“There is only one very good life and that’s the one you want and you make it yourself.” – Diana Vreeland
As I write this I am sitting in a loud Amsterdam restaurant drinking a beer and deciding if I have room in my belly for one more sashimi order. Someone has just spoken to me in French, again, unsure of my national origin. My long messy curls and scarf have caused the confusion. When my hair was short I was usually mistaken for German. I answered in French. It is not my first visit here, nor my second. I can no longer count the number of times I have been in this city. It is a gateway to my company’s European headquarters, where I now spend 20% of my time. I am used to being here and in other European cities as a solo business traveler. Perhaps more jaded than I should be about travel.
Last night I was texting with an old friend from the small town where I grew up and for a moment I saw my life through her eyes. For her my life is exotic, full of glamorous cities with art and shopping. A life of visas, foreign shores, and mysterious strangers. She didn’t initially see the exhaustion and sense of isolation that can accompany this type of life if you let it. She is a single mom, who misses her boys, and just left a bad relationship. She has also done an amazing job at rebuilding her life. We, however, connected on the emptiness we sometimes feel. I re-read the texts this morning and realized that perhaps I was focusing a little to much on the isolation from friends and family, and not enough on the experiences this life has given me.
A quick flashback and psychoanalysis before we continue. My parents are English, which made me a little unusual in a small farm town. I was abused by my step-father, which created a desire to conform – to be normal. I so desperately wanted to fit in, which meant marriage and children within a couple of years of high school. That was the life I thought I wanted, but not the life I got. I chose to attend university, then law school. I broke off an engagement. I moved. I moved again. I married late, then learned that my husband did not want children. I got a new job, one that involved more international travel than initially stated in the hiring process. My husband cheated, I kicked him out. I now travel even more and may eventually relocate to Europe. This was not the life my 16 year old self had mapped out.
I spent part of today at the Stedelijk looking at modern art that contemplates the isolation we humans sometimes feel in this modern world. It made me realize that the loneliest moments of my life were when I shared space with a partner who stared at the ESPN feed, and no longer spoke to me. Isolation is a part of the human condition, for without it we can never truly appreciate connections. I was wondering how I did I get here (queue the Talking Heads song), but upon reflection I made this life through my choices. And while there are moments of loneliness and longing for a traditional family, I am blessed with friends and family who still pull me close even if I am thousands of miles away. I have a very good life, for which I am extremely grateful, and yes I did order the additional plate of sashimi – je ne regrette rien!