That Roaring Summer

Taken today, Friday 21 August 2015. Wearing a smile.
Taken today, Friday 21 August 2015. Wearing a smile.

Two years ago, I experienced the most amazing summer.

I had one exam I had to retake, sometime in mid August. Which, granted, wasn’t exactly fun. And I had to write my dissertation for my Masters degree in Corporate Communication. Which, granted, wasn’t exactly fun either. But somehow, that summer was absolutely incredible. That summer was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. It was a glorious time at home, still swaddled in the comfort of everything I’ve always known, whilst standing at the precipice of a staggering adventure.

It was the summer of ’13. The days were long and swelteringly hot in the small little town I grew up in. My favourite place to be was in the garden of my parental home. Our garden has always been large and rich with flowers growing everywhere. And there’s a big oak tree, which has been there even before I was born. I’ve seen it grow to a majestic piece of marvellous nature over the years, standing at the edge of our garden, overlooking the empty fields in the distance. The grass is always full of weeds, moss and daisies, making it exquisitely soft and gracefully delicate at the same time. I like daisies the most. No matter what you do, they will grow wherever they like – uncompromising on the simply beauty of being. And this summer, oh let me tell you, the weather was just perfect. The sun would burn hot during the day, whereas the night skies often brought the most refreshing rain. The garden stayed a lush green all summer long – have you ever smelled anything better than the smell of summer rain? It was a glorious time. Life was all nonchalance and comfortable luxury. And happiness seemed to last forever.

Not in the least because of the company I was in. I was home. Home with my parents, who know me well and who’ve grown accustomed to my bouts of loving craziness. My sister was staying with us for a few weeks after having spent many years abroad – it was a great time to reconnect and remember old times, like when we’d sing the theme song of “Gilmore Girls” together whenever it was on TV. And especially when my brother would come by for dinner sometimes, we’d all be reunited again. It wasn’t exactly like my childhood – somehow it was even better. And I’d play Scrabble with my dad, read books, invite friends over… In the evening, I’d reach for my laptop and slowly but surely write my dissertation – barely making a dent in an otherwise careless existence.

It was almost like a perfect beginning to a stunning 1920s novel – all gaiety and naivety. Because of course, I knew it wouldn’t last. In fact, I was acutely aware that it was going to be the last summer I would ever spend at home. My year at Vlerick Business School was awaiting me, which I knew would bring job opportunities in the summer ahead. Which would mean starting work, most likely moving, becoming an adult and all that jazz. (Little did I know I would end up in London, UK?!) So I enjoyed every single minute of it. And I made sure I would always remember the indescribable ecstasy I felt during that summer of ’13…

This summer is so far removed from that one. Instead of two months of vacation, I have 2 weeks. Instead of writing papers for a degree, I now work for a living. Instead of letting casual euphoria take over, I count the days I must return to real life. Instead of feeling like the world was just waiting at my doorstep, I increasingly find you have to cross the threshold and discover it for yourself. While I enjoy making my own way and figuring things out as I go along, there was something so lavish about that feeling I experienced during that summer in ’13. My responsibilities were minimal, at best. My only “job” was to fill my days with blissful happiness, to enjoy spending time with my delightful family and friends, to relish life in a beautiful garden paradise. And even knowing it would end, even knowing things would change soon, I was caught up in the sheer extravagance of those two months.
It was the ultimate summer feeling.

Today, I find myself longing to go back. Like Gatsby before me, I was trying to recreate a time long ago, trying to recapture what I lost. But as naive as I was then, I’m less so now. I now know that you can never go back, not really. We’re not meant to. And that’s okay. People grow, they move on, they change, they – hopefully – get to be even better versions of themselves. It’s only taken me a mere week back home to realise that I won’t be recovering those swelteringly hot summer days of ’13. Instead, I’ll experience new days. And you know what? That’s a good thing. Because two years ago, I would have never even dreamed of living in London. So waking up to a new day… Who knows where I’ll go next?

