Monday, September 21, 2009

Not on the road, quite yet ...

You may think the title of this blog is misleading, as you read the next paragraph. But rest assured, this is actually going to be about travel, as I have next year off work to go gallivanting around the world. I just have a roundabout way of explaining first why that’s so important to me right now, prompted by the movie I rented tonight on the spur of the moment.

I just watched the film “Before Sunrise” again. If you don’t know it, it’s a story that takes place in one night, as Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train. They get off together in Vienna and spend one night wandering the city; the film shows the developing relationship and chemistry between them. I saw it not long after it came out in London (which was a little behind North America, Hollywood-movie-wise) sometime in the fall of 1995. I loved it then (and I loved it now), but at the time, in 1995, it was bittersweet. I’d gone to see it with my then-boyfriend (with whom I was living), and I remember walking out of the movie theatre thinking, “They’ve known each other a few hours, and I’ve known this guy for years, and we still don’t have what they have.” My relationship was not in a good place by then, and we barely spoke except to argue; it probably won’t be any surprise that it ended a few months later.

But I mention it not to reminisce about past relationships. What I love about the movie is the sense of possibility – the idea that in the space of few hours, before the sun rises the next day, life can change. You can meet someone, encounter something, see something, have a conversation … that changes you forever, even if that experience only lasts a short time.

That movie isn’t about romance, really, for me. It’s about being open to the world, and to life, and seizing the experiences that come your way. Appreciating the moments, fleeting though they may be, that remind you that you’re alive, remind you to be passionate and audacious and curious about everything and everyone who crosses your path. That you only get one time around, so you’d better grab hold of every moment that enriches this life while you can.

I’ve felt like that, at many times in my life.

I have talked through the night with dear and wonderful friends, happy just to be with them. I have loved, and been loved, and felt my heart break when it ended.

I have taken on what were, for me, formidable physical challenges (with that little voice in my head telling me “but you’re not an athlete”) and triumphed, joyous laughter bubbling up in my throat as I crossed the finish line of that marathon or accepted that brand-new black belt.

I have sat on the top of a Mayan temple in the Guatemalan jungle as the sun rose, listening to the howler monkeys as they woke, and on the top of a dune in the Saharan desert as the sun set.

I have danced for three days straight in the English countryside, with the DJ spinning trance or house out over the crowd of thousands of ravers.

I have felt enormous satisfaction at knowing I can take on a challenging professional job, and do it extremely well, using whatever intelligence and talent I am fortunate enough to possess.

I had that sense of possibility – the next adventure was just around the corner. I didn’t have to wonder, “What if…?” because I took a chance and tried it, whatever it was.

But I’ve lost that sense somewhere over the last few years. It isn’t an age thing … although it’s true that at 40, I don’t have the same feeling of unlimited time that I did when I was 23. It’s a mindset. I used to feel adventurous and bold and excited about my life, and now I feel like I’m going through the motions, that I’m just marking time for some vague and unspecified event that I can’t even name.

So this is where the year off work comes in.

If I stay here, that challenging and interesting job that I used to love will continue to demand all of my time and energy. And I will let it, because I care about doing a job – any job – well, and because it’s the one part of my life that feels like it’s going well and where I feel like I’m in control. And I could all too easily get addicted to the money I make (it's pretty nice) and the lifestyle and "things" it can buy me – none of which I actually need to make me happy. And none of which WILL make me happy, if I keep shutting off the rest of myself.

I miss the Carol who was willing to try new things, go to new places, meet new people. The Carol who would say “Oh, what the hell” when a friend called her up at midnight to go dancing, instead of worrying about getting enough sleep for work the next day. Who could live happily with just a backpack and a few dollars in her wallet. Who would risk her body to find out her physical limits, to accept the aching muscles later for the glory of crossing the finish line or making it down that ski run. Who would risk her heart and the pain it might later feel, for the chance to connect with a new friend or fall in love.

So I’m stepping out of my usual life for a little while. And going on the road. Somewhere along the way, I will find that Carol again.

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