REMINISCENCE: recall to mind of a long-forgotten experience or fact; the process or practice of thinking or telling about past experiences
Sometimes, I wonder why I feel compelled to write about my life. What is the value of writing about what happened today or putting my musings into words?
But, then I stumble on old writings from long ago and I realize that the words capture things I’d forgotten. Sure, I remember the basics of big events (time, place, people) but the years have dulled my memories of the emotions, the quirks, and the small insights I never thought I’d forget. I recently indulged in a little reminiscence – a trip down my written memory lane. It was a delight.
About this time eleven years ago, I was on a plane bound for Edinburgh. It was the beginning of a grand adventure. There were adventures before and there have been many since, but backpacking through Western Europe remains one of the most memorable for me. Even so, it took reading my notes from that trip to bring it back to life in all of its glory.
During that trip, I sent emails to a distribution list of friends and family every few days. It was “blogging” old-school style – via Hotmail, at an internet café, with dial-up. My mom had the foresight to print and save those emails for me. Thanks mom!
Here is a reproduction of my final email home from Amsterdam after two months of travelling:
I will always look like a tourist, no matter how hard I try to be fashionable
Peanut butter is a versatile source of protein
“Breakfast” at a hostel means bread and butter
Some friendships are instant
Sleeping in airports is not a good money-saving strategy
Playing dumb can get you out of a lot of trouble
McDonald’s always has free bathrooms
Drying clothes over gas stove burner makes them smell funny
Sometimes pointing gets you farther than trying to speak a language you don’t know
Flip-flops are not appropriate dress shoes
Thirty people sleeping makes a room smell bad
Any tour is a free tour if you are sneaky
Everything is within walking distance when you have all day
Cotton clothing gets crunchy when hung to dry
Everything in Europe is smaller except the beers
“Clean” is a relative term
Bathing suits are not necessary for sunbathing (sunscreen, however, is a brilliant idea)
I will miss…
Meeting new friends every day
Never being lost (you can’t be lost if you don’t have a destination)
Icecream, gelato, helado, etc.
Having the next country or city I visit be the most pressing decision I have to make
Seeing things I had only seen pictures of before
Walking through a new town before anybody is on the streets
Sleeping on trains, benches, walls, park lawns, etc.
Not needing a car
Playing gin rummy daily
Cobblestone streets and sidewalks
The thrill of hearing English spoken by the person behind the counter
I look forward to…
Showers that don’t require body contortion to shave my legs
Tap water at restaurants
My running shoes
Renting home videos in my PJs
Cotton clothing (yep, the kind that takes forever to air dry)
Understanding the restaurant menu
Having a choice about what I will wear based on appearance, not aroma
AND MOST OF ALL…more adventures like this one!
Did the ‘all who wander are not lost’ cliché make me cringe a little? Yes. Do I wish “icecream” was hyphenated? Yes. From a writing perspective, I’d like to edit this. But, from a memory perspective it’s perfect.
Reading that email brings me back to the days just before my twenty-first birthday when I was struggling with whether or not to get on a plane to return home. It takes me back to the moment when I felt certain that I was destined to be an expatriate. It takes me back to the time when I was super skinny despite a diet of bread, peanut butter, chocolate and cheese.
Imperfections and all, my old writings capture memories and freeze time. Some insights hold up years later. Some seem quaint and overly simplified. Regardless, they make me smile. I hope the same holds true when I look back on my musings from this season of my life.