This week, Pat and I took a walking tour of Berlin. The guide was an affable Irishman named Finn who led a tour of twenty-five of so visitors from around the world.
Finn began the walk by calling out the groups he was aware of from Australia and Sweden and San Francisco. They each said a few words of introduction.
Then Finn said, “Where are the people from Philadelphia.” Pat and I craned our necks, always a bit excited to meet Philadelphians. When no one raised their hands, Finn was as perplexed as we were, “I thought for sure we sold online tickets to a couple from Philadelphia.”
“Oh wait, that’s us.”
His confusion at our confusion begged a one sentence summary of our life. I ended by saying “Our credit card company thinks Philadelphia is our home.”
“You’re nomads,” Finn observed, “How long have you been living like this?”
I thought a moment before realizing that we had moved to Slovakia five years ago that very day–September 21, 2011.
I’d planned a different topic this week, but our fifth anniversary seemed noteworthy. Did I spend the last 48 hours in some sort of heady reflection? No. Our life is simply that, our life. We don’t dwell on it.
It reminds me of my eldest, Michael’s, first day of kindergarten. “Mom, I made a new friend,” he told me, “He has a very strange life. His dad works and his mom stays home.”
That day, Pat and I had “the talk” with Michael. Conformity, it seems, has never been our strength.
In reality, I don’t remember the person I was five years ago. Then, I was a working IBMer with a full plate of responsibilities and a very set agenda. I lived in a four bedroom and four bath empty nest after our baby girl had moved to college. I was 53—an age which now sounds young. Our grandson, Jack, was a nebula.
Now, I’ve been retired for 18 months, my ‘baby’ is 24 and working and living on her own. I’m 58—soon to be 59 soon to be 60. And Mike, that naïve kindergartener, is married. Jack stands and laughs and smashes avocado in and around his mouth.
Fifth year anniversary blog posts are like wedding toasts, I suppose. After the blathering, you need to dive in, so here we go.
Today, I’m much more focused on my health. This is partially because I am older. It’s also that we can’t easily access medical care and our life is, by necessity, more physical. I eat better, sleep better and force myself to work out. I wish I could say I feel better, but I think the reality is, I feel the same. Given I’ve aged five years; I guess that’s a victory. When I can no longer move, I can no longer travel. I want to delay that inevitability as long as possible.
Pat and I are both more fearless. Not in a let’s-jump-out-airplane sense, but more in that we try things, we fail, we try again, we eventually succeed—or we don’t and we move on. We realize, at the end of the day, no one dies. And when we do someday die, we will have a treasure chest of memories. Life is finite. I want to grab everything I can.
The ‘things’ in my life gave me an artificial happiness. No, it’s worse than that. They detracted from my ability to experience life to the fullest. They eroded my visceral happiness. I’m not saying everyone needs to clean out their metaphorical storage unit, but I do know that less can lead to so much more.
People suffer the same everywhere. They want the best for their children, lay awake worrying about health and finances and wonder how they will provide food and shelter. At our core, we are more the same than we are different. Now, I’m more inclined, when someone does something I believe is wrong, to ask myself, “What’s driving that behavior.” More often than not, I find an answer.
I have a better perspective of the history of 20th century Europe, life behind the Iron Curtain and the amazing resiliency of the people who lived on the east of that divide. I have a better perspective on how long it takes for a country to recover from decades of tyranny. I realize how terribly easy my life has been, and that I did nothing to have this life. I was born to better circumstances than most. Period. And I’m humbled by that knowledge.
I wish my father could return for one day so I could thank him for giving me an insatiable love of travel.
I am less likely to want to build walls.
Yet as much as I adore the world, and as much as I cherish my time in it, I realize that when our travel days are done, we will return to the United States. I’ve learned over the last five years that there really is no place like home.