It is a week of reflection as we approach our first anniversary in Bratislava this Friday. A time when we couldn’t find Bratislava on a map is a dimly flickering memory. We forget most of our friends still can’t recall exactly where we live. This city has become such a part of our lives we believe – by extension – it must be part of everyone’s life. No doubt we will spend a bit of time this week talking through what we have learned, setting our goals for the coming year , and speculating about “what’s next?”
I think we’re both different people from the ones who flew up the stairs to our apartment and double locked our doors then kneeled on the floor peering out our window to plot a safe outing. We have learned to ignore the thin layer of grime and graffiti and see the town for what it is – a safe and happy home.
We have learned to laugh off the small annoyances. Last week, Pat ordered chicken, spinach and potatoes for dinner. The waitress brought a plate overflowing with steak wrapped in bacon, sauerkraut and gnocchi. He smiled and said “thank you” and looked at his meal as though it was exactly what he wanted. He didn’t flinch when I whispered “What the heck is that?” We’ve learned to be more patient – especially in these frequent bouts of miscommunication. We accept it is our fault. We water down our vocabulary to the most necessary verbs and nouns. We eat what’s on the plate.
We have learned that all kids laugh as they run through water fountains and they cry when their balloon bursts. Adults worry about paying the bills, caring for aging parents, dealing with sick babies. We aspire to the same goals and dreams; a good job, a roof over our heads, food on the table, a relaxing summer vacation. And when we strike it rich, we all buy big and expensive cars. There seems to be something fundamental in the human DNA that converts new-found wealth into possessions.
We have learned that everyone has an opinion of Americans and the United States – from college students who worked there in the summer and loved it to people who happily tell us they have never been and never want to go. That said, we have also been given access to people by virtue of our American passports as when Peter Bielik joined us for lunch to talk about his dad’s famous photograph. We’ll continue to accept the good while ignoring the bad on this point. What choice do we have?
We have learned that we don’t need all the stuff in our storage unit. It’s a rare day when we buy things and even rarer when we miss the things awaiting us in Colorado. We enjoy the freedom of the unencumbered.
We have learned that the best parts of life – food and drink with friends, a night at the symphony or the opera, an occasional four day weekend someplace new – are readily available, affordable, and don’t require dusting. We Americans have a tendency to make life a bit more complicated than it needs to be.
We have learned we can spend virtually every minute of every day together and be completely content. After years of comings and goings – raising three kids, working jobs, taking care of a silly large home, managing the commitments of volunteering and community service, we enjoy our time spent each evening over the leisurely paced European meal. We’ve learned to like the slow dance of dinner accompanied with the varied pace of conversation. With all our commitments peeled away, daily life is distilled to its essence. And that essence is still good.
We have learned that life and people and places can be a cup half empty or it can be a cup half full. Most days, we get to choose. Most people react to the choice we make. We wear that choice on our face, in our attitude and demeanor, in the way we treat people. When we are friendly and happy, people almost always respond in kind.
And we have learned that a 95-year-old man can be the most interesting person at the party. When I look at pictures of John G. Morris jumping up from his chair at the DNC with his fist raised and his face beaming, I can’t help but smile back.
We have some goals for the next year. We will travel more in the immediate area of Central Europe; the Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Poland. We have developed the skills – or at least the confidence – to tackle these less touristy places. At the same time, we will stay put and continue to enjoy our life here in Bratislava. We’ll eat more meals at home. We’ll appreciate each day more fully as each season passes for the last time in our current home.
As I look ahead beyond our next year, who knows what will happen? I have three goals: complete a three-month French immersion program; attend a one month writers workshop; and achieve certification as an ESL instructor. We will venture back to Colorado and cut our things in half yet again – distill life to what really matters, what we actually want and need, the items we plan to pass down to our children – my great grandmother’s quilts, my father’s first Christmas bulb. We will spend some time there with our youngest as she finishes college and completes the metamorphosis to independent adult. We will visit our son in Philadelphia as Pat helps him fix up his new house. We will visit our other son and daughter in law in their new home in Charlottesville. We will plot our next caper.
At some point, I’ll focus on what I’ll be when I grow up, where I want to live, what I want to do. But honestly, for now, those thoughts aren’t on my radar screen. For right now, we are happy. You can’t always plan life. Sometimes, you just have to eat whats on the plate.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava