Someone I used to know–and now only follow virtually–wrote recently about the importance of choosing how to live your life. Of all the choices we make, the choice of what pattern our daily lives will take, what rhythms will drive us and what pleasures will soothe our souls, seems to me the most fundamental.
I’ve had the priviledge to make a lot of important choices over the past few months. I left a job that stifled me and made me unhappy to take one closer to home, for less pay, but which has ended up being much more fulfilling. I decided to go back to school, and although this is a choice I struggle with every evening I’m not home with my kids or husband, ultimately it’s a choice I’m making for my personal growth and, if all works out, for the benefit of my family. Our daily rhythms have all had to do some adjusting, and it’s happening with more or less grace and tranquility depending on the time of day or day of the week!
Still, though these recent choices have brought me into a life much more in tune with who I am and want to be, there’s so much more to change. When I think about times in my life when the pattern of my days was most in harmony with my natural inclinations, what always comes to mind are two times in my life: when I was a university student and when I was teaching English in France. Obviously, those are two times in my life when everything was much less encumbered–no car, no house payments, no bills, no kids, no husband–and I had plenty of freedom of time and movement. And while it’s not the encumbrances of my life today that I would wish away (at least not the husband and kids!); it’s the little things, the stuff that just seems to get in the way.
I liked being able to walk to work, and to walk home for lunch or just sit in the cantine with the other teachers and enjoy a meal with some leisure. This was France, there was no rushing lunch, even on a school schedule! I liked having a bakery with fresh baguettes on the corner. I liked the slower pace of life, whether it was small-town France or small-town America. I loved living and working in the university environment, for the opportunities to dip into so many different interesting topics, the excitement of back-to-school time, the fun and challenge of working with students. I liked slipping into a cafe or coffee shop near school to write and ending up eavesdropping on all the discussions happening around me. I loved taking classes, loved teaching them, even loved grading papers and being waylaid by students on the way home with just one last question. I appreciated the dedication to safe and healthy foods, to protecting workers and not bowing to those with money and influence. I liked knowing that cultural and historic sites were living, breathing places that were as much a part of daily life now as they were 500 or 1000 years ago, and I loved to walk through the cobblestone streets and the grand cathedrals, thinking of those who had come before me to walk or worship in these places.
Of course I’m idealizing both of these times–and of course there were plenty of aspects of life in these places that were less than ideal. But just sitting down and thinking about what I loved in the life I led then is helping me to think about where I want the life I’m living now to go.