A Tale of Two Summers

I once stood on top of a Scottish mountain. It would be cliché to say that I felt like I could see the world, but really I felt like I could see everything of importance, everything that mattered to me in that moment. The memory is somewhat foggy now, but I remember being on top of this relatively short mountain overlooking Loch Lomond in the Highlands. And I remember taking it all in. Looking out at the water and seeing the expanse of mountains and greenery. In that moment I had one word: breathtaking, and I knew then that that’s what I wanted my life to be. A series of moments that could all be categorized under this label signifying some sort of existential fulfillment.

A year on, I’m having a very different summer than last. Like very different. This time last summer, I was touring Edinburgh Castle, my Facebook Memories reminds me. But today, I am shopping for a car. Last summer, I was worried about an eight-hour flight. This summer, I’m worried about not flipping a car off the highway again. It’s all very different. And I think, maybe I wish to go back in time. To be in Scotland again. To be standing on that mountain again. And while I would love to, I don’t wish to relive what I’ve been through now. At the same time, I don’t wish my accident hadn’t happened. Genuinely, I think it was cosmically meant to happen.

I’ve fielded a lot of questions since the accident. Understandably. And to an extent, I think some people have it wrong. My life did not flash before my eyes, I was not instantly transformed by the accident, and just because my minor injuries have healed doesn’t mean it’s over for me. What actually happened, then? When I was flipping through the air in my car, I was the most present I’ve been in a very long time. My life did not flash before my eyes because what did flash through my mind was every TV drama and movie and story I’ve heard about an accident like this. I knew that very few make it out of this. And so I was concentrating on not hitting my head on anything. That, and I kept wondering why I was screaming and what good that would actually do. Not that that stopped me.

Then, when it was over, I opened the door and stepped out. My legs were shaking, and I was shocked, but altogether I was physically healthy. I felt lucky, yes. I still feel lucky. I felt and still feel grateful. But my life hadn’t changed, by my estimation. I still found myself thinking about my plans for the night and what I was planning to watch on TV. Because that’s me. And maybe that’s a good thing because it means I was still capable of thinking about those things. As freaked out as I was and still am, I don’t feel that my life has changed. It just feels like that is now a part of the overarching story.

Now I’m left repeatedly answering a bad question: Are you okay? And I say, “Yeah, I’m okay.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes I am okay. But sometimes I’m not. There is this idea that because my physical scrapes and scratches are mostly healed, I must be over it by now. It’s been a little over three weeks since the accident, and I don’t know what I am. Maybe I’m okay; maybe I’m not. I can’t always tell. I want to be okay. But that takes time and distance. And also sleep, which has been elusive recently.

The thing about divine lessons is not everyone gets to learn from them. All too often, it is not a lesson but a consequence. I’m glad mine wasn’t a consequence. I learned a great lesson in what not to do as a driver, but in seeing Death’s hooded figure loom too close for comfort, I learned that I am happy with how I live my life. There is not a person I wish I had said more to. Everyone I care about knows I care about them. There wasn’t anything I wished I had said differently. I had only one regret: I wish I would’ve kissed that guy when I had the chance. And that is the only thing I would’ve done differently.

And who knows, maybe I will. Luckily, the chance is still available to me. I’m very happy for that. Thinking about it now, my life could use some more breathtaking, awe-inspiring moments, if for no reason other than to say I lived. Like, truly lived.

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Learning to Let Go in London

Scotland is a dreamer’s paradise. What with the smooth lochs and foggy mountains and highland cows (read: heighlen coos). And well, London’s not. Shocking, I know. But let me tell you why.

Expectation is the ruiner of good things. Nothing ever meets our expectations, particularly when we set them too high. Going into this trip, I had all these expectations that London would be a flawless dream of a city, but I hadn’t expected the chaotic, albeit beautiful, mess that it is in actuality. And letting those lofty expectations go was the hardest part of my trip.

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I wanted the perfect trip to London, and it took me two days and a hot shower to realize there’s no such thing. I wanted the American-made dream that is London. And I got that, more or less. I saw Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the whole package. That was great and everything, but it just felt off. I didn’t feel that Disney World magic that I expected to feel. And that was disappointing.

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But here’s what I learned: the parts of London I didn’t know about/didn’t expect to like actually turned out to be the best part. I loved the jolty, sweaty experience of riding the Tube. I loved walking around the quiet residential area of Hampstead at midnight. I loved storming the Game of Thrones-esque Tower of London on a cool, cloudy morning. I loved seeing “The Woman in Black” live and on stage at Covent Garden’s Fortune Theatre. I loved the parts of the trip I hadn’t planned for. Those unexpected moments are what gives a trip character. When I let go of all those years of expectations that I built for London, everything became much more enjoyable. And I have to tell you, I like the London I didn’t expect. I don’t love it. But all things with time.

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Send My Love to Scotland

At this time last week, I was in Scotland. And now, I can’t breathe and I can’t sleep.

This day last week, I was having an adventure.

Shelby and I woke up at 8 a.m. and were out the door by 8:30. We walked around looking to purchase some souvenirs for our families from the shops on the Royal Mile. Trouble is, shops on the Royal Mile don’t open until 10 or 10:30 on Sundays. So we ventured down a side street to look at some medieval buildings instead. The clouds were thick and the air fresh. The freshest, most beautiful air I’ve ever breathed. The kind of air that makes you believe in fantastical and simple things alike. The kind of air that makes you feel like you’re truly alive.

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“It’s just air,” I hear you say. But it was more profound than that. Or, you know what, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was just air. But maybe, I’ve never breathed air so pure, so unpolluted, so breathtaking before. Maybe it was profoundly simple.

The second I breathed it in I knew I had a problem. I knew when I felt that chilled, autumnal air course through my nostrils and into my veins that I wouldn’t want it to exit me. That I would want to stay in that quiet, medieval town where the air is fresh and the clouds thick, the grass green and the mountains like guardians watching over those at their feet. That this place, where I had no prior expectations of it, became a place of dreams. Better than a dream, though, because it’s real.

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I couldn’t get enough of that Scottish air. I was thrilled every time we went outside. So you can imagine my excitement when we decided to walk 20 minutes to the edge of the city where an extinct volcano sits. Arthur’s Seat has all the grandeur of a king overlooking his kingdom. You can see everything from Arthur’s Seat. Lochs, putting green, castles, monuments, parks, apartments, mountains, everything. I could’ve stayed on that extinct volcano all my life.

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I can’t breathe and I can’t sleep. I miss breathing that gorgeous air. I miss sleeping with the windows open. I miss that the air was brisk enough to forgo air conditioning. I miss the gentle noise of the bar behind our hostel off Blackfriars Street. I miss the mountains and the lochs, the deep Gaelic lilt of the Scottish people. This is what love does to a person. As with anything we love, I hope to find my way back somehow. And when I do, I hope that Scotland’s air is as exhilarating as it was when I breathed it in outside a café eating a caramel-and-chocolate-layered shortbread. Until that time, I will just have to meet it in my dreams.

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