The first time I went to Europe on my high school senior trip, we visited five countries in 17 days. As a teen who’d spent most of my childhood dreaming about traveling the world, I was the first one off the bus to see the Parthenon, the Colosseum, the Louvre, Big Ben: postcards come to life. We went to bed late and woke up early, and I spent much of that trip prying my eyes open so I wouldn’t miss a single vista outside the bus window, while my classmates slept. What I remember, though, was a whirlwind of carefully timed awe. An hour here, a half-hour there, a picture to capture the moment, then back on the bus.
The first time I went to Ireland with my husband and three young kids, I vowed to do it better. One country, three weeks. But we spent only a few nights in each location, cramming as much into our days as the patience of children would allow. My kids remember what sounded like arguing to them, something my husband and I rarely do, as we tried to navigate roads that were backwards and maps that were unclear. They remember snatches of good things, too, including bonds that only children can form. I have many fond memories from that trip, but when someone asks me, “Did you visit this town or that,” I can’t always recall.
Two years ago, my husband and I spent six weeks in Ireland. Five of those passed in a rented cottage in a small town in the southwest of Ireland. We started our days slowly, with breakfasts of Irish sausage and scrambled eggs. We picked one destination each day, and lingered on fairy trails, and hikes through meadows filled with sheep, and tours of beautiful manor houses and their manicured gardens. In the evenings, we cooked dinner and ate outside on the patio table, noticing how the light on the nearby hill changed each evening and when the tides came in or out. Then we walked the one-lane road into town, saying hello to the cows in the pasture, and backing into the hedge to allow oncoming cars to pass. We savored his beer and my whiskey as the local musicians played in the pubs, and tried to make it home before the bats came out. I remember every day of that trip.
Last night, I was talking to a 23-year-old man. A gentle soul who was struggling with his very real, “quarter-life crisis.” He’d set a path for himself years ago and was thinking ahead decades to where he wanted to be. He was concerned he wasn’t doing things right and worried he wasn’t making a big enough mark.
“You’re only twenty-three once,” I said. “There are things you can only see, feel, and learn at twenty-three. Why rush it? Why try to cram it all in now?” This young man was longing for the postcard, the big, shiny, “you’ve arrived” moment. I could tell him, and I did, that he’ll remember so much more if he just sinks into where he is now, but when you’re twenty-three, you want that five-countries-in-seventeen-days trip. You want to see and do it all now. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, and yet death feels right around the corner. How will you ever do everything you want to do before he comes calling? I get that.
So, in the end, I told him, “Don’t worry. You’re doing everything right. You’re on your path and you’ll find your way. I promise.”
I don’t judge my 17-year-old self. She was right where she needed to be. In her desire to see it all, she found the courage to start living a lifelong dream. I don’t judge my 38-year-old self. She was right where she needed to be. Her longing to pass on her love of travel brought her family closer. And I’m not saying my 50-year-old self had it all figured out when she planned six laid-back weeks in a country cottage. That’s where she needed to be.
We say, “With age comes wisdom,” as if we must wait until we are old to be wise. But wisdom is the journey. And you are right where you need to be.
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