Note to reader: There will be no pictures in this blog. I am sorry for that.
When I initially sat down to write this post, I had in my mind to write about German Christmas Market trips of the past couple years. In the process, this post would inspire my next road trip thru some of the most beautiful cities in Germany and Beyond this Christmas season. The problem that I am struggling with at the moment is that my Christmas Spirit is not where it was in years past. I am excited about the time of year, yet I am not. I look around my living room and the spot that is usually filled by my little Charlie Brown artificial Christmas Tree every December is still bare already one week into the month. As I sit here looking out above my Macbook screen into the melancholic cold December street below my apartment, I realize that the Christmas Markets can wait. There is a more important story I must tell before this year comes to an end. Not for you. Not for anybody. Only for myself.
Recently my 17-year old daughter discovered the complexities and unpredictable nature of the teenage male heart. She was feeling pretty down, lost confidence in herself, and one morning asked me to call her while I was in Thailand on business. I hope my daughter doesn’t mind me sharing this, because she is a bit of an introvert like her dad. One of the things that introverts fear the most is showing themselves vulnerable to the outside world, whether it is raising their hand to answer a question in class and risking being wrong or sharing emotions with strangers. One particularly odd example of my own fear of vulnerability is choosing a restaurant for another person or other people. There is nothing worse for my ego than having someone dislike their meal at a restaurant I chose for them. Just writing a blog exposes my feeling of vulnerability every time I click the Publish button. It is guaranteed the next morning after publishing a post, I am waking up with this small panic inside my mind that I revealed too much of my inner-self in the post. But the fact is, regular doses of vulnerability are exactly what an introvert needs to overcome their own tendency to internalize everything, to come out of their shell, and to become a better version of themselves. Writing happens to be, in my opinion, one of the best ways to make oneself vulnerable. Writing requires thought, analysis, and reflection. The very process itself has the power of healing and strengthening. And when one shares one’s writing with others, that vulnerability leads to the feeling of accomplishment and self-confidence. So I advised my daughter to start writing. Writing about her travels, writing about her feelings, writing about whatever is inspiring or discouraging her at that moment. I believe so much in this advice that I am realizing at this moment that it is I who also needs to listen to it.
A fellow blogger and friend of mine writes a wonderful blog where she makes an effort to avoid being just another glamorous travel blogger whose life seems as perfect as the blue water in their photos. Instead, her posts reflect the complete array of emotions one has while experiencing the world, not just as a traveler, but as a human being. If there is a travel blog out there that exemplifies vulnerability and how to thrive with it and overcome it, it is her blog. It is a blog that has inspired me recently as I have found myself struggling to find my way. Feeling the inspiration from this and thinking about the advice I gave my daughter, it is time for me to set aside my stories of hiking, biking, and drinking and make myself someone human rather than someone who has an interesting life and enjoys traveling. In my blog, it is clear that 2017 was another year filled with accomplished travel dreams, but it was also one of the most difficult years of my life.
In 2017, I had Love. It still feels as tangible as the cars I see down on the street below or the trees or the Christmas lights hanging over the pet store across the street. In a life where I have not experienced much of it, perhaps there was an odd combination of puzzlement, amazement, confusion, and ignorance as I held this Love in my hands. This Love is linked indelibly to my travels over the last year starting last December with a weekend in Luxembourg City where we spent our first time away together. She was with me for part of my Patton story. We had a weekend of wine and castles in Cochem, Germany. Her birthday weekend was in Paris. We did sites and sun in Venice. And had a hectic weekend in Athens. We’ve stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and posed in front of the Girl in the Pearl Earring and Mona Lisa. She gave me one of the best days of my life with a surprise 45th birthday party including all of my friends. While all of this sounds like a whirlwind of romance, this is not a story of what I did, it is story of what I didn’t do.
Paris, Venice, and Athens were mere stops on this journey of discovery. It was Barcelona where almost overnight, this Love slipped completely through my fingers. I didn’t know it, nor did I see it coming. For her, it happened in Barcelona emotionally. I found out a couple weeks later after finishing my holiday travels with my daughter. On the first Sunday of August, the Love that I had in my hands gave me a hug at the front door of my apartment for the last time and drove back to her home in the Netherlands.
