Traveling can be a reminder of so many wonders that get buried under the to-do lists of daily living: presence, inspiration, curiosity, and fresh interpersonal connections. I am often out of my comfort zone when I travel, especially internationally, and these deeply meaningful aspects of life may rise up to the surface. My first trip on the underground, going to little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, immersing myself in art exhibits, and walking through rooms where my favorite composers wrote their most celebrated compositions all became more magical and felt more steeped in significance than had I been in my own country, among my own places and people. Of course, this gets further highlighted when I travel by myself, and even more so when I’m surrounded by a language that is not my own. This special isolation is fertile ground for a renewed examination of how I view my life.
I believe our lives are best seen from a distance. Light observation, soft, unimposing, and without chronic attention to detail, all foster a healthy view of life. Although I’m not confident this excerpt serves as the best example of what I’m exploring here, I am reminded of a few lines from Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Marriage”:
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
I do my best to let this advice guide me in my relationships, especially in my partnership. Freshness and air are essential in maintaining interest, energy, individuality, and in helping to let go of the little prickly things that inevitably and regularly pop up. But can this beautiful suggestion also be applied to how we view our lives? Socrates gave us the adage that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I counter that the over-examined life can be rigid, microscopic, self-absorbed, and dull. The newness of traveling can re-inspire one to put down the magnifying glass, step up to a higher plane, and reflect on life with a larger perspective.
I try my best to place experiences that happen to me into a logical context, but I often can’t let go of this nagging idea that life events fall into ordered, delightful, and meaningful patterns. What I mean to say is, I wish to now turn to a very unscientific way of looking at life that doesn’t follow data and cannot be backed up by evidence nor quantified in a statistically significant way.
A game that I enjoy playing, especially when I’m falling asleep, is to track significant events and people in my life. A good visual representation of this game might be Candy Land.
Have you played this game in the last two decades? It’s actually remarkably boring.
The two blonde children in overalls and striped shirts are like me as a child. I start on the game of life. When I usually play this game as I’m falling asleep, I often start with my decision to go to the University of Puget Sound. I think this is where I begin because this is when I left my parents’ house and my decision-making faculty increased exponentially. I felt in charge of my own life. So I suppose Plumpy stands for UPS.
At UPS I met Timmer O’Phelan (remember the days?). Timmer can be Lord Licorice. When I visited Timmer in St. Paul one Christmas break, I met his friend (?) who, when seing the Monteverde book I had brought along, suggested I study abroad in Costa Rica (represented by the Peppermint Forest). In Costa Rica I met Rachelle, who got me a job in Juneau for the summer (Juneau = Jolly). There I met William, who brought me to Mount Shasta, which moved me to Ashland, which is where Patchy Sanders enveloped me for three years, and whose ending inspired the move to Alaska and the start of graduate school (wow, I think we’re already with Gloppy and his Molasses Swamp). I don’t know if I can fit the rest of my game into just one King Kandy, but what happens next is I fly to Las Vegas (for the first and last time) and attend the 15th Annual International Hibernation Conference in 2016. I hear a talk on telomere dynamics in hibernating edible dormice. Flash forward a year-and-a-half later and the lead author of that study is opening the gate for me to the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Biological Research in Vienna, Austria. This was definitely Candy Castle.
Do you play this game too? I love hopping on the stepping stones of my life, remembering all the wonderful people that have waltzed in and out. Yet out of all the people I have met in my life, the ones that represent these stepping stones feel…different. You could chalk it up to my placing my own subjective meaning onto them, but that doesn’t sound very interesting. I have this feeling this has all already been set up and will continue to be perfectly orchestrated. This is a tricky thing to explain, especially as I’m not insinuating a Higher Power is due credit. I think what it comes down to, for me, is that humans have remarkably complex brains that create our own delightfully complicated, beautiful, and sometimes scary or harmful realities. I’m coming to realize the power of crafting my own personal reality and how this directly correlates with how satisfied I am in my life. “Satisfaction is based on expectations, and expectations come from within”, so said a wise young man in my life. I am self-creating my world, every minute, and I choose to create one that is structured by meaningful, beautifully orchestrated stepping stones of influential and remarkable people to connect with, however briefly, for the rest of my life.
So, this is what I take from Wien. The most recent step in my life-game, a further solidification of how I choose to view my life, and a rejuvenation of inspiration, presence, and meaning.
Inside the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library).