one night we spent in Nagoya when we didn’t come home until the first train at 5 am. But even when we would do all of that, Shawn always wanted to take a bit more time than I did to savor a great lunch or sit and watch the city go by.
About a year into our friendship, Shawn went to Southeast Asia for a short trip while I stayed back in Japan. Every day for the two weeks he was gone, he wrote me a postcard. It was then that I started to suspect that he had feelings for me. Sure, it could have just been a nice gesture. But I knew how we both traveled. I wrote a few postcards, but I certainly never wrote them to my friends back in Japan. I know he didn’t either. So the fact that he had taken time every day to write me was a clue that our friendship was starting to cross a line.
That love of travel took us all over – from Asia to Central America to Europe and all across North America. And yet, though we both loved travel, we did do things a bit differently. I loved airports, for example. I loved the possibility they held – that in a few hours I might be anywhere else in the world. Shawn didn’t feel quite the same love, sometimes finding them too crazy and frustrating. Though we both craved the excitement of travel, I seemed to thrive on every dramatic moment, while Shawn preferred to focus on enjoying the best parts.
And he helped me slow down and enjoy those best parts. When we were first dating, we took a trip to Vietnam. I wanted to go out and explore this little beach town he’d found for us, but he convinced me to stay at the rickety little hut we had rented and listen to the waves crash on the beach instead. I’m glad I did. That night was the first night that he told me that he loved me.
And guess what I remember about that trip? Those waves and that moment. Guess what I don’t remember? Anything else about that town, or really about any of the other little towns we saw on that trip. The only other thing I remember was putting my head in his lap as we took an overnight bus and thinking, “I could do this forever.”
Shawn was not terribly serious about travel. His joy in the small moments made him such fun to be with away from home. Some friends we traveled with during our six months in Costa Rica said that one of their lasting memories of our time together was not the beautiful beaches or amazing wildlife, but rather sitting with Shawn and laughing for hours on end at his hilarious antics.
Really, that’s what I remember now too. I don’t remember the walking tour of Munich that we did, but I do remember driving across Germany with the sun streaming in our car and my arm draped across his back. I can’t recall the details of our many summer trips, but I do have strong recollections of laughing at podcasts that we listened to together. And I don’t remember everything about our last trip with our family, but I do remember laying in bed after the kids had gone to sleep and sharing headphones so we could watch a movie together without waking them up.
It’s funny that for so long in my life, maybe even up until Shawn got sick, I wanted to do so much when I traveled. We always had a little bit of push and pull when traveling together because I always wanted to “go, go, go,” while Shawn was much more content to relax. But when I look back on what I remember and on what I truly felt was meaningful, it’s all of those small moments that Shawn was so good at appreciating that are now the moments that I hold dear.
Maybe it is grief that has made me slow down. Maybe it’s that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my favorite times and moments with Shawn. Either way, I feel less of the push now to go out and explore, to have the best food in the city and meet everyone around me and take perfect photos. I think I’ll want to travel again someday in a big way, but for now, that desire to “go, go, go” and see everything new is just not that important to me.