Solana Travel Writing, Spring 2021
Her death felt sudden, like how you can miss the sun setting on a winter day if you looked away for even just one second. I spent the next few months struggling to keep my head afloat. Feeling very disconnected not only from my own body, but also from my own life. I felt like I was floating in a misty fog, but like I wasn’t truly existing or present. I did what I could to graduate from my master’s program—admittedly, I pushed myself to get through it through many breakdowns and tears just to make my mom proud—but every part of me wanted to just give up.
Graduation couldn’t come fast enough. Burnt out didn’t even begin to describe the weight of the grief I felt washing over me after I was done with school—suddenly free of the constant distraction of deadlines and exams. It was then that I decided I was going to take a month off and travel through Italy with my friend Nadia. We booked a month-long trip, and a flurry of excursions that I typically would have been too afraid to attempt in my “pre-mom passing” life.
One excursion that was particularly out of character for me to book was a sunrise hot air balloon ride in Florence, Italy. “Don’t be afraid” rang through my head when I felt fear creeping into my chest when my friend suggested we book it. I have a small fear of heights and wasn’t sure how I would feel in this hot air balloon ride. But with that, we booked it anyway.
The hot air balloon was set to take off in the wee hours of the morning. We were to meet the driver on a corner near our hotel, and he would drive us to the random field where we were going to be taking off. We woke up at 4 am, leaving our hotel in pitch darkness to find the driver on this corner. Hearts beating fast because this suddenly felt really scary, getting into a random van to drive to a random field, we got into the van where we met another family inside which quelled our fears, as we drove into the fields in Tuscany. When we finally reached the fields, we saw the hot air balloons being lit up.
When the balloons were ready we each climbed into the basket. It was a lot louder than I expected, each blast of the fire warming our heads and silencing any mindless chatter that was going on in my head. Initially I felt really nervous as we started lifting off the ground—the idea of just hanging in a basket, suspended by a balloon that was being lit by a single fire didn’t seem very practical or safe—I then started to feel the exhilaration of having a bird’s eye view of the sleepy town we were flying over. The images below us moved as though we were human drone cameras, sweeping through the skies. I began to imagine that this is what my mom saw, as she flew over the houses and into the stars, joining the others who came before her.
As the sun started to rise over the rolling hills, the misty fog we were floating in slowly lifting off the hills and condensed on our skins. I took a deep breath and breathed it all in. Up here, in the in between, suspended in midair, it felt almost as though I could feel the earth’s pulse. I could feel my pulse. I could feel tears forming in my eyes, feeling connected and present to the vibrations of life for the first time since my mom had passed away.
As the sun rose higher and higher, and we drifted further into the hills, the sky began to change colors. Lighting up all the corners of the world that was previously cloaked in a layer of darkness from the night time. And it was up here that I felt my mental fog break. It was here that I felt close to her again, closer to myself, floating in the energy of a new day, sensing the undercurrent energy of the earth, the animals and plants waking up to greet the day, the heartbeat of the wind.
After watching the sunrise, we landed in a random field where the hot air balloon company had set up a breakfast in the fields with local fruits and olive oil and cheeses. It was the sweetest and most delicious welcome back to being rooted in my being. We then shared a prosecco group toast "to love and to life".
The entire experience was incredible, my heart was swelling with a mixture of gratitude and grief, I was overcome with the absolute beauty that I had witnessed, and the realizations that were coursing through my being. The magic that is nature. The reality that the darkness we were initially floating was just as impermanent as the light that had eventually joined us, illuminating everything. The mental silence that accompanied finally surrendering to the ebb and flow of the universe. The gift of the realization that impermanence of all things is the only constant in life.
Anita Saini is an avid traveler, a lover of stories, a human who deeply feels, an artist who uses various mediums (drawing/painting, ceramics, modeling, taking photos, making videos, writing stories) to express herself and share her various life experiences. The deep undercurrents of life are what excite her most; that which exists beneath all the layers of what we can see on the surface.
Instagram: @__anita.s @anitasainiart