As soon as I retired on New Year’s Eve of 2015, I knew I was free to travel. I could buy a ticket to any place for any day of the week, stay as long as I wanted, and return on any day of some other week in the future. What a relief! Anyone who knew me expected me to take flight rather promptly, but I have remained earthbound, and happily so.
Strangely, as soon as I became free of having to work, I also became free of the strong desire to travel. I am happy, and content, sitting in my chair, or outside when the weather is nice, knitting, reading, listening to music, watching Italian movies and writing to Internet friends. Settled in this new situation, I received an invitation from my friend S. to come to Riyadh with her this year. Her (Saudi) husband could get a visa for me.
We’ve been talking about it for months, now, reminiscing about the days when we both lived there as younger women, studying Arabic together at the Ladies Community College in Riyadh. Wouldn’t it be lovely to go back together, visit our favorite bookstores, markets, and traditional suqs, see old friends who still live there, and even to go Mecca for Umra? Wouldn’t it be exciting to see the fancy new malls we never imagined could exist there?
I sent her a copy of my passport so she can pass it to her husband.
We are intending to go during the latter months of this year. Ironically, I feel neutral towards the potential fulfillment of my twenty-year longing to see Riyadh one more time. Sure, I would like to go, and I will go, inshaAllah, providing my health and finances permit, but the desire no longer burns, because I’ve gotten old rather quickly, and I’ve learned one of the secrets of being old, a secret that old people never talk about but young people perceive as a certain fading of enthusiasm for life, a decrease in desires, an indifference to appetites that once demanded fulfillment. Young people eschew what they perceive as the withdrawal from vibrant life, but old people know– if they are healthy and secure enough to know– that the last years of life need nothing more than a continuation and indulgence of the comforts one has built during the preceding years. These last years need only a move toward reconciliation with the foibles of years past, maybe a correction of unhealthy habits that gripped one during those early years but now serve no purpose. These last years need also to remain open for opportunities to fulfill intentions that never got satisfied earlier because of the obligations of vocation. Nothing new, exciting or drastically different needs to infuse a life already as secure and content as is possible within the confines of the human condition.
If I get the visa, and my life situation still permits me to go to Riyadh, I will go, but if not, if I or my mom or any one of my family suffers blows that need my support, I will give up the dream of this trip, and I will not lament. After all, my memories of those twelve years between 1986 and 1998 are far sweeter than any new ones I might create.