When I was 18, I graduated high school and took my first trip to Europe with my family. Entirely planned by my father (a first-generation American) we spent two-and-a-half weeks town-hopping all over Lithuania, exploring the areas where our family came from. We still have family in Lithuania--my uncle, aunt, and their two sons. It was my first time meeting them. And it was a defining moment in my life.
Now, I grew up in a loving family that taught me kindness and I was shaped into who I am because of them. But meeting my family in Lithuania, I was shown an even deeper meaning of shared blood. They would do absolutely anything for me, and if I protested, they would explain, "NO. You're family. Of course we do this for you." Their alacrity to make my family and me comfortable or happy was unyielding. Coming from people I've never met before and knew very little about, I was astounded by their love and generosity toward me. I finally understood the definition of family.
One day, we ventured to Joniskis, the small town that my ancestors resided in until they fled the country. In the afternoon, we left town and drove through the fields, pulling over at a lake. Not knowing the plan, I was blindly led up a hill. I followed my father, unclear of the intent for our pitstop. We came across a rusted fence, opening it to find a scattering of small grave sites, no more than a dozen. At this point I was confused and disinterested, eyeing the sparkling lake behind us, eager to return to the water.
My aunt and uncle led me over to a grave, while my dad removed a bouquet of flowers from his backpack. "Meet your namesake," he whispered, as he handed me the small, white bouquet. At my feet, lay my great great great grandmother, Juliana. This was a defining moment.
Meeting Juliana at her grave was the moment that traveling became home for me. I was united with the roots of my family, awoken by my existing family, and exposed to something I never knew before. Today, travel has become a lifelong companion of mine, opening doors to new cultures, natural wonders, and always circling back into my soul. Anywhere I visit, I prefer to seek out the hidden treasures, eager to get lost or end up somewhere I "shouldn't" be. I do this because it always leads me back to this defining moment. It leads me back home.
What are the defining moments from your travels?