I was not the type of person who could just go with the flow. Organizing my life into neat little boxes and to-do lists brought me comfort; made me feel like I had some sort of control over what happened to me. This job, this relationship, this purpose, this life – I was constantly fitting puzzle pieces together, attempting to mold whatever my present condition was into the ideas I had for my future.
PRIOR TO 2014, MY LIFE WAS A SERIES OF READJUSTING FIVE-YEAR PLANS.
But in the fall of 2013, all of that changed.
Over the period of a few months, I experienced several personal tragedies. The loss of it all had left me heartbroken, wondering if I would ever be happy again. This life I had been working towards, all the plans I made, were now fading away. It wasn’t just one thing, but so many little things: close relationships ended or grew strained. Friends moved away. I was stuck in a job I didn’t like that was going nowhere. The ‘big picture’ grew so blurry that I had a hard time seeing how anything was going to work out. I found myself longing for the comforts of life as I knew it, living in the structured, rarely changing world all my careful planning attempted to create, as everything unraveled and my circumstances pushed me out into the great unknown. For the first time in my life, I had no idea what I was going to do.
When the opportunity to move to Vienna, Austria for a few months came knocking at my door, I wholeheartedly pursued it. It seemed like a good chance to get a fresh perspective on life and to see the world while I was at it. Little did I know that this decision would alter the course of my life forever. I packed my bags and arrived in London on New Year’s Eve – just in time for a new beginning.
Over the next 5 months, I visited 10 countries. I walked the cobblestone streets of Prague and got lost in Rome. I ate Swiss chocolate in Lucerne and buttered croissants in Paris. I laughed, cried, and prayed with new friends in Austria. I saw places I had only seen in my dreams. For the first time in my life, something inside of me woke up. It was as if desires I never even knew I had were being fulfilled with each new day. The constant focus on the five-year-plan was replaced with joy in the beautiful now. And for once, the unknown future was not intimidating, but exciting.
About three months after I arrived in Vienna, I went to see Mozart’s Requiem at Karlskirche, a beautiful cathedral in the city center. The Requiem is my favorite piece of classical music, a love for it instilled in me by my music professor in college. It’s so beautiful and sad, yet powerful at the same time. I remember listening to it in its entirety during class one day, with my professor showing us the exact moment where Mozart wrote his last line. Since then, it has been a dream of mine to see it performed live. A few years ago, the symphony orchestra in my hometown performed the Requiem, and I desperately wanted to go. I had plans to, but just like many of my other plans, it never worked out.
When the music first began, I had a flashback of myself crying in the dark, holding the pieces of my life and mourning the loss of the future I thought I wanted. That was just a few months ago. I thought my life was over then, that my days of experiencing joy had come to an end. And now I am finally seeing the Requiem in beautiful Vienna, the home of Mozart, in a gorgeous church. And so, so much has changed. That person I was six months ago — the one who was so scared of what might happen that she was left motionless and stagnant – she had somehow disappeared. I had turned into someone that could walk into something completely unfamiliar, a foreign country and an unknown language, and face it with the confidence in knowing that all the best adventures require risk; that there is so much beauty all around us, even in our darkest hours, if we’ll just look. The great unknown had indeed been great.
It was in that moment that I knew my life had changed. I don’t know that anyone has ever felt so much hope at a funeral mass.
Traveling has taught me that we are both big and small – just one person in this world of billions, and no match for a mountain or the sea. Yet at the same time, we are capable of expanding in both mind and heart to take in a world of beauty and heartbreak, triumphs and hardships. Within us all lies the ability to persevere; to seize each moment and make it something beautiful.
It is our right, our privilege, to see the world and fellowship with its people. To find common ground with those who are different than us, allowing them to impact our lives and asking for the grace to leave our mark on them. To not take for granted each breath we’re given; the eyes to see snow-capped mountains; ears to hear the crashing of waves. To taste Parisian croissants; to smell Mediterranean spice markets. To embrace the now and make it worth your while; to allow tomorrow’s unknowns to birth in yourself a spirit of adventure.
To not just exist, but to live.