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
― F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby

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Breathless

It’s the calm before the storm. It’s the moment before the wind will pick up speed, making the waves crash against the cliff walls. It’s the time where I hold my breath, knowing there is no other way to go but with both feet forward, taking a plunge into the deep. I feel like I’ve been running for so long and now I’m at a standstill. There’s no way back. And the way ahead may prove to be filled with some tricky waters. I can’t do anything but wait a little longer, until I’m breathless and I have to swim my way back up to survive.

Everyone has good days. And everyone has bad days. You need to experience both in order to distinguish between the two. Perhaps most staggering of all is when they follow up on each other at a breakneck speed, but perhaps it’s only normal. When you go high that fast, you will fall down in equal measure. And that’s okay.

These are the days I will remember. They are the days I will memorize in my mind, in my heart, in writing, in music, in whatever medium I can find. Whether good or bad, it’s the intense days that remind me of what it means to be alive. I’ve had too many flatline-days: days that don’t make a difference in the grand design. Days that don’t make your heart skip, but where it keeps flatlining at a steady beep. A dime a dozen, I suppose. Days that you’ve forgotten before the clock has struck midnight to announce a new sunrise ahead. They are not the days when inspiration will hit. They are not the days where my mind will soar, for better or worse, and bring with it all that I have pouring out.

*

Today I will remember. Today I know that I am breathless. I am immobile. I am in hiding. And I am trapped. Because I know what lies ahead. And yet I have no clue at all. There is a vast landscape ahead of me, filled with uncharted territories. In some I may find joy, others might bring grief and worse, some could forebode danger. For all intents and purposes, I suppose that is what growing into adulthood feels like. In the past I’ve acknowledged fears about it, as well as the excitement coursing through my veins, but never my inability to make it feel real in my head. I don’t how to make something feel real when I’ve never, not once, experienced it before. Again, this is a day where the range of the human emotional spectrum astounds me. To be honest, if I could, I would draw up a cocoon around me and let that be my safe world. Like a safe blanket, which ruffles softly against my toes and can be held close without fear of suffocation. I’d be alright living life as a caterpillar. Not everyone is meant to be a butterfly, least of all me. But there is no return ticket on the clock that is otherwise known as life.

I’ve read that some cultures see time as a circular motion. That’s in stark contrast to here in the West, where time is linear. There is a beginning. And there is an ending. And you can only go one way. Perhaps my lungs will kick in again if I familiarize myself with a circular way of viewing time. Perhaps that will take the pressure off and my chest can rise once more. Yes, this Western world of ours might have all the technology “inferior worlds” are still lacking… But we have a terrifying notion of growing older. And in that respect, we could learn so, so much. Because not only do we radically judge all human beings at the first sight of wrinkles, but we teach our children that there is a limited amount of time where you can “live your life to the fullest”.

When you are a kid, you cannot wait to be tall. When you are a teenager, you cannot wait to be taken seriously. When you reach your twenties, the full weight of adulthood hits you like a flatiron against your skull. But in your thirties you already start feeling like your best years are behind you. By the time forty looms around the corner, you’re due for your midlife crisis, because that’s when you’re deemed “old enough” for it. And anyone past fifty is considered old, in mind, body and spirit. A fate worse than death, I think. So I say… I say we revolt. I say we yank the rug out from under society’s norms and values and choose our own. I say we choose our own damn fate. Our own damn path. And I say we do not wait too long, before it is too late. A final statement, which I hope will be seen for the irony it depicts.

*

I am not going to divulge my secrets today. Not here. Not to the world. I will not spill the details on the innermost workings of my soul. Not today. Whether high or low, today will be remembered only by me. And through my experiences, I grow. Through my memory of those experiences, I learn. And today, I have learned many a thing. Maybe the most important one being that you can never go home again. Not that home is unsafe or unfamiliar, but it holds no more new experiences. Which translates in a standstill once more. So I will go forward soon. And I pray that the dreams I chase and the doors I choose are the right ones. But in all fairness, the world isn’t perfect. And my life has never been a fairytale. So I can only hope that, when I do start breathing again, I will feel my pulse quicken once again.

From down in the valleys below, anyone with enough willpower can rise. So here I go. Any minute now…