Spring Cleaning Life and the Pain of Sitting Still
15th April 2019
The late afternoon shadow creeps onto the balcony of a third floor apartment in a hotel in Lyon and I enjoy the feeling of the fresh white concrete against my skin, still warm from the spring sun. It’s been a while since I’ve written a new blog post and when I look back at the last few, I notice a theme: how I tried to keep traveling, running perhaps, when what I needed to do most was return to my roots for a moment, sit still for a while.
Sitting still doesn’t always come naturally to me, maybe because of how aware it makes me of my heart’s persistent aching for a place to call home. I left what was home some six years ago to literally run away with the circus, hoping to find my tribe, my place in the world, choosing the quest for a spiritual home, a place of belonging, over a material one.
Except that home was never meant to be a specific place and much more of the point in space and time where I would stop running and look around me; look down at my hands again and miraculously find myself in balance like I did for a split second quite a few years ago when I first fell in love with circus in general and handstands in particular.
Since arriving in France in January, I have been staying with my cousin, near my aunt and uncle, and while they have always been part of my family, we haven’t necessarily been close over the years, owed somewhat to the geographical distance but primarily to a language barrier. I grew up speaking German – my father didn’t deem it necessary that I learned my mother’s native language and she didn’t insist, so for the longest time, I had two cousins, an aunt, an uncle, that I couldn’t really communicate with as they don’t speak English. Later on, as a teenager and in my early twenties, I learned some school French and bits of Portuguese in an attempt to find roots that somehow would suit me more than my German ones. This, if nothing else, made family visits a little less awkward as I could at least ask for the butter at the breakfast table. Now, working at a small local circus school in Riom, I am finally becoming fluent in French and I feel like I have had a lot to catch up on.
When I first arrived in this tiny village with a population of around 500 people a few months ago three things happened:
- My immune system crashed completely.
After I hadn’t had a stable home in a good three years and a bit while simultaneously working very hard for a goal that became increasingly obscure, my body sensed that my big-hearted cousin wouldn’t throw me out when I needed her and so my immune system decided to take a well-needed vacation. The smallest of bruises would become infected, sores around my mouth didn’t heal for week and I felt weak and nursed a common cold for over a month. My body was exhausted and while I thought that, working only part-time at the circus school, I could spend a lot of time being active and training, I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to make myself do so.
- I got thoroughly depressed.
Once I stopped planning the journey ahead every day, worrying only about where to sleep, how to make money, what cool thing to do next, I found myself with an incredible amount of time on my hands – time to sit with my sad thoughts, with my darkness and with the voices in my head that I had wanted to outrun. When I had first started traveling, I had been looking to inspire others because I felt inspired by art, by circus, by love, by all the wonderful people I had crossed paths with. Somewhere along the way I had lost myself, lost my conviction and my passion and I was finally beginning to realise that, in order to find the lost bits, I needed to slow down, to look inside.
Unfortunately, slowing down and sitting through the bullshit is an uncomfortable experience that requires patience and compassion with onself. So in addition to my immune system being blissfully absent, I now often found myself crying at my cousin’s kitchen table, wallowing in self-pity thinking how I had navigated myself into a dead-end: how, at 27, I spoke three and a half languages but had no degree to prove it; how I had invested a ridiculous amount of time into learning how to stand on my hands and couldn’t even do that properly; how, 10 out of 12 months of the year I had less money to my name than a month of rent would require; how my body was showing all sorts of weird symptoms and I still couldn’t obtain health insurance. How simply traveling and doing what I thought to be cool things wasn’t going to help with any of that.
It sounds so easy when people say that it’s all about the journey and less about the destination – and perhaps, when you have a destination, this may be true. Without one, there is no clear path. They are all just as good or bad as the next one. It’s the destination that allows us to go on the journey in the first place; the destination, and maybe also the starting point of our journey, our roots.
- Regarding roots – I learned a great deal about my family.
Spending some time with my cousin, aunt and uncle while becoming more and more fluent in French shone an interesting light on my childhood and family history, giving me a new perspective I hadn’t had before, growing up only with my parents.
Turns out that my cousin has the same awkward memories of us sitting in a small room, separated by a selection of kids’ toys, unable to find a way to communicate, to play and interact, despite being genuinely curious about the other.
Turns out that my aunt knows so much about family in general and ours in particular, and that she is a fierce lion who will do anything for her own.
One night over homemade hot chocolate, my cousin and I spoke deep into the night, catching up on memories, exchanging stories we had both lived yet were never able to talk about. I learned to confide in her as she told me time and time again that I needed to rest: to smell the flowers, to enjoy life, to spend an afternoon lazing in the sun not worrying about the future or my training or which bit of this planet I was going to call home one day.
She told me that, having had to leave her childhood home Portugal at the age of 15 to become an expat herself, I could forget about one day not feeling homesick. She knew what it was like to have more than one home country and she told me that, since I had lived in so many places already, I would always feel somewhat sentimental for the things I had seen, the people I had met, the friends I had found and lost again. She told me that part of my heart would always be elsewhere, too, but that that didn’t mean I couldn’t be happy here and now. It didn’t mean that I could live anywhere else but here and now. In some ways, she’s smarter than I am, and I found that I love her, and that it feels good to have a confidante in your family.
At first, sharing so much of my time with people that were somehow strangers to me, despite being family, I felt overwhelmed. I had never had a family life like this. But for once, instead of hiding away in solitude, trying to move on, I decided to simply be honest about it. On the evenings where I couldn’t talk anymore and felt antisocial, I apologised, explained that my family story, growing up, had been very different and that I wasn’t used to such closeness. And instead of judging me, they listened, they understood – not all of me or my story, far from it, but more than I had thought, which was a wonderful start.
And at our small circus school, the kids have long since gotten over the fact that my French isn’t perfect. Instead they let me help them stand on their hands, too, and flip upside down in the air. Now that I am gone for a two week vacation during the Easter holidays, my Friday afternoon group made me a small video of all of them together with my colleague, shouting out loud: Bonne vacances, Miriam! My colleague, I think, is trying to find me a French boyfriend so I will stay the next year. Staying in one place comes with its very own set of challenges, and I am not ready to stay here, there is still so much more to come – in fact, I am looking to return to Germany, my home country, later in the year, maybe even finish the degree I abandoned together with a fiancé and what I thought of as home, six years ago – but it feels good to establish a little community on the way, however long or short-lived.
I am nowhere near done with travelling, or exploring, or losing and finding my passion in life, but sometimes, it is good to hibernate, to sit still with the sadness, the scars from the road and the thoughts from within, to come back to the roots even if we’re afraid to look at our own roots. They might just surprise us!
Now, spring is coming and warming my skin and while I still get sad or wonder about my life choices from time to time, my immune system has resumed most of its responsibilities. My mind has calmed down a little, still prone to wander and plan the next adventure, but equally allowing me to read a book in the sun or simply look down at my hands, carrying me as I handstand walk onwards!
Instead of a short vacation to yet another destination during the Easter holidays, I have decided to come home instead, and even though I don’t always speak highly of Germany, even though I have often wished for a different country to call my own, it welcomed me back with open arms: there’s the old circus buddy spontaneously inviting me to a juggling convention during my short stay and there’s the handstand workshop that takes place on exactly the right weekend for me to finally go study with a teacher I have admired for a long time. There’s a spontaneous spring bike ride to meet with two other friends I haven’t seen in years. There’s the opportunity to share all of the stories I have collected in far-flung places, at circus school and on the road and I am finally happy to come home with all those stories, willing to make peace with my roots before setting out to fly again. After all, what’s the point of living the most colourful stories if we don’t get to share them?
As always, I’ll keep you posted with new tales – of handstands on the road and, sometimes, of sitting still for a moment!