(Interlude) On traveling and living: the best days of our lives

The other day Erik’s cousin Cliff said to me, “Seems like you’re having the best year of your life (though you may not know it).” It’s something I’ve pondered quite a lot since we left home. What does it mean to be having a great time? What does it mean to be happy, to be enjoying life?

When I think about having a wonderful time, I think of the parties we used to host at our house. Dear friends, good music, delicious food, lots of laughter, Lyapa trotting around underfoot purring and hissing in the same breath. In retrospect these parties were all amazing, but at the time, there were plenty of moments when I was overheated, dehydrated, anxious, or self-conscious. Which is the great time: the mixed bag of joy and discomfort that is the experience itself, or the glowing rosy memory that’s been cleared of negativity? Aren’t they both?

I feel a little stupid that it never dawned on me before that you can have a great time even if everything isn’t perfect in every way. I suppose it comes of being a perfectionist, of always being worried about the future even when the present is freaking awesome. This is something our travels are really helping with, because when you’re on the road like we are — even as comfortably as we are — there is no way to make everything perfect. It’s simply not possible, and that’s something I’m forced to acknowledge (whereas at home it’s easier to pretend perfection is within reach).

I’m quite sure that Cliff is right and when we come home from our travels, I’ll look back and sigh with great nostalgia, “That was the best time of our lives.” And that’s partly why I write so openly about my days of self-doubt and loneliness and vertigo, because I want to remind that future self (who will probably find the realities of settled life crashing down on her within months of getting back home) that the best time of her life is not the time when everything goes right — that that is always a mirage — that’s it not even “I was so happy then but I didn’t know it” — but that the happiness and the great vitality of living exist even alongside sadness and confusion and the sometimes desperate anguish of just being a creature who’s never seen this particular day before and doesn’t know what to do with it.

This is the best year of my life… and so was last year, and even the one before, and all the ones before that. I hope I will always be able to say that, even if some years are sadder than others, even if I look on occasion to the future with as much fear as I did last Tuesday. This is what I am learning: happiness is not the opposite of sadness; they can exist together, and the overall result can still be as sweet and good as the endless sky. This is the best thing: being me, being alive, everything, all together.