Last September, I found myself back in Paris unexpectedly. My passport had gotten lost in the mail and I’d just left the U.S. embassy in tears, not sure how I was going to recover it or when I’d be able to leave France.
Not having any specific plans, I decided to take advantage of the sunny Parisian afternoon and walked to the Louvre. It was closed. Disappointed, I sat outside on the steps with a heavy heart and worried mind.
That’s when I saw him. An old man with white hair, pastels in his hands. He was on his knees, carefully bent over the concrete below, drawing a beautiful portrait of a woman. As I watched the woman come to life, I wondered at the purpose of his art. We were in the courtyard of one of the largest museums in the world, full of ancient relics and masterpieces that have survived through centuries of time.
Paris, France 2013
While stunning, there was nothing timeless about the woman he was bringing to life with such tenderness. In a few hours, or days at best, she would be gone. She would disappear with a few drops of rain. She would fade with the footsteps of hundreds of tourists, treading not-so-lightly across her delicate face.
I got to thinking about this priceless gift I was being offered. Suddenly, I was glad I’d failed to remember (again) that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays (or is it Mondays?). The old man with white hair was teaching me a life lesson I don’t soon want to forget:
Beauty doesn’t worry about permanence. The flower blooming doesn’t fuss over how long it’s dew covered petals will last. It just blooms. Beauty for beauty’s sake.
Summer in France is filled with these blooming beauties who have no concept of Winter.
Pont Ivy, France 2013
This year I’m beginning my second year of full-time travel. When I first planned on taking this journey, I thought it wouldn’t last. I hoped to travel for six months to a year, if I was lucky. I thought I’d get the chance to see the world, make some changes in my lifestyle, and return home to pursue something more permanent.
Two years ago, I crafted a to-do list of “Before I turn 30.” It included things like buying a house and paying off student loans. Being promoted at my job and getting a Master’s Degree were also on the list.
I wanted to build a future that stood for something. My mindset was fixed on stability and security. I wanted these things so badly I was willing to sacrifice my every day happiness to achieve them. I’d been told, and believed, that things of permanence have the highest value.
This mindset has been hard to shake. To be honest, the transience of travel and everything that comes with it worries me sometimes. I worry about building a life for myself that’s based on something as fickle as memories and photos. What will I have to show for myself when I’m 30, 40, 100? What if my resume looks more like a patchwork quilt instead of rungs on a ladder? What if I regret missing weddings and first pregnancies and holidays with my family? What if I run out of steam and have nothing and no one to fall back on? What if the life I’m building for myself is nothing but a child’s sandcastle?
Sailboats and sandcastles. I want a life filled with more child’s play!
Paris, France 2013
When I look down the road at my future, it’s blurry and undefined. But, when I focus the lens on today, I realize something important: I’m happy. Sometimes I’m so happy I worry I’ve lost my mind.
There’s a fountain of joy that’s been bubbling and growing inside of me, enlarging the borders of my heart and transforming my vision. It started flowing the moment I stopped worrying about the future and started paying attention to what I wanted now.
Here’s the rub: Nothing in life is permanent. It’s a farce. Whether I build a name for myself, or a house, or a family, it will all eventually fade away. That’s the blessing. That’s where freedom comes in. Freedom each day to build the life I want today.
Recently, I came up with a new life plan that looks nothing like my “Before I’m 30” goals. Avoid debt and have fun. I realized that if I spent all of my time and effort creating happiness each day, eventually all of these days would add up to a lifetime of happiness. Simply by focusing on one day at a time.
Maybe all of the memories I’m making will fade as quickly as the portrait of the woman outside of the Louvre. I’ll forget the names of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, what that local dish tasted like that I loved so much. But my heart will remember. My heart will always remember the old man with white hair, lovingly bringing a woman to life, if only for a moment. Beauty for beauty’s sake. Life for the sake of life. It’s enough.
Paris, France 2013