3 min

Home away from home

Visitors bring echoes of former selves

TOUT LE GANG EN PARIS. "The past 10 days have been spent with people I have known for more than a decade. The level of comfort and familiarity is like being home." Credit: Megan Richards

I’m on the move. Okay, so my wife and I have been on the move since we left Toronto at the beginning of January, but this time it’s a big one. As excited as I am about it, it makes me sad. Melancholy. And it’s turning out to be harder than I thought it would be. We are leaving Berlin.

We arrived in Berlin at the beginning of March in the grey of winter’s end and surprisingly quickly had an apartment, a burgeoning group of friends and within a month had walked hundreds of kilometres getting to know the city we had planned on calling home until the end of the year. Five months later (yes, it’s been five months already) I’m packing up and shipping out for warmer weather, sunny skies and a spot on the beach in Barcelona and the south of Spain.

That was always the plan — to travel and see as much of the continent as we could. Logically I should be excited and looking forward to “moving on,” but as much as travelling satisfies my natural curiosity, I have learned over the past seven months that I crave routine, enjoy the familiar and ease into who I am in the world around people whose faces I recognize and whose voices I can recall even when we are not together.

The past 10 days have been spent with people I have known for more than a decade. The level of comfort and familiarity is like being home and having them here makes being away not seem as far. They brought gifts of Polysporin, Blistex, ibuprofen and peanut butter and some comforts of Canada back into our lives. Here for a whirlwind 40th-birthday celebration, there was much merriment, a short jaunt to Paris and late nights traipsing through the streets of Berlin.

But along with good times and festivities, they also brought more than any of us realized: The people that we were before we left Toronto, people with qualities I am becoming less and less familiar with as the days go on. And I suppose, in a way, I have them to thank for reminding me who I was, or at least who I was perceived to be.

Spending a year “out of my life” to travel and experience new things was a long time coming. The talk of how it would be our very own Eat, Pray, Love-type adventure and how this was going to be a life-changing year was something I shrugged off. I was all flip about how I wasn’t going in order to find myself ’cause I knew who I was and I do like her, thank you very much.

But seeing that person reflected back at me through the eyes of our out-of-town guests who knew “her” made me realize that in fact I wanted a change, needed a change and on a subconscious level was looking for a change. Nothing radical, but something that would make me appreciate the world more rather than take it for granted. And the expectation that I was the exact same woman made me sad. And I didn’t like her, thank you very much.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not putting myself down, berating myself and most certainly have not fallen out of love with my accomplishments to date or the person I have become. But I guess on a subconscious level I was in fact hoping for some changes. That I would have, in the time I have been away, learned more, grown more and developed more in areas where I have always known could use a little TLC.

My wife, always the first one to analyze a feeling, thought or behavior pattern pointed out that we’re not just here on vacation. We’re trying to do something else. Make our world larger, more diverse, with more options. We’re here to learn to make different choices and different decisions which is why I was so uneasy when faced with the person I was when I left. Change and growth are hard things to do when you’re reminded of what people’s expectations are of you and who you are. Stagnant is an easy way to be. A comfortable rut. A familiar pattern.

So today, despite my resistance to change, my fight against everything I have built up myself to be and my never-far-behind-paralyzing-fear, I went shopping. Not quite retail therapy, but something that will set me right, I hope, for now. I bought running shoes. Good ones. And socks. Running ones. And tomorrow I will start to run myself into someone I want to be. Driven by a motivation that is about more than accomplishment, but about changing the person I am. Being the kind of person who can make themselves run, do something that is hard for them, face the “chubby kid on the run” internal shame, reach a difficult goal rather than excuse themselves when they can’t.

I have five months to get it together. Five months to really work on the things I want to work on. Get the things going I want to get going. And make sure I have done more with my year “off” than travelled. The goal of self-improvement is far more woo-woo than not only what I wanted, but who I thought I was. Thankfully I think becoming a better person in the world goes really well with a nice Prosecco on the Amalfi Coast of Italy and a cold Estrella beer in Barcelona. Cheers to that!