it’s been just over a month since my trip to Europe, and already it feels not quite real. I feel like I have already lost so many of the emotions and experiences that were so vibrant and potent in the moment; all those lingering memories getting swallowed up as the return to routine life continues to plod forever forward, moving further and further away from what (at the time) seemed like it would never end.
The problem after any big, wonderful experience, such as an exciting and exotic trip, is how do you return to regular life? How do you find contentment in the every day routine that you are forced to return to and pick up again? And yet, at the same time, how do you also hold on to the insights and new perspectives that you may have gained in your adventures?
During a recent discussion with one of the groups I participate in at church, we talked about the importance of existing in the present and not getting caught up in the past or the future. It was a beautiful discussion, as we discussed the importance of trusting God with our future and offering up to Him our past. After all, the present moment is the only one that we ourselves have control over. Only in the current moment are we able to exercise our free will and choose how we are going to proceed.
I’ll admit, I’m not so great at living in the present. My imagination is always taking me into the future and my analytical mind is always examining the past (sometimes not very helpfully), and when I am just going about my regular daily routine it can be hard to be really present and grateful for what I have around me. When you go on a trip or have some other exciting experience, it’s so easy to get caught up and feel like a different person and like you are looking at everything from the top of the world. But eventually you come back down to the valley and everything looks the same again and you fall back into those familiar ruts that you are used to traveling.
I had this same experience after returning from the Chesterton Conference this past summer. I spent a weekend with the most fascinating and intelligent people, discussing topics that I actually understand and love, and I came home filled with a new rejuvenation in my writing, reading, and life in general. After meeting and connecting with such interesting people, I felt like I was really “in the world”. After constantly introducing myself as an author and describing my work, I began to really believe in it in a way that can be difficult when I am just sitting alone in front of a computer. I even managed to maintain that gusto for a few weeks, before the sweep of daily life gradually brought me back to that same old that track I’m used to traveling.
And I also had the same experience the summer previous, after spending a week with my best friend on her family’s farm in Michigan. It was beautifully idyllic and I never wanted to leave. I went for walks every day, over fields and through forests, feeling like Elizabeth Bennet and wondering why I don’t always spend such time in nature. Again, I managed to hold on to that peace and new perspective on life for a few weeks, but, again, the rest of life always returns with a gusto of its own.
I believe that these moments in our lives are important, not only because they can give us small islands of peace in our otherwise chaotic schedules, but because they give us time reflect and look at the world with new perspectives from time to time. But if we lived in those moments all of the time, then we would lose sight that they were even happening (to paraphrase the musical “Into the Woods”). We have to learn to appreciate both “those moments in the woods” and also our regular, everyday life at the same time.
The experiences that I have had abroad, or just a few states away, have shaped me in many ways, but it’s only when I am home again that I can really start to apply any lessons that I have learned. The key for me has been to realize that I am always the same person; I am the same person abroad as I am when I am home. Though my attitudes and perspective might be different, I am still the same person in my essence. I can be adventurous in my home town and explore it the way that I would a foreign city. I can allow myself the indulgence of being a romantic and looking at nature with loving eyes. I can experiment with my cooking, looking up new recipes and cuisines. I can be the writer that I introduce myself to people as.
“Be present” is a maxim we hear so often that these days that it has almost become meaningless. But it is repeated so often because it is actually very important. It’s the everyday routines and occurrences that actually make up our lives, and our lives can be made better when we learn to realize this and place value in the things that we do every day. Again, the present moment is the only one that we have control over. We all get to decide how to live each particular moment, so how will you live yours?
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