There is no benefit to going into the details about why. The most important thing is what we learn about ourselves and what we learn about life when we go thru experiences like this. This is where I take the words that are lodged in my heart and write them down for myself and others to see. The last several months have been Hell trying to understand and heal the void that appeared in my life in what felt like the blink of an eye. This, I hope, is the final step in the healing process.
What are the lessons that I learned from this experience? What can I teach my daughter about life?
- Be humble. Be self-aware. Make a regular exercise to look at yourself in the mirror. (ok, that is 3-in-1)
Personally, I think the least valuable way to react to something like this is to look for blame in the other person. In fact, this has no benefit whatsoever to your own personal growth. You cannot control another person’s heart. A person who is not self-aware tends not to be very humble and this person tries to control other’s feelings. They also will avoid looking at themselves too closely in a mirror for fear of what they will see. For this reason, they will always be stuck in the negative emotions. A person who is self-aware tries to become a better person by controlling themselves, by learning from mistakes, by not being afraid to admit what they can do better. So what did I do wrong?I forgot that life is not for the sake of living it. It is for the sake of making an intimate connection with another human being. This is what makes life so valuable to begin with. The same goes for traveling. I forgot that traveling is not for the sake of the places you go. It is for building a deeper connection. There was something intangible of which I didn’t contribute enough. There was some part of me that I was leaving out. As I said, it was not about what I did, but what I didn’t do.
- While blaming the other person is a waste of time, that doesn’t mean the other person wasn’t also responsible for what went wrong. Don’t take all of the blame upon yourself.
Just as it is not a benefit to go on an angry finger-pointing tirade about the other person, it is also not beneficial to idealize them either. That can be another coping mechanism we have, especially when self-pity is involved. We can sometimes look at the other person as if they were the ones who were always totally mature about everything, always making the right decisions, always making all of the correct emotional responses, etc. In fact, the other person is also human and even if they are the one who decided the fate of the relationship, they absolutely played a role in its failure. The fact that this relationship ended so abruptly without any clear warning indicates there was a communication problem. It takes two to communicate. A healthy relationship should not be guided by subtleties and reading between the lines. Communication should be open and clear.
- Channel your energy into creative hobbies.
For me, I dedicated myself more to improving my fitness level. My guitars sat idle under my bed for 6 years, but this experience caused me to get them out and start playing them again. I rediscovered my love for music. I started writing songs again. Initially they were about her. One I wrote and recorded into my phone in the 45 minutes leading up to a video call we were having when things still felt up-in-the-air. The chorus was only two lines:
This could be, the last time I saw your face, or
This could be, forever and ever
I wrote it and recorded it in 30 minutes and then spent 15 minutes crying my eyes out. Of course, the video call did not go in my favor, but creating something made me feel confident about myself. I was really proud of that song.I also started working more regularly on my blog again. You can check my site and see several months in early 2017 when I hardly published anything. All of these creative things are critical to the mind and soul. They are what define us as individuals. When we lose touch with them, we also lose ability to connect with people. Allowing creativity to flourish restores your self-confidence and causes other areas in your life to prosper.
I wonder when I wake up tomorrow how I am going to feel about all of this. I felt very positive that I needed to put this experience down into words. I’ve been framing this post in my mind for several days. But I know myself. When I wake up tomorrow, I will probably sit straight up in bed and go “Oh my God, what have I done?” or “I should have said it this way.” But I know at this moment, I feel better. There is light at the end of the tunnel. This is what I want my daughter to do as she experiences life. Write. Inspire. Hope. Grow. This is my goodbye to 2017 and to a year where I felt Love for someone and from someone. I learned a lot about myself and that encourages me to look forward to what 2018 will bring. I still have one adventure left in 2017 and I plan to enjoy it with this mindset and with the peace that comes with learning the final lesson that I should mention.
That is forgiving oneself.