We were looking for the lighthouse. A clear crisp mid-August Saturday in the prime of summer, on a spec of land jetting out onto the Baltic Sea. The three Lithuanians pulling in the American into a beach weekend. Today was National Lighthouse Day — the one day a year you can go inside. The sun hung above in a cloudless summer sky, one of those lazy afternoons that seem to go on forever. Things slowed down and the sky stayed still. Nowhere really to go and nowhere really to be, a lighthouse off somewhere in the distance.
On the way to the water we wandered past a patch of grassy field before the entrance to some woods, lay down under a shady tree, opened up a takeout box of chicken tenders and passed them around. Two goats grazed nearby, giving curious looks toward the uninvited trespassers and their chicken tenders.
The day remained still, an endless summer Saturday refusing to budge. Domas asked me a question and when I began to respond, his phone rang. The first and only real world interruption to the day. As I began to tease him for taking the call, he handed it to me.
On the other end was a journalist from the States. He had a couple final questions to ask for an interview we began months ago, and I forgot I had given him my friends’ number to call.
The goats looked on, by now even more confused as I slowly paced around their farmhouse, trying to find the right words to answer the big gaping questions on the other end.
“So what’s been the best experience of the trip?”
I stared at the goats and they stared back. Looked over at my friends as they finished the last of the nuggets, still sprawled out under the tree.
This was the crux of it all: this was the essence of the trip. The phone call framed this snapshot of a mundane nothing to do Saturday afternoon that wasn’t planned or predicted with friends I just met, living a life that wasn’t mine but rather a pretending sliver into theirs. It was nothing and everything all at once. Simple and complex, boring and beautiful and all that has made my journey so special. And it was just a Saturday with the goats. One day like no other, yet just like so many others I’ve stumbled upon in the last fifteen months.“Is it hard to pick one?” The reporter broke the silence and my wandering mind.
All I could say was yeah.
By now my Lithuanian pals had risen from the trees and motioned for me to follow; past the goats and the grass and into the woods on the way toward water. We were gonna find this lighthouse.
“So Mike, how do you feel to be nearly done with the tour? What have you learned?”
I racked my brain but couldn’t find words to adequately answer a question that begged for a response much deeper than a sentence or two over a phone call. I had been with other people — friends, friends of friends, host families, strangers — for all but one night in the last fifteen months. I had walked into worlds of all kinds such as this one today, every day since May 2014. How do you sum that up?
I stuttered and finally told him one thing; one thing that seems cliche and obvious until you do it, until you live it.
I told him I think I’ve learned that being happy doesn’t take much. That it’s easy sometimes to forget what it takes, and what it doesn’t.
We rambled through a few more questions and answers as I followed my friends to an opening out of the woods, where the path turned into a wooden staircase at the edge of the land. At that moment came the last question from the reporter back in New York City, “so where are you now? What are you doing at this very moment?”
I told him what I was doing. I was standing on the top of a wooden staircase overlooking a speckled white sand beach and behind it, the glassy still water of the Baltic Sea, a late afternoon sun reflecting off the blue calmness beneath it. I had followed my friends to this beach, friends I met while backpacking through Lithuania months earlier with my racquet, friends who then invited me back to see a slice of their summer, to coach a clinic and then camp along their coast, sneak into a music festival in a few hours and share a tent together later that night.
Silence, this time from him.
We traded final words and I hung up, caught back up with my friends and apologized for the long call, jumped in the cool blue sea and joined them on the beach.
We were looking for the lighthouse.
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