Last month, I was talking to a colleague at the school I work in. He and I are acquaintances, our conversations always centered on the kids we work with rather than details about our own lives.
But there was something different about that particular conversation. We had started talking about our summers off- in the way that many school employees do in the middle of winter.
“What do you usually do with your time off?” he asked.
“Oh, hang out, spend time with family and friends.” I paused. I hadn’t yet decided that I was going to walk the Camino at that point, but I knew that I’d be traveling somewhere in the summer. “Last year I spent a month in France… and I want to do something again this summer. Something big.”
I wasn’t sure what his response would be. When I went to France last summer, I got a lot of mixed reactions from people my age. Just about everyone thought it was a great idea, and many were thrilled for me. But often there was something else in the response. Sometimes it was unspoken- just a look in their eye- but other times it was voiced. “Wow, must be nice,” they would say. Or, “I wish I had the money to do that,” or “With kids, my traveling opportunities are pretty limited.”
It’s not that I felt judged at those times, not exactly. It was more like I felt that I had to defend my lifestyle and the choices I was making for myself.
I’m in my early thirties and a lot of people my age are married and starting families. I’m not. This automatically gives me a very different lifestyle, but sometimes- especially when it involves exciting European travel- I have to be careful how I explain myself.
I didn’t know how that conversation with my co-worker would go. I looked at him, trying to guess what his reaction would be. I continued on. “I’m not married yet, I don’t have kids, but I hope to, someday. And I know that I won’t always have this time, all for myself. So… I don’t want to waste it.”
He stared at me for a long moment, then his face broke into a wide grin and his eyes lit up. “That,” he said, “is awesome. It’s awesome. Go to Europe, go to Asia. Oh man, you’ve got to travel everywhere.”
He started talking about his early twenties, when he spent a year abroad. He talked about the amazing experiences he had and the places he still wants to go. Then he talked about his wife and kids, about his upcoming trip to Disney World- how he learned to develop a happy acceptance of what vacationing with kids meant.
But again he looked at me, and there was so much life in his eyes when he said- “Go for us. Go for all of us who are married and have kids and spend our summers at the shore. Go roam around Europe.”
He’d become animated. “Send me a postcard when you’re there. Please, promise me you will. I want you to send me a postcard with a single word written across it: LIVING.”
And this is why I’m going to Spain this summer, why I’m walking across the country. This- this– is my life. I’ve got to live it.
To be very honest, I look at my friends who are in wonderful relationships and raising children and I feel some envy. They, too, are living. And so often, it’s the very kind of living that I want to be doing. I want to build a family and take my kids camping and to the beach and to Disney World and, well, everywhere. And maybe one day I will.
But now, what I have is this time and this summer and a choice on how I want to spend it. And I’m going to spend it walking across Spain and living.