Loosening the Surly Bonds

It was almost exactly a year ago that my husband and I landed in New York City.  We lived there for ten months and had the time of our lives.  Instead of being homesick, as I’d expected, I kept feeling that we’d run away from home and were having a great adventure.  Hell, how often do you get to have a great adventure when you’re our age?  Not often enough.

Now, we’ve been back in Texas for a couple of months.  It’s home and I love it — even if the politics drives me crazy.  We’ve answered the questions over and over: Yes, we loved it, had a wonderful time.  Yes, we went to the theater all the time; want to see my stack of playbills?; no, I didn’t think so.  Yeah, we ate out two meals a day for ten months; good thing we don’t eat breakfast.

Do we miss it?  Speaking for myself, I have to say no.  But then, I think about how wonderful it was to be able to walk everywhere and take mass transit — and I really miss that.  I find I resent the time I have to spend driving here.  It’s such a waste of time and energy.  That’s one reason we’re going to be putting our house on the market and moving to a downtown condo.  We like to walk.

But there’s something deeper here, more than where we live and how we get around.  It’s taken me awhile to understand it, but I think I get it now.  What made our sojourn in New York so wonderful was that it was always temporary.  We arrived there with a few suitcases; we rented an apartment.  We had no past there — and our present was limited.  We were always passing through.  We had a few close friends there, but mostly, it was the two of us.

For ten months, we were able to do what I try — and fail to do — when I go to yoga and as I live my life.  Since we were more or less cut off from our old lives and lasting connections, we lived  in the present.  A time like this is what I think makes travel so valuable, too: You’re somewhere else, it’s temporary, you’d better pay attention.  Everything else falls away.  You stop focusing on next week, next month, next year.

Sometimes, when we’ve traveled, I’ve thought it doesn’t necessarily matter where we go.  Paris is always wonderful, sure — but so was our crazy driving trip through the desolate stretches of West Texas a couple of summers ago, when we stumbled across the Prada art installation in the middle of nowhere.

Back home, we have a wonderful house that needs care, plans that have to be made, responsibilities, friends who are sick.  These things are what tie us here and enrich our lives and I can’t imagine living without them.  But it was wonderful, too, to slip away and live moment-to-moment.  You can do that and love it all the more since you always know you’re coming back.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite early posts from New York on the lessons of the streets

16 comments… add one
  • I hadn’t really thought about travel making you live in the moment, but it is very true. Travel is all about experiencing the now.

  • Beautiful, Ruth.  You always hit the nail straight on the head.  Living in the moment is how we should live every day.

  • I get the idea of “living  in the moment” to define the best mindset to adopt when traveling.  This is good, and I’m all for it– temporarily.  But, and this probably comes from the ongoing process of maturing as I age, when another commenter suggested living in the moment is how we should live every day, I suddenly struck weak in the knees.  All I could think of was continually erasing the previous days memories upon awakening each day.  I once read a sci-fi story about a gizmo in space that erased four days of memory on each new day.  After that first day, a Friday, when everyone awoke believing it was Sunday morning, from then on, it was slowly realized that everyone was destined to to lose the previous day plus three additional days further into their past memories since days lost were irretrievably gone.  Eventually, children got younger emotionally, widows memories backed up until they thought their husbands were still alive “yesterday,” and so on.  People had to write extensive notes to leave at bedside to be read upon awakening as a way to understand what was happening to them.   It occurs to me now, that the story was akin to a mass case of Alzheimer’s.  I can’t dedicate myself to living entirely in the moment, because I need my memories to be my companion and travel along to each successive new day with me– no matter if some memories include painful milestones.

  • Ellen Link

    Thank you, Winston, for bolstering my belief that it never pays to read science fiction.

  • So true, Ruth. Makes me wish I could live in the moment like this ALL the time; every day. Sometimes n, I try to stop myself and pretend there’s nothing else on my mind but that one moment. Do I succeed? Rarely.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I should note, for Winston and everybody else, that Ellen is my sister, one of the two original geezersisters.

  • Man! Do I need a few moments away from past/present/future. Ten months of it would feel like heaven about now.

  • Hello, Ellen!   Wow, the other geezersister doth exist!
    (Pssst– Are you really the Fabulous one?  Don’t be coy, you can tell us.)

  • So envy what you did this past year and wish I could spend my sabbatical unfettered like that.  But we are at that time in life in the muck of attachments and responsibilities–wonderful, yes, but oh so dense.  You all seemed a few inches off the pavement each time we saw you, skimming along.

  • I think you DO miss NY! It seems so nice to have had that 10 months to yourself. I absolutely HATE driving, and I can totally understand how the fact that being back in TX means being back in the car must be getting to you… All that said, I’ve always wanted to visit Austin. Maybe I’ll come see you sometime!

  • This post made me think about that expression they have in writing, that place is often a character in and of itself.

  • I want to see your stack of playbills. I’m with Jennifer–I sense just a little bit of missing NYC, and maybe that’s because I miss it at times too. Everything is so accessible, the people are friendly (despite stereotypes saying otherwise) and the food…I miss it too.

  • “It’s home and I love it — even if the politics drives me crