Dear, Dear Reader - I have been back from Saarbrücken and Berlin, Germany for two weeks now, and I have so much to tell you about this joy-filled, life-changing journey that my sons, Aidan and Cormac, and I took, along with our good friend, Jeffrey. It is something you will be hearing about for months and months to come because there is that much to share, as I learned so much from the experience. But first, before I do any of that, I want to get back to basics, back to what you know me for, which is personal writing, in order to make a case for keeping a notebook while you travel. So, I’m going to do that first because we are in the middle of summer, which for most people is prime vacation time, and some of you will be lucky enough to be heading off for a mid or late-summer vacation.
And here’s why this is so important to me at this moment:
Despite the fact that I will be forever changed, uplifted, and nourished by my experiences in Germany, it was a vacation, an escape from the day-to-day challenges of my actual life, and we all know that life happens and is going to continue to happen once we return from vacation, no matter how hard we try to bask in the afterglow. So, even though I am, in so many ways, still benefiting from those positive experiences, I am also dealing with having to process the real-life stuff that we’re all collectively experiencing, ranging from politics, to gun violence, to the uptick in COVID cases and the new threat of monkeypox and so on to the real-life personal stuff that I am dealing with in my own life. All of it is battling for my attention and mental energy, and without going into any detail, some of it was weighing heavily on my heart and spirit when I went to write my essay for this month’s BK Love Letter. Every time I’d put pen to paper or my fingers on the keyboard of my MacBook, I found that my memories of my trip were being colored by what was currently happening in my life. Emotions that I sometimes still struggle with to this day, like self-doubt and self-criticism, were actually finding their way into essays about our trip to Germany, which in reality, is one of the single best things I’ve ever done in my life.
When discussing the trip with a friend of mine, he mentioned that he’d noticed the shift in my tone when I was talking about the trip. So, not only was I struggling with the tone of my memories in my writing, it seemed like my general perspective had somehow changed. After talking about it with him, I committed to reclaiming my joy. The problem I was then faced with was just how to go about doing that. I started by going through all of the photos that we’d taken, so that I could better recall all of the things that we’d done and experienced over the course of our trip. Our faces beaming with joy in every photo I could find. But when I went to write, my mind still insisted on trying to access little pockets of negativity that I couldn’t even recall experiencing.
Now, it was true; we did get confused and lost in Frankfurt Airport for a bit. I could not, for about 20 minutes, get my bearings straight. And in that same 20 minutes, the fact that I couldn’t speak German did make me feel really anxious and question my decision to bring the boys all the way to Germany for what was supposed to be a fun vacation. There were about 20 minutes in which I started to berate myself for making such a poor decision and being irresponsible for spending so much money to make said bad decision. But then, in a single pivotal moment, which would take too long time to explain, so take my word for its significance, I discovered that ausfahrt meant “exit” in German, and everything started to fall into place. We finally found our travel buddy, Jeffrey. I finally saw the English on many of the signs. The background noise of people speaking a language I couldn’t understand stopped making me anxious. And a sense of adventure and joy replaced my self-doubt and uncertainty. In reality, our trip was not marked by negativity or mishaps. It was, throughout the entire time we were there, a positive experience. My memory was lying to me.
After reviewing the photos on my computer, I opened up the thin A5 notebook that I’d written my travel notes in for each day of our trip, primarily focusing on keeping a record of the various sights that we saw and places that we’d eaten without any of the emotions, analysis, self-doubt, and self-criticism that were making their way into my memories. I am so grateful for this record, simply stated - the name of a train stop, a description of a dish eaten at a restaurant, and confirmation that there’d been a midnight scooter ride to a bar. It is a reminder that memory is flawed and unreliable, and that our perceptions can change greatly, depending on when we are accessing our memories.
The big takeaway from Sunday, June 26th was not that I got terribly lost in the Frankfurt Airport; it was that I’d finally met Beate, the creator, founder, and owner of Roterfaden, her partner, Alexis, their nearly five-year-old son, Theo, and her older son, Simon, and that we’d all hugged and had a great time together and ate a traditional German restaurant and tried spätzle for the first time, and that we’d visited an inspiring urban art exhibit at an old ironworks. And that it was a tiring but great start to what would ultimately be a trip that could shift the course of our lives forever.
Here is the actual entry from my travel notebook for Sunday, June 26th: