*I recently re-visited a place abroad where I lived and worked for a while when I was YOUNG in my early twenties. (See here for pre-trip thoughts). Initial highbrow philosophical thoughts below. Comedy observations more likely to follow at a later date….
The past. It’s a road best travelled alone, I’ve found. The experiences of our lives; the places we find ourselves, the places we leave ourselves – they are all just that: Places.
And places endure. They change. Sometimes in the subtle, everyday sweep of the years, other times in giant jumps, leaps of memory, so that looking at a once familiar view, unseen for years, is like staring at a puzzle where the pieces are the same, just jumbled up all wrong. (I am Jack’s overdeveloped sense of ridiculous outrage that the trees are twenty feet taller than I remember, etc.)
Places can be shared. New people inhabit them, old people visit them, and life goes on. But the past – well. That’s something which only lives in you. And long may that continue. Because what I realised recently is that all the fond memories, all the remembered joys were made not because of the place. But because of the people – the person I was, the people I shared a place with; the people I love, and have loved.
It can bring you up short. Who WAS I then? And who am I now? Am I the same?
My circumstances are much changed – I’m older, wiser?, surer of many things, but coming face to face with your old (young?) self makes you question why that is the case. Perhaps I know more now than I did then. Maybe I’m happier. Did I ever imagine this older me looking back at my idiot, younger self to be this person I find myself to be? No way. I couldn’t have done. Caught up in the arrogance of youth, you don’t look forward, or only for a matter of weeks, months, years. I suppose the same is true of now, and when I’m eighty, thanks to the enduring power of the internet I will be looking back on these thoughts and kicking my slightly less young idiot self too. And so it goes.
The sentiment I have for the place I visited remains exactly the same as it was when I last left there all those years ago. I was stunned by the beauty, by the otherness of the mountains, the beat of the heat, the noise and stillness of the sky. I wanted to run across the ocean, to taste how blue it was.
The raw shock of youth is gone now – all the things I have seen! – but the echo of that sentiment in itself serves to remind me how lucky lucky lucky I am. A life less ordinary, that’s what I wanted years ago. I had my adventure. Returned to ‘normal’ life. And carried a place around in the private places of my heart for years, for the wrong reasons.
Because the place is just the place is just the place. The life I had there was what mattered, and that stays with you wherever you go, however long after.
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