In 1977 my parents threw caution to the wind. They skipped out on real life and did what any nonconforming Hippie would do — they went to Europe with their five-year-old in tow. No kindergarten for me. The world was my classroom. Truly it was.
My parents and I spent almost a year hitchhiking and backpacking through Europe. I have vivid memories of riding through Switzerland on the back of an open tractor trailer truck, choking on diesel fumes, as we bounced along with the open road rushing under our feet. Once while hitchhiking in Paris, we were picked up by a lovely young woman who took pity on our homelessness and gave us a place to rest. I spent the night sound asleep nestled between my parents in a Paris brothel.
Another raining night we spent in a police station in Portugal after almost floating away in our tent. Receiving warmth and shelter after days and nights of huddling together in our waterlogged nomadic home. We wintered in a tiny bathroom-less hut on the island of Crete; playing naked in the waves and collecting snails for dinner along the roadway. I recall riding a bus in Morocco and buying fig necklaces from vendors as we departed the rancid over-stuffed vehicle only to find that we had to pick maggots out of the dried fruits before eating them. I can see my father’s face nodding reassuringly as he took the first bite. There was a twinkle in his eye as he bit in and I remember smiling back impishly. Like we were doing something so scandalous — eating a fig with worms! These are by far my happiest memories of my childhood. Easily.
I cannot recall how we decided which countries to visit. Where to stay and for how long. I imagine us as gypsies going where the wind blew us. Trusting that the universe would somehow provide. My parents would sporadically work at a Youth Hostel in Switzerland. Whenever we needed to replenish our wares or our money, we’d go back to Zermatt and stay just long enough to fatten our waistlines and our wallets to ready ourselves for the next adventure.
To me, the world was safe. People helped us. They opened their hearts to a very young couple with a young child and we were often given food and shelter. Generous people showed up time and time again. Providing us opportunities that others may not have been granted because of me. Children move people. They do. We did completely crazy, off-beat, risky things. But you know what? We were safe. Always. I never questioned my safety. I didn’t ever think about it. I was with my parents and therefore I was safe. End of story.
Last weekend I finished writing and then submitted an article for Trigger Points Anthology. This was an incredibly difficult piece for me to write because I had cut off from my childhood trauma for many, many years. I’m in the process of integrating it now. Writing about something before you’ve figured it all out is quite challenging, to say the least. What it has left me with is a dull ache in the depth of my-self. A longing to fully come to terms with the existential meaning of my life. Bringing me back to the fundamental question: Does my life in fact have meaning?
Working on my essay brought me closer to myself and gave me an opportunity to sit and think about life. My life and life as a whole. When I hopefully get to a ripe old age, will I be able to reflect upon my life-time and answer these questions that I keep sitting with. They are in no particular order:
1. Did I tread lightly on our planet?
2. Was I mindful and thoughtful in my actions?
3. Did I bulldoze my way through life or did I leave gentle fingerprints on all I touched and encountered?
4. Do my children like me? Not love me — because children are brought into this world believing that they should love their parents — but like who I am as a person? Are they proud of me?
5. Did I live in connected companionship with my husband? Was he my partner in the truest sense of the word? Did I do my best to support him and help him be his best-self?
6. Did I show the people I care about that they are dear to me? That I value them? Respect them? Was I able to be vulnerable and honest with them?
7. Did I tell people that I loved them? Did my behavior show them that I did?
8. Did I live my life wrapped in a blanket, in bubble wrap — afraid of the world or did I let myself be naked in life? Exposed. Vulnerable. Honest.
9. Did I assume responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made? Was I accountable for my actions both good and bad?
10. Did I live a life of feeling? Did I feel? Or did I run from my feelings and in essence my life?
I’m certain that I’m missing some fundamental questions but my heart can only take so much of this diving into existential living. So much of this is a process — this shift in our thinking and how we relate to ourselves that I so often touch upon. These pieces will fall into place and my journey with you — writing and connecting — will inevitably afford more time for reflection and contemplation. I’m looking forward to it. I’m also certain you have your own list. I’d love to read what it is.
I am learning how precious time is as I write and read and stretch and grow. Life to me is about how we choose to spend our time and our perceptions about this. Everything in this fast ADD-paced culture demands speed. People don’t have time to sit and read a novel. They want what my good friend has told me are called Listicles. Isn’t that just hilarious? It makes me giggle. I love it. Listicles. Our lives have been reduced to Top 10 lists. Look around at magazines, books, newspapers, Facebook. Each title proclaims to have the answers. The fixes. The secrets. Okay. But to what? What is it exactly that we are searching for? What is this quest we are on?
When we read “Top 10 Secrets To Weight Loss!” Or “Top Five Fixes To Becoming An Unbelievable You!” What are we really hoping for? I think what it comes down to is this — Am I fully present? Am I living my life with intention and purpose? Am I fully awake in my life? And last (question 11 if this was a true Listicle) is this: Do I know how to truly love?
And this is the crux of it all: Do I love myself? Because if we make time for that –, if we can get to self-love and self-worth — then we can be pretty certain we’re already doing questions 1-10.
Often when I am overcome with how little time I think I have, I consider stopping. Just stopping everything. Making the choice to quit juggling. Piling my brood into a VW Microbus and going where the wind blows us. Simply letting go and trusting the universe. Is that the answer to having a meaningful life? Is it even realistic? I’m not sure. But it sounds romantic and risky and full. It’s fun to think about anyway.
So … maybe I fibbed a little bit with my title. This isn’t really a Listicle and it’s really not about lassoing time. It’s about finding meaning in the time that we do have. You can call my bluff. I’m okay with that. If I got you to sit for a brief moment of time in your own quiet company, I’m good with that. Be brave. Be open. Be present. Take risks.
And as always, take good care!