I was walking down the produce aisle of a grocery store in a tiny French village when I noticed something that stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked around and nothing seemed out of place; everything felt normal. That was the problem.
Well, not so much a problem, but it is what gave me reason to pause. I had been living in France for about 4 months now, farther away from family, friends, and familiarity than ever before in my life. I could remember feeling that a lot was different here in France, but as I looked around at the tomates and pommes, I could not specifically say what was different here. In fact, I couldn’t remember knowing anything but this— as if I had shopped at this grocery store my entire life.
No, I wasn’t experiencing a sudden case of amnesia, but it felt like anything that happened before moving to France was part of another life.
Something had to be different. The layout of the store? Nope— aisles under fluorescent light, just like every single grocery store I’ve ever been in. Perhaps the food? No again, produce, meat, and frozen stuff— nothing out of place there either. Wait! The signs! The signs are in FRENCH! Yes, that is different. But I look at them, and they aren’t different at all. The language might be different, but they still say the same thing; “2 for 1”, “sale”, “fresh”— nothing I haven’t seen before. A different language isn’t enough because I could just as easily have gone to Chinatown back home to see signs in a different language.
Everything was the same, or was it? The strange thing was that couldn’t figure out whether everything was the same as back home or if I simply was so used to my new surroundings that it felt no less familiar than home itself.
I learned some interesting lessons that day.
We Always Adapt
Difficult or enjoyable, the new will always become the banal.
No matter how different a situation is, it will become more familiar with time. We may not be able to see a single familiar thing around us at first, but after a week or two, it’ll be so normal that we’ll wonder whether it was ever any different at all.
This is something that I remind myself of when I am in a difficult or stressful situation. Though it may be hard to bear now, it will get better, if nothing else because it will become more familiar. Times of stress are also the hardest times to have a clear perspective in, so this lesson is a good reminder that it will get easier, even when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Life Is Short, but we get several of them
Four months, or even just two weeks, is not a lot of time, but our experiences in the past— even the recent past— can feel like they were a lifetime ago. I often remember amazing experiences that I’ve completely forgotten about. I climbed that mountain? I nearly froze my hands off in an underground cave? I swam with dolphins? I ate that whole pizza? Ok, some of the remembered experiences are more profound than others, but they all make me stop and wonder, “How did I ever forget that?”
I also think about the peripheral experiences that led me to these highlights of “past lives.” Sometimes, I’m astounded that I was adept enough at something to do what I did, when the same thing feels so foreign to me now and I wonder why I let that skill and knowledge fall away. Other times, I try to remember my mindset at the time that motivated me to accomplish these things.
Remembering the highlights of your past can have a profound effect on your actions in the present.
Remembering that I’ve done interesting and amazing things in the past encourages me to expect more of myself now. I always want to be moving forward, so even if I don’t remember actual details, just knowing that I’ve accomplished big goals in the past pushes me to continue to grow during those times when I feel small.
The memories of past experiences can also tell you what lay in store for the future.
The fact that I forget some of the most impactful experiences of my life only to remember them later tells me that I will likely be doing something very different in the future and the present will only be a distant memory.
- If I don’t think anything I’m doing now is important enough to remember later, then I’m not using this life to its fullest. Time to climb a mountain.
- If I can look back and easily remember things far into the distant past (more than a year or so), then I’ve been living this life for too long. No life should last forever. That would be boring.
I sometimes wonder how I got to where I am now, since I can’t remember the long trail of choices and events that led me here.
Often, we think that what we do now commits us to what we will be doing in the future— possibly for the rest of our lives. This can make it hard to make big decisions. What major should I choose in college so that I’ll have a career that I’ll love for the rest of my life? One choice decides what we’ll do for the rest of our lives. The truth is that this commitment is completely artificial. We are the only ones that keep us where we are in life. We are also the only ones that can enact change in our own life. Nothing else is keeping you where you don’t want to be. There are no “big decisions”. A decision or experience in the past can affect your future, but you can also make new choices now that will have at least as much of an effect on your future as those of the past.
The final lesson: I need to take more pictures.
And video. Video is harder to deny.