My passport expired recently. I had nothing to do with its expiration and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Ten years have passed and now it is no longer valid. But I did feel a certain accomplishment of having 10 years of travel marked down in paper, printed words of all the places I had been.
It feels weird not having a passport. I have had one since shortly after I got my license, and oddly enough, they get about the same amount of use these days.
For the last decade I have been able to go wherever I wanted, whenever I pleased. Not that the opportunity to do so arose that frequently. But still if I wanted to leave the country on a whim I could. It was possibility and capability. It meant that there was nowhere in the world that wasn't open to me. It wasn't a feeling I consciously pursued or even realized until after it was gone.
I actually probably spent more time concentrating on my passport as a marker of where I had been. I prided myself in that, in those things that I had seen. In those sites I had seen and who I’d been when I’d seen them.
Visas and stamps, customs and midnight border crossings. All seasoned with the sweat that came from keeping it strapped so closely to my body in the fear that I would lose it. I would turn those pages remembering when and where I got certain stamps, and trying to decipher those I couldn’t remember.
But as soon as that expiration date came it me quite quickly: I was land locked. Trapped. A flightless bird.
To get a new passport I had to get my original birth certificate from my parents. It was a routine exercise. I told my mother I needed it. I thought she’d send it, I’d bring it to the post office and that would be that.
It arrived in an envelope along with a couple of other documents my mother thought I had should have. I sat on my couch, opened the envelope, put down the other documents and unfolded the 27-year-old piece of weathered paper I had requested. And immediately I was overwhelmed.
The rush of emotion surprised me. As usual I seem to be completely oblivious to the things that will make me cry until the tears are actually in my eyes.
It was like a movie I had been waiting forever to see. I saw a movie of my past.
I saw images of my parents I had never seen. I saw my mother holding me in her arms. I saw my father leaning over her in the hospital bed, looking at their baby boy. I saw grainy images of the final piece of a family coming into place. Never before had a piece of paper made me feel so, well, loved.
It was not the first time I had seen it. I know I had seen this years ago but I guess the context wasn’t the same for me. And to be honest I’m not sure why it was so heavy for me now, after all these years. I didn’t quite understand why I felt these things.
But whereas holding my passport makes me think of all the things I want, holding my own birth certificate I felt a surge of emotion for all the things I should be grateful for. I see all the people I love and all the people I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by. I see what I have unbelievably been able to do.
And while I know my parents wanted the best for me but I can't imagine that they would have imagined all of the incredible things our family would experience and all the amazing opportunities I would have.
It was the complete opposite of holding my passport. While this simple piece of paper with my parents’ names and mine embossed with a seal showed where I was from, my passport symbolizes all the possibilities that lay before me and all the places I can go.
My birth certificate was my passport into this life, a grant to be able travel anywhere any do anything that my rapidly growing heart would soon learn to pursue.
It was my founding, the announcement of me. The very first official documentation would ever have. It is the one piece of identification that will always work. It is always me.
There is no picture on my birth certificate. It is strictly memory there. Whereas my passport will have a new image every 10 years.
The picture in my last passport was one I took around the corner from my house at the drugstore when I was 17 and about to go to Jamaica. I wore an orange t-shirt under a black leather jacket I only just recently donated to charity. That boy had an eight-dollar haircut and barely half a clue. But he had a license and a passport so he was worldly.
I had a new passport picture taken at a drugstore around the corner from my job. This new boy in the passport is different. Older. His face more defined, not harder mind you, maybe just less soft. No longer a peach canvas of innocence and naïveté. This new boy wears a tie and a vest and has stubble that rarely leaves his face. His hair is a style. He looks serious but not as clueless, friendly but not as afraid. There is much about him that has changed in ten years, but in some ways he has come full circle.
Because he will always be somewhere between what he’s grateful for and what he desires. Just a boy between two symbolic pieces of paper that will never be able to tell half the story of what he is, merely hint at it.