"Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise."
- Les Misérables
I’ve been in Paris for 11 days now, and I’m finally writing for the first time since I got here. I could tell you about the fun, interesting language course I’ve been taking (but had to miss due to a ridiculous cold this week), the cool new friends I’ve made, and the view from my Airbnb rental that I make myself look at every time I feel homesick so I can try to transform that sadness into gratitude. And I will probably tell you about all of those things at some point because they are wonderful. But I think we all know that I never really write about the things that seem to make the most sense to write about. (And that sometimes I end sentences in prepositions because it’s just the easiest, most normal-sounding thing to do.) Trust me, this isn’t the post even I thought I’d be writing today, but it seems to be the only one that was called for. (See what I mean about the prepositions?)
Each time I’ve traveled alone this year, I’ve gone through a mixture of emotions that I think many travelers and tourists do. There’s the feeling of exhaustion after an 11ish-hour flight and then sleeping in for 12 hours and then not sleeping more than 4 or 5 hours for the next few nights and then inevitably catching a cold that makes your head feel like it’s going to implode at any moment. Then there’s the feeling of being on a high whenever you see Le Sacré-Cœur lit up from a distance or when you utter a French phrase at a restaurant and the server actually understands what you’re trying to say. Then there’s the homesickness brought about in moments of silence, the depression that sets in watching all of the natural disasters and tragedies taking place back at home, and the paralyzing fear of being alone.
There’s the sense of helplessness that sets in when the idea of even doing something simple, like returning a new radiator that you bought because the built-in wall units have suddenly started working again, makes you want to curl up on the couch and never leave your apartment. There’s the feeling that you’re five years old again as simple phrases escape you and you get served a charcuterie plate and even start to question whether you know how to properly eat bread and cheese and meat. There’s the feeling of foolishness when you realize you’re the only one smiling on the Metro and that it makes you look ridiculous. Then there’s the complete simplicity and contentment to be found when sitting on the Metro with a practiced, serious look on your face, all the while thinking to yourself, “I’m so happy right now, even though it totally doesn't look like it.”
All of these feelings and ups and downs and more have already occurred for me in the last week and a half, and I think all of them are vitally important to the whole process—of both traveling and living in general. However, throughout all of this, there’s been something even larger looming and nagging at me. I’ve been having thoughts like, “Why does anything we do matter?” and “What gets me up in the morning? What gets other people up in the morning?” and “What is my sense of purpose? Do I even have one?” and “How am I a contributing member to society? …AM I a contributing member of society?”
I know. These are the annoying, whiny, pseudo-intellectual thoughts of a young(ish) woman with too much time on her hands as she flits about Paris sipping coffee and wine and eating her weight in cheese. I hear it, too. But I don’t want what I’m about to say to lose its significance because of that. As the saying (that a friend reminded me of last night) goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” So no matter how fabulous a Facebook profile or Instagram feed may look, I think we all go through these kinds of things I want to address.
So honestly, last night, this thought process I’m referring to spiraled into a full-on questioning of my value and worth as a human being and whether anything I do matters and wondering why anyone would even want to be my friend when I’m somehow finding ways to be anything but blissfully happy in the City of Lights/Love (can never decide which to call it). Let’s be real. I have an uncanny ability to annoy myself. Sometimes I don’t like myself. But I suppose, at the end of the day, I must love myself enough to keep going, just like you and everyone else who may read this—as well as the people who won’t and never will. And yet sometimes I can’t figure out exactly what keeps me going and trying and striving.
I know. What I just wrote is weird and heavy and a total over-share for the Internet. But honestly, who cares? I’m (almost) over worrying about how I might come across because none of us ever really has the full picture of what’s going on with one another. We get glimpses of moments and brief thoughts, feelings, and observations. Whether we are positive, negative, optimistic, realistic, pessimistic, religious, nonreligious, liberal, or conservative, someone will always be there to find something unacceptable about the way we three-dimensional beings come across in this two-dimensional universe.
Basically, there’s really no winning, so I figure being real is just my only course of action. Plus, it’s a lot more efficient this way because I don’t have to think about how my statements match up if I always just say or do what feels natural to me. I’m trying to be as genuine as possible, but I’ll never fully get there. None of us will. But we can at least try. Anyway, I digress.
I know that I’m not alone in these things, so I feel compelled to shout it all from the rooftops and give everyone else a free pass to do the same. If only I had the ability to give those out. But I think we honestly have to give them to ourselves. However, it does help to hear other people speak their truth.
I was in a meditation class with my sister this past summer when the instructor asked the class, “What does your inner voice sound like?” There was a moment of silence, quickly followed by whispers of words such as “negative” and “critical.” Even the instructor, who seems to me to be one of the most at-peace women I have ever seen, said that she battles negative thoughts about herself throughout the course of her day.
When I attended a creativity workshop in May 2016 hosted by Elizabeth Gilbert and Rob Bell, Rob said he once asked a friend of his who teaches yoga and meditation what would put her out of business. She told him that she would be out of a job “if people knew they were enough.”
The bottom line is this—I figure if we can subject one another to our perfect coffees with the swirly foam designs, breathtaking photos of sunsets in big cities, and our political and religious views (I’m guilty of all of these things), then surely we can be real about some of the most human emotions and experiences of all, like vulnerability, fear, and lack of confidence, self-esteem, or purpose. Right? Cool.
Please do not misconstrue anything I am saying to be a sign that you need to worry about me or whether I’m happy or healthy or whatever word works there. I’m just wanting to point out that we all (or I imagine at least most of us) have these thoughts and feelings at times, so they should be normalized and discussed in a way that doesn’t scare people off from sharing these things with one another.
So my main purpose for writing this entire thing is to pose these questions, from a very human place: Sometimes I struggle with the question of how and/or why to "keep calm and carry on"—do you? If so, how do you cope and move forward? Where do you get your sense of purpose? What gets you up each morning, even when it's difficult?