Unhurried, less concerned with material things, living in the moment, full of gratitude, easily satisfied. This is the person I would like to be. I am a lot more like her when I’m traveling.
When I moved to Mexico, I sold off many of my possessions and stored those I kept, including two closets full of clothes, at my brother’s house. I came to Guanajuato with a suitcase. That was plenty. When I have visited my brother’s house since then, I have stared into those closets and wondered why I ever acquired so many clothes. Two years ago, I shoved some things into a day-pack and left Mexico for a trip to Central America. When I got back to Guanajuato, I wondered why I had so many clothes there. I had lived for two months with only a few garments. Why do I think I need more when I’m not on the move?
I posed this question once in a van full of travelers who were attending language school. A woman who was far too young to be so wise answered, “It’s because here we know its temporary. At home we think we’re going to live forever.”
She was right. It’s not just a matter of material things. It’s also about time. One fall, a few years back I taught English in northeastern China. The city I lived in was big, cold, ugly. But I loved every minute of it. I would go for walks among careening traffic and piles of litter and I would think, “Cool! Drink it all in. This is your year in China!”
It’s true. I knew that my time in China was limited. But my time on earth is limited too. Why can’t I learn to treasure it the same way? Is there a way to bring this ‘travel mentality’ home?
Living as an expat has allowed me to move a little bit in that direction. The last couple years or so I have enjoyed a remarkable sense of well-being. I suspect there maybe a relationship between the fact that life seems so perfect right now and the fact that nothing in my life is really mine.
It has been four years now since I quit my job, ditched my house, sold off the bulk of my possessions and moved to Mexico to become a house-sitter. When people come to visit me here, I paraphrase the Mexican saying and tell them, “Welcome. Not my house, is not your house either.” Giving up my own home was not easy, and there are a few disadvantages to living in house which is not yours. I cannot have pets, and the owner and I have a few differences of opinion regarding décor. (She likes rugs and mirrors. I don’t.) But the bottom line is, I get to live rent-free in a place I love.
I have a guy friend. What we enjoy is both wonderful and exclusive, though I would not presume to call him my boyfriend. There are no expectations about how long our relationship will last and no ambitions that it will evolve into anything other than what it is now. Knowing this allows me to take pleasure in what I have without trying to change the little things which might bother me if I thought of him in a more permanent, partner role.
Two of the last four summers, my best friend from childhood has hired me as a nanny.
Her daughters are beautiful, fun, challenging and interesting. I am not having the experience of being a parent, but I am an honorary aunt. I have laughed and cried with those girls, been there as they learned to walk, talk, swim, read, and do cartwheels. Even though we are not related, I know I am part of the family.
Home, partner, family. I don’t have any of them and yet I enjoy all of them. Knowing that none of it belongs to me keeps things cast in a temporary light so that I remember to appreciate them.