A long drive through the French countryside today gave me lots of opportunity to reflect on what this trip, now nearing an end, has taught me.
I can’t say I have had any earthshaking revelations about things like the meaning of life, but there have been moments that fall into the category of things I already knew but appreciate more fully now. Foremost is the fact that the only space for authentic life is the present. I think travel helps with this realization because we are aware that we will not be in the same place tomorrow. We need to see, feel, hear, taste everything now. Tomorrow will bring new opportunities and yesterday offers the chance for reflection, but only today can actually be lived.
I am still learning basics from being in cultures foreign to me. My opinion about how they do things in other countries is absolutely irrelevant. In fact, I am irrelevant. I am just passing through. It’s a good thing to practice not expecting to be seen as important. Americans as a rule just don’t grow up with much of this perspective.
I have been forced to acknowledge a few things about myself too. The first is that I really have to watch my tendency to be scatterbrained. Case in point, leaving my phone on a train last week. The train was in the station, so I got up and walked off. Should have turned around to check the seat. Simple. But I was ready to move on to the next thing, so I did. Bye bye phone.
I also noticed that I am really very stubborn and this gets in the way of thinking flexibly. A case in point is that I decided I was going to do the entire seven weeks of this trip using only public transportation. This was partly because I dread driving in unfamiliar cities, but mostly because it pushed my boundaries, and I liked the idea of doing that. It took a long time for me to have the simple thought that maybe it would be more enjoyable to rent a car for a few days and have a different kind of experience. I don’t feel as if I didn’t succeed at the challenge I set for myself. I did. I could have hopped on a few more trains and buses. I just chose not to because I had a better idea, one I almost didn’t let myself consider.
The other thing I have had to acknowledge as a not particularly stellar trait of mine is impatience. I decided I wasn’t going to make hotel reservations for the four nights of this road trip because I wanted to stay flexible about what I would do each day. I just assumed that around 4PM I would cruise into a cute little town and get a room. Wow, was I wrong.
The first day’s drive was long and I did end up where I thought I might. I had gone on some booking sites the day before to get a sense for what would be there, but when I got to the town I was really tired, and there was not a single hotel in sight. I drove around for probably about forty minutes, even following a couple of signs for hotels and only succeeding in getting lost or finding them closed. I was so angry I just wanted to blow out of the town and go someplace else, but my last few calm brain cells said “Solve your problem here. Don’t go storming off.” I went to a cafe with internet and found something, drove around for another fifteen minutes at least unable to find it, and finally—well, let’s just say eventually I calmed down, and no, I didn’t sleep in my car.
Today I swore I would make it easy on myself and just take the first thing I found in a much larger town, and the same thing happened. The only two hotels I saw were both closed, and signs pointing to others all showed them as being on one-way streets that I couldn’t find from the direction I needed to go down, or up little alleys without car access at all. I went through the same mental blowing of my stack, pulling over to see what other towns were nearby because I quickly had developed a hatred of this one. That was obviously going to be a very bad idea—towns are few and far between in this part of France—so mature Laurel pointed out that I might want to try the neighborhood I could see just across the river. I am now in a really nice hotel with a view of the Lot River from my balcony. Here it is.
I didn’t like what i saw in myself either day, that “Oh, I give up” default position. I know that is true about so many things—electronic devices spring to mind, or jar lids that won’t open, or phone holds that are too long. Maybe I can change, maybe not, but at least I may be able to observe myself a little better now.
It’s interesting how these two qualities are mirror images. Isn’t stubbornness a kind of overpatience, and isn’t impatience a lack of stubbornness? It doesn’t seem as if they should both be present so strongly in the same person. But as Walt Whitman said about himself, “I am large. I contain multitudes.”
Things to work on, for certain, but I have also liked some things I have observed about myself. For example, I notice I am growing more compassionate. But this post is already too long, and to illustrate my compassion I won’t ask you to read any more.