Below are a couple of journal entries I made during a trip to Europe eight years ago… before marriage, before kids. I ran across them while digging through my journals for something else, and was surprised at the similarity between these and my recent posts. Perhaps my happiness journey started long before I’d originally thought.
Here I am, well into my journey across Europe, and into my own mind. I have not wanted to write much; my thoughts limited to basic daily operations. Alone I sit at a street café, gazing up at the undecided weather, a bit undecided myself. Am I happy to be alone and able to explore different worlds without having to consider anyone else’s agenda? Or am I afraid and lonely, in need of familiar faces and comforting, senseless conversation? Or, am I simply afraid to venture into the dark caves of my mind, those so easily ignored during my busy life at home.
Various groups of people come and go from the café. Small bits of English occasionally break through the sea of Spanish and Catalán, causing my head to snap up, a rush of hope across my cheeks. I watch the people as they pass by, wondering how life has brought them here; if their story is similar to mine. Else I sit in my own quiet corner, hearing only a constant hum of incomprehensible words mixed with espresso machines and baby cries.
Several years ago, when I had made the decision to travel to Spain alone, I had not imagined it would be so difficult.
The typical response I got as a child when I would tell people that my parents were divorced was a quick, but noticeable expression of pity, empathy, sorrow. Even if they did not mention it aloud, they felt sorry for me because I had to grow up with separated parents, because I had to go through a divorce. But for me, these were all the wrong things to be sorrowful about.
The typical response I got as a child when I would tell people that my parents were divorced was a quick, but noticeable expression of pity, empathy, sorrow.
I was three when my parents divorced. I don’t remember ever seeing them together. It seemed completely natural that they lived in different homes, and even that they had different partners. In fact, the only reason I suspected it was not normal was because of the looks I got when I mentioned it.
As I grew older, I made a point to tell people that it did not affect me negatively. I even had a standard saying that I would repeat each time the subject was brought up: “No, it’s not bad at all; I just have four parents instead of two!” Sometimes I would also mention how this made Christmases so much more fun, or how it made me a more well-rounded person to have four different personalities guiding me through life.
But now, after spending hours every day arguing with myself about what I want to do and who I want to be, I have begun to wonder if I was at least partially wrong. Yes, Christmases brought two-times the presents, but the more personalities, and the extent of their differences, has come to almost haunt me.
My dad is one who embraces every moment. He floats over the jagged hills of life with his eyes wide open and his emotions at his fingertips…
My parents had very good reason to get divorced; they had grown into completely opposite people. My dad is one who embraces every moment. He floats over the jagged hills of life with his eyes wide open and his emotions at his fingertips so as not to miss a single experience. He has as dramatic of downs as he has ups; but he’d say they’re all worth it. He loves learning new things, trying new things, meeting new people, and having long, heated debates about everything from history to astronomy, psychology to politics. His motivation drives him only to continue on, and experience more. For him, work is necessary only if he needs money to fund his next adventure.
My mom, on the other hand, is passionate about work. So passionate, I sometimes worry about her happiness once work is no longer part of her daily life. She’s not necessarily passionate about the specific work she’s doing, but more about performing the best she can. Her pleasures come from the formation of a vision, from the successful execution of that vision, from the realization of improved operations and monetary gains. Hers is a more calculated path, where she is the driver and destinations are only decided upon after much comparison and deliberation. My mother loves to produce great things: a succulent meal, a perfectly constructed and harmonious environment in every room of her house, a gift that–although it may have taken weeks to comprise–enlivens her exact and long-thought out concept. She is her toughest judge.
My mother loves to produce great things: a succulent meal, a perfectly constructed and harmonious environment in every room of her house, a gift that–although it may have taken weeks to comprise–enlivens her exact and long-thought out concept.
Then there are my step-parents, who although are not related to me by blood, have been in my life since I was four, and are related in heart and mind. Both are recovering alcoholics, who actively practice the AA ways of life. This alone, gives them a perspective very different from both my mom and dad.
My step-dad has an ability to boil the world down to only what is important to him, and be okay even if that’s very different from what’s important to others around him. He sifts through the screen of daily subjects and acts only on his wildest of desires. When my step-dad is not spending time keeping his things in immaculate condition, he is golfing, or zooming his race car around a local track, or racing his brother in an online video game, or sailing, flying, or riding his motorcycle. His motivations in life are to live out these desires, and his work is just the vehicle which enables him to do so. He cherishes friendships with all walks of life, always finding a common interest to discuss, or–if none exists–relishing in the opportunity to step into a completely foreign life, if only to observe how different it is from his own or share in the joys of another. In conflicts, he always makes sure to take time, step back, and determine what is fair, how he could improve.
My step-mom sees life as a spiritual journey, through which she is able to feel, love, see, and understand more with every day. Aside from all else, she wants spiritual happiness not only for herself, but for everyone. She cries when I read her my work. She lets emotion over take her, and appreciates the experience. For her, work is simply a method of obtaining the food and clothes necessarily to energize and cover the body which carries her spirit.
And then there’s me, a jambalaya of sorts, consisting of bits and pieces of all of them mashed together; each piece pushing apart from the other, fighting to separate like water and oil.
And then there’s me, a jambalaya of sorts, consisting of bits and pieces of all of them mashed together; each piece pushing apart from the other, fighting to separate like water and oil. I yearn to be successful in my career, always working late to get just a little bit more done, and then kicking myself for missing the chance to relax, or go out and spend the money I’ve worked so hard to earn. I think and plan every next step, and then hate myself for spending all my time planning instead of doing. But maybe it is not four parents that has lead me to this inner struggle… maybe this is what “coming of age” is all about.
I am sitting by the window in a coffee shop in Sevilla, Spain, and I have just found myself. Perhaps it is not Sevilla or Spain in particular, that did it, but just a place where I am alone, far away from friends and family, from work and other normal responsibilities. Here, in this big city full of busy people and cars and events, I have found the desolation I needed, and it has forced me to look upon myself in ways I have never done before.
I have been gone 19 days and until two days ago, I had been afraid to look inside. I have sat alone watching people walk by, living their own lives, and I have longed to speak to them, to learn who they are, what they think of life here, where they want to travel. I have looked out in every direction but continue to return unsatisfied with what I’ve seen. It is only upon looking in that I realized that this is what this trip always was for me. This is why I had needed to make it alone.
And maybe Spain is exactly where I needed to go to find myself. Here, everywhere one looks they can find mixtures of contrasting elements: home of the Sagrada Familia and the Alcázar, palaces constructed of centuries of blended architecture: Roman, Islamic, Catholic, and more. In the Alcázar, the main doors display a smooth interception of Islamic and Christian iconography.
Here–in the land “where tradition and modern life collide,” in the “constellation of autonomous regions, each with its own character and often its own language,” in this “cultural cocktail”–I feel comforted as I unearth the contrasting aspects of my own personality and become enlightened with realizations of how they meld together to form the ornate composition of my being.