I wish I could call myself an explorer.
The word doesn’t sound quite right in my mouth, after years of watching friends jet across the world, hop between countries and continents, with the practiced ease of someone who’s careful enough not to let the roots they put down harden in place. By contrast, my roots run deep – to Massachusetts, surely, where more than three-quarters of all people I’ve ever met call home, and more specifically to Boston, that city I’ve built a life for myself within, after years of eagerly playing around in its stores and streets, retreating to my family home in Sudbury, dreaming that the keys in my back pocket would eventually unlock a Back Bay brownstone of my very own. Or something. (Journalism isn’t exactly conducive to such high living.) And yes, my Mission Hill apartment, laden with squeaky floorboards, its perimeters peppered by jagged bottle shards, is far from that kind of dream residence. But it is a home, one I’m proud of, one I’ve grown to feel safe within, where I’ve learned to put down roots and build relationships.
In a way, I’ve been struggling to put down roots wherever I go – to build lasting friendships, fall into community structures, gain a level of comfort with my immediate surroundings and a sense that, yes, I could really live here. Chalk it up to an only-somewhat valid sense of instability, bred from suddenly (to my less-than-aware, decade-old self) shifting from a small dwelling in the English market town of Petersfield, to a strange hotel to Concord where all I can recall is watching “DragonTales” all summer, to a creaky, definitely haunted house, and finally to my current home in Sudbury. I value the idea of the home more than most, the idea of a safe haven to retreat to when the world gets to be too big, when you start to feel too much.
It might seem like I’m beating around the bush. But I’ve been wrestling with these very thoughts over the past few weeks, preparing to try on that label of “explorer” and create connections in a country I’m told (and, to a degree, I hope) is vastly different than my own. On paper, the idea of being “intrepid” excites me. Diving headfirst into another country seems like a worthy and enlightening experience, and the knowledge I’ll gain from exploring Greece’s culture, politics, and social norms is sure to be both rich and fascinating in nature. But I keep getting stuck when it comes to whether this is the kind of experience for me, whether I’m the kind of person capable of flying around the world and hitting the ground running once I’m not in the air. I see my friends wrapping their arms around Italy and Istanbul, Tasmania and Trinidad, Germany and Guatemala – and I wonder if I could truly emulate them, and grow to feel comfortable on the move without that previously ever-present homestead to run back to.
I guess we’ll find out. I keep coming back to that, too – the idea that what I worry about, more often than not, are the unknowable things, the questions I pose to myself knowing full well that no amount of logical discussion and carefully worded discourse can answer.
Looking toward this trip, I genuinely can’t wait to hear stories that otherwise would never grace my ears – of the Greek citizens whose lives revolve around different axes than my own, of the refugees (so deprived of the privilege I take for granted – I’ve kicked myself throughout writing this, fully aware of how entitled discussing these feelings about “home” could and maybe should sound) struggling to seek safety in a foreign country, and of the diverse array of people I’m sure to encounter across Thessaloniki and Athens, whose stories will be as unique to me as they will be fascinating.
And I can’t wait, either, to test myself – as a journalist, as a photographer, as a researcher, and just as pertinently, yes, as an explorer. I hope that, by the end of this trip, I can feel like I’ve in part earned the right to apply that word to myself. Journalists, I believe, seek truth, burrowing through layers of privilege and societal obstruction to tell the stories that so often don’t get told – of people in struggle, who’ve either lost their voices, had them silenced, or found them too hoarse to call proper attention to their struggle. Explorers discover. So must journalists. In readying myself to board this flight, I’m steeling myself with the knowledge that whatever I find in Greece, I’ll wake up every day and fall asleep every night resolved to discover, explore, and elucidate as much as I can – and discover something about my own ability to do the job I’ve signed up for along the way.