Learning to Embrace Life's Subtle Moments
Almost 3 years since beginning my current journey, and only a few days out from finding myself back in a fully furnished and functioning apartment in Portland, I find myself wondering more and more about what the 2022 leg of the journey was all about. Why did I choose to do what I did? What was I hoping would come of it? What did come of it? How did I end up back in Oregon, only 160 miles north of where I started?! I've spent a lot of time on my own, in these subtle moments, often meditating to try to understand life a bit better, to understand myself, to feel connection on an intangible level that just maybe I could hold onto. Sometimes it seemed to work. More often, it seemed to postpone the inevitable. I felt alone. Maybe I was doing it wrong, I thought. I remember driving back to Portland a few years ago with a friend, having just spent a relaxing weekend at Breitenbush Hot Springs, saying that I came into this world alone, I was going out alone. I don't recall her liking that idea. I didn't like that idea either! But I think my journey of solitude was just beginning to come to the forefront of my mind and my life. I was just becoming aware of what I perceive to be part of humanity's reality. But what am I supposed to do with this understanding, or belief...whatever it may be?
Winter in New England
On May 1, I drove out of Bend, en route back to Portland, in a rental car. I sold my car a few days earlier and shipped what was left of my belongings back to the east coast to be stored at my parent's for an unknown period of time. I figured that was the most cost-effective route to entering into a new, big adventure that was, at the very least, starting overseas, without totally liquidating my most precious possessions that I had worked hard to collect over the last 20 years. Well...it wasn't. At least not from a monetary standpoint. Whoops!
I started in Sweden, made my way to the south of France, then to Greece, a couple quick stops in Geneva and ended in and near the French Alps. The first couple of months were fun, just good old-fashioned fun. You know...a home dance party reminiscent of the college years. Or driving down to the beach in Cannes with my new friend on the 14th of July for fireworks, taking every backroad imaginable in search of the perfect little micro parking spot for my friend's tiny little car. What we found actually wasn't a spot at all. We just made it into one, pleased with our ability to work together and laugh our way through it keeping our fingers crossed that we'd get away with it! We did ;)
By the time August rolled around, I was getting tired of remote work and lots of travel to new places..alone. What I have come to realize is that all along the way, I was being carried. What I was interpreting as being alone was anything but. I think we are so accustomed to observing and idolizing the big and fancy moments of life that it can become very difficult to see the forest through the trees. If I'm not literally with another, I am alone. But is that true? I think what I experienced and learned while traveling is that I am never truly alone. And at the times when it does look like, to my worst nightmare, that I am all alone, the reality is that I may be only physically alone in the moment. And usually, if not always, there is a good reason for it. Like everything, it's temporary. The physical solitude will pass. But the little gems that are found once we get through the discomfort will be with us forever. That's my favorite type of nervous system down-regulation.
When I look back on my 3 months of travel, I was constantly looked after, shuttled from point A to point B, checked in on and encouraged to keep going. I've expressed to some how difficult the month of August was. I don't even really know why exactly. Nothing bad happened. It was just hard. I was tired. And the adventure I had set out on was expiring. It was almost midnight and my body knew it. The day before I left the apartment I rented on Karaoli & Dimitriou in Thessaloniki, the woman I was renting from wanted to stop by to say goodbye. She knew it was a hard month for me. She so kindly gave me a pair of earrings from a local vendor and sincerely expressed her appreciation for my time spent staying in her apartment. It was a truly touching farewell for someone I had only known for a month. I realized then that I should have reached out to her to get coffee. I loved the Greek Freddo Cappuccino. Yum! Why didn't I reach out to her?! We seemed to get along great! Why didn't I frequent my local coffee shop more often? Sometimes we just get in our own way. It's ok. I had a lesson that needed to be learned, even if 5 months later. It's like a version of the movie, Sliding Doors. Maybe there is no right way or wrong way. There are only different ways. As Yogi Berra says, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!"
New friends inspire - Pilane Sculpture Park, Sweden
At times we are carried along by people we know. When I arrived at the Gothenburg airport on June 2, my dear friend, Marlo, picked me up. It had been 18 years since we had seen each other! What an awesome reconnection! Five weeks later, I was dropped off at the same airport by my new friend, Ramona, who went out of her way to make sure I got off on the next leg of my journey safely. Thank you, Ramona. At other times, we are carried along by strangers that happen to cross our path. I took the bus or the tram when available while traveling in-country or to-and-from airports. And even then, I was looked after. When I boarded the bus in Thessaloniki to travel across town to my airbnb, a nice man, who wasn't even getting on the bus, stopped what he was doing to help convey to an otherwise very passionately inpatient bus driver where I was going. The partner of the woman I stayed with in Mouans-Sartoux offered to bring me to the airport in Nice because my flight to Greece was too early in the morning to take the train. This was only 2+ weeks after Florence met me at the train station and took the time to give me a tour of her town, making sure I knew where to find everything I would need during my stay. And then there was the time I was guided by a Greek-speaking French Canadian when I was nervously wondering if I was on the right train back to Thessaloniki from what seemed like a very remote part of central Greece. I sat on that same train that night, riding through the Greek countryside after dark, listening to a young and energetic traveler from Australia strike up a conversation with a Greek native, only to find themselves interested in one another and making plans to meet up in the coming days. I smiled. I could go on-and-on, but it's the same story, over-and-over again.
"Some friendships are timeless" - Gunnebo, Molndal, Sweden
We are never truly alone, despite appearances. I believe life exists in the subtle moments that can be so easily missed if we aren't careful. I think it's worth spending time in these subtle moments so that we can quietly gain clarity on where we stand within the grand scheme of life and the world around us. I don't always want to believe this to be true. It's not fun or flashy much of the time. But I think there is a lot of richness in these quiet moments, the seemingly solitary moments, the often lonely moments. I have efforted to embrace my solitude in the last few years. Maybe it was this endured aloneness that was the catalyst for my travels. And perhaps the travels were the catalyst for the next chapter of my life. A chapter that may not always look a whole lot different on the outside. But one that will and already does feel a whole lot different on the inside.
Thank you to all of you who have shuttled me along my way, encouraged me, or ever so subtly reminded me that I was not alone. I hope I have and will continue to return the favor when it matters the most. When I think back to that day driving away from Breitenbush with my friend, I find myself reconsidering what I said. Did I really come in alone and am I going out alone? I think in some ways yes and in other, very important ways, no. It may be worth looking deeper into the vast forest of subtleties. And if there's nothing there, at least I went for a nice walk, and possibly connected with some genuine people along the way.
Thanks for reading. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. And as a gentle reminder, this is not medical advice. It is simply my experience. Please consult with your doctor if you are in need of help.