I am on the fast the train from Antequera to Madrid. Alone. I have three days before I meet the girls again in Valencia. I watched them drive away in the white van from the elevated platform. Ellie was crying, Zoe was teetering between calm and tears. Tully was matter of fact. Mel – well I don’t know what Mel was. Focused? Probably turning all her mental and emotional energy to the demands of navigating through a foreign country alone, driving, staying right, finding a campsite, getting dinner, feeding children. No small task.
But me, I stood there alone watching the van get smaller – the little white parcel containing everything that is my life. More than that. It seemed to contain everything I am. My identity. Father, husband, carer, navigator, traveller. As I watched the fade away and leave me alone, I looked forward to the next three days and thought:
“Who the hell AM I without those four?”
I have a theory about what can trap us. Because the most common reaction (either supportive or sceptical) when we told people about this trip was based upon this notion of breaking away, breaking free, getting out, walking away, messing with expectations. People can seem a little rattled when you step outside the classic expectations of the pathway. School, travel, study, career, kids, mortgage, career, money. The archetype of the trapped adult is so true because it reflects the great catch of our generation. The great trap and the great fear. So much choice, so many options, so much freedom to choose yet we stay on one path afraid of what may happen if we step off it.
Most common is the justification that we have established ourselves in such a way that we CAN”T possibly change it. We have dependencies that would seem irresponsible to question or change. We must pay the bank, set up a home, pay school fees, pay car loans, pay medical insurance, pay phone bills. The option of leaving it all seems ridiculous and immature. I have worked so hard to get here, studied, learnt, paid dues, committed to people and things. I can’t change it now.
I remember my parents before they left on the first of their medical missions – a challenging assignment to run a medical program in Turkmenistan for a year. The fist daunting task they faced was to extract themselves from the life they had lead for decades. Not just financial webs but emotional, familial, social. But once extracted their world exploded with options and they haven’t returned to their old life again.
But sitting on this train as it blurs through the Spanish countryside, I wonder if it is actually life routines that trap us. I wonder if it is actually being trapped by duties and responsibilities or if that classic middle age wondering and doubt actually arises from living the same identity for too long. We build a sense of self then start carefully setting up systems and habits that reinforce that identity. And when we feel trapped by life maybe it is a sense of being trapped by that same identity that we carry around -not the routines and habits. Maybe we can rattle our cages without leaving everything – within routines – if we keep reinventing that identity. We make sure it is new, young, open, changeable, exciting. Maybe we get tired of being the same way to the same people over and over and over again.
Sadly, when our identity and the world around us clash, we often attempt to change the world and others around us before questioning ourselves. Maybe our identity isnt as solid and grounded as we believed. Maybe it’s needs questioning.
As I watched my little unit drive away down that country road I wondered who the hell I was without them? I fall into a role as a husband, father, educator, responsible adult. I fall into a role as a professional, as a friend. But how often do I question it? How often do I step back from everything and move through this world completely open to it without the trappings of 41 years of doing it ONE way. I hold back, I am conscious of others opinions, I hesitate and wonder “what will people think of me?”. When really I am wondering “will people like who I am?” Will people pat me on the back and say “Gee you’re a great guy…..”. Will they like the identity I have spent 41 years shaping.
Because if they DONT….
Well, if I think about it. Nothing actually happens. Nothing at all. I will roll on through this world. They will roll on. Nothing will happen. No one will be worse off. No one will really care.
That’s how it should be. Looking, exploring, interacting, building relationships without constantly referring to the same identity I have held so preciously for so long.
Maybe I should talk to that person. Maybe I should reach out and ask that beggar how they are going not just hand them money. Maybe I should turn the car around and pick that hitchhiker up. Maybe I should look up into peoples eyes as I walk down th street.
Aaahh travelling. It does these things to me. Good things and unsettling things.
But right now I am going to switch off. I have three days in Madrid without the responsibilities of travelling with a family. Tomorrow night I go out and see The Cat Empire. This strange, surreal dream come true. You see The Cat Empire are one of those Aussie bands that is woven into our family fabric. Our Saturday morning ritual was the Mel out walking with her sister, the three girls perched at the kitchen bench, me making pancakes and The Cat Empire cranked up loud enough to wake the neighbours. A dreamy wistful song of theirs All Night Loud was the first song to bring tears to my eyes as we drove up Highway 1 from Melbourne 17 months ago. The girls can sing Still Young word perfect and love to do it most at the top of their lungs with the windows open at 110kmh.
They are right there within our family identity, and I will stand in front of the stage tomorrow night and listen to their Australian accents, watch them jump around the stage, wishing my little troupe was beside me but soaking up the energy none the less. I will watch them, jump up and down and think about everything I have just written. Something will become clear. And if it doesn’t, well then I will just wake up on Thursday morning, put on my new $3 Moroccan imitation Ray Bans to cover my bloodshot eyes, order my first Spanish coffee and watch the world go by. Save my dreaming for another day.