As I write this, I am sitting in a Holiday Inn in a small town in Germany somewhere in-between Munich and the München Airport in Bavaria. I missed a connecting flight but I have free Wi-Fi, food, accommodation, and I haven’t missed seeing my family for the holidays. I think it’s what I needed to clear my head before I go home, and it’s given me a time to ready myself for the holidays, to put on some warm socks, drink a few free cappuccinos, and go for a long walk in the dark down the back roads of a country I’ve never lived in. That walk gave me some clarity and got me thinking about the last year, about the last four months and their place in my life.
I want to begin to make this point by talking about this blog. Blogging – or just writing more regularly I suppose – has been an interesting exercise for me because it’s given me the opportunity to clear my head the last several months. I like that I’ve been able to relate my thoughts to friends and family in a way they might not get otherwise, but mainly I’m doing it for myself. It’s something I’ve needed as I’ve transitioned into living in a new place, and I think more people need this kind of outlet no matter their circumstances. This is of course obvious wisdom, but wisdom that we nevertheless forget, ignore, or fail to put into practice. A lot of people write or journal or blog, and a lot of it doesn’t mean that much. But writing can reconnect you to yourself and your life and give it a continuity, so I’m glad to force myself to do that every now and then, even if I don’t publish it.
In my estimation, the point about continuity is important because it goes not only for writing but for life itself. Think about some of the best moments you’ve had. (Done?) They’re likely small, random flashes of connection that make little sense on their own, but which surprise you and make you feel connected to some sort of a larger whole. You can plan them but it’s difficult, and the chances for failure are high if you do so. Exercise. Meditation. Coffee. Good friends. Quietude. Weird moments of transcendence. Music. Hygge. (Am I Danish yet?!) These are all areas where maybe one out of ten times – if you’re lucky – you get to step outside and feel a continuity with your own life or with the universe. I had one of those moments tonight while I was walking and looking at all the Christmas lights on random German homes. And it got me thinking about the holidays and the way they make us think about our own lives.
Holidays are a great framework to understand this idea of continuity because they are rooted in historicized mythologies of our own lives. Holidays are occasions where we find stories, distill those stories into manageable chunks, and then use the luxury of retrospect to relate them to ourselves and others. In other words, we tell stories, and in doing so we tell some lies but also learn more truths. In this way, the experience or understanding of our own life becomes as important as the lived aspect of it. I relate this to the idea of continuity because it helps to define the spirituality I have, which is a spirituality of moments we feel in connection to a larger whole, even if that whole is imagined. I think we need holidays because, unlike a lot of other traditions, they force us to think of our life more in waves and see the bigger picture. (Which I have trying to do a lot of lately.)
There’s a phrase I came up with a couple weeks ago on a long bike ride in Copenhagen which seems appropriate for the idea of continuity. That is that one of the best qualities of holidays for me is their ability to make you nostalgic for a life you are not necessarily sure you have lived. We don’t think of our lives in historical terms, at least not in the day-to-day, but we should because it helps save is from going crazy. Holidays even more so than other forms of tradition force us to take a step back and think of our lives in those historical terms, providing continuity to our year. The only way we are going to do that, though, is if we purposefully or unconsciously omit details to think of life as the sum of parts rather than the experience of the parts themselves.
I think about this and the holidays as I’m traveling home because I think this holiday type of thinking and understanding is core to my understanding of who I am more than I think it is for other people. It’s how I try to think about the world in moments where I’m down on myself. In this way, I’d say my life as it now is no more defined in the lived sense than it was four months ago, but is clearer in the experienced sense. There’s so many things I’ve gotten ‘wrong’ in my life, and things that this year didn’t solve. I don’t have a girlfriend, I worry about the same things in a different country, I lapse into the same behaviors that I find annoying or problematic, I still get way too angry at people taking their time when I need to be somewhere, I’m impatient, I use sarcasm that other people don’t understand. I mean well, but living in a new place didn’t change any of that, it never does. But it’s important to remember. This year I hope to practice patience, to give myself more credit, to spend my first full year away from home and be okay with it, to save money, to take a step back and breathe, to make less judgements, to let loose more – and hopefully I’ll do even more living moment to moment than experiencing the larger whole.
I know going home is going to make me doubt some of that, because of memories of my life so far that are both positive and uncomfortable. I can’t break the sense that leaving home hasn’t been as difficult for me as it was for some because the life I’m leaving behind isn’t as fully formed as it is for some people. But the life I’m living now after four months in a new country isn’t either, and I don’t know what that means. So, for now I’m choosing the experience of my last year and especially of the last four months over the living of it, because there seems to be a large gap between what I feel has changed and what has actually changed. But I can’t deny that I’m changing in some ways even though many will still see me as the exact same person. In other words, this year there have been a lot more flashes of continuity than years before, moments where it all made sense even though the whole doesn’t always make sense. I wish I could put into more concrete terms than that, but it’s difficult, and that’s what I’m feeling on this cold night in Germany as I wait to head home.
See you next year.*
* In more topical news, the new Star Wars movie is fantastic, I’m enjoying The Crown, I’m grateful for my new friends (any ‘Cucumbers’ reading this?), I’m still tired despite winding down for the year, I think I’ll pass my Global Business exam, I’m a little worried about money because of a shitty landlord and the American educational system, my neck really hurts, and I’m nervous about running out of things to do while I’m home.