I put on a pair of shorts that I took to Morocco, and realized some sand from the Sahara made it home with me. I pulled my pocket inside out and there it was: this tiny, fine remainder of just sufficient abundance to still form the orange hue distinct to its home. What am I gonna do with this? Nothing. I’m content just to have the thought about how far we can go, and just how far we can carry our destinations with us. Fitting, really. Morocco for me was a place of peace.

Morocco was also where my body decided to remind me that I’m on the verge of 31. My body didn’t struggle, but it did squeak timidly sometimes that I can no longer get away with what I used to. The country is beautiful, small, and languid. To see and feel its vibrance, you have to walk. But unlike our previous trips, all the walking everyday taxed me at a higher rate. I needed naps. My back tightened up. My blistered feet irritated me and affected my enjoyment. On the final evening, we got to the airport at 11pm and tried to rest there until our flight home at 6am. I’ve done that before. Even romanticized it. Young backpacker seeing the world on a shoestring and airport-sleeping to save money? That’s a rite of passage to beget future conversations, not an annoyance to instantly dwell on. But this time, it screwed me up. We got to Paris CDG for the layover and was greeted immediately by gridlock, leading to multiple checkpoints each involving long lines. There was a ticking clock heard only by us and the other hundreds of passengers, a shared experience to pit us against one another instead of unite us. This of course ended with us running through the airport gates to board barely on time. The lack of sleep already led to an unpleasant flight home. The layover made sure I was sick when I finally got there.

My body disagreed with my behavior often this trip, and it spoke up. Since returning home, I have thought a lot about aging and time. I’m starting to notice that I’m no longer 25, but the new pressure on my body is minor, and thus easy to accept. The true disturbance comes from the algebra of aging: that we have less time, always. And I think I have been squandering it.

What facilitated this moment’s arrival was the grind of adulthood occurring in the background in recent years, all of it running constantly but plenty of it just quietly enough for me to neglect.

Last November, I turned 30. This inspired thoughts that I found exciting and daunting. They were eye-opening to me but I never did write those down or decide to act on them. I wish the reason was better. The truth is, I carved out no time for mental maintenance no matter how valuable, because with the daily toll of my 8-to-5 (and sometimes -7 and once in a while -8), I wanted only to indulge myself until I gained some feeling of restitution. How unfortunate that I needed this, as if my job is some injury or loss that I must be recompensed for. How awful that I was frivolous with my time, not thoughtful enough to realize it would accumulate. How terrifying that I could do this to myself for I don’t even know how long, only now realizing how much it’s affected my happiness.

Sometimes, I’m curious how others describe me. On the surface, everything probably seems fine. I just got back from photogenic Morocco. Last December, I got engaged in tranquil Quintana Roo. The summer before that, I spent a week never far from the amazing waters of the Amalfi Coast. This weekend, Tina and I are driving California’s Lost Coast. We’ll stay in a bed & breakfast, walk on a black sands beach, see waterfalls and mountains after fresh morning snow. I got inspiration for this trip from friends and family, people I love dearly because they have always been there for me. I can afford my imagination with a stable career that offers flexibility. I show up anywhere appearing comfortable and looking respectable. I make conversation. On the surface, everything must seem fine.

But we don’t feel life on just the surface. Life hits us in even the deep places that we would rather continue to overlook. We feel the tiny collision that stung us years ago; we smile when we get just a slice of joy; we hold onto the words that inch us closer to feeling either accepted or rejected. Then, we get older and feel the squeeze of time. Have we less of it than we realize? Have we done enough in our time? Have we ensured all those deep places are filled with at least a satisfactory amount of adequacy?

That we are more prone to these moments of alarm must be due to our getting older. We’ve lived more, and we’ve compiled enough data to tell whether something is rare or recurring. I’ll be brief. Lazy, complacent, antisocial: these are the patterns I’ve subscribed to because empowering them was easier than pursuing more life. As a result, I’ve lost touch with friends but gained body fat. I’ve traded learning new skills for watching new shows. It’s awful enough to admit. What’s worse is on the surface, I seem fine. And because I distanced myself from people, I reduced the likelihood of necessary confrontation.

To be a really great, more complete human being, must it take the willpower to look beyond our strengths and confront our flaws, even if they’re little? Must we be cautious of celebrating ourselves too much so that our minor, discrete weaknesses cannot sneak up on us and coalesce? How utterly grueling, this desire to grow. We have to expose the things we’ve kept dark, the things that make us uncomfortable, the things that bring us shame. And then comes the hard part. We still have to confront them, and correct them through trial-and-error. We have to prop up our own internal dialogue so that we might be ready to deal with this every day. To commit to change is to commit to pain.

I am in it now. I know because I hurt. But, I’m hearing my own voice again, and it’s speaking at a depth way, way beneath the surface.

Casual musings on travel and living. Photos at www.donovanbui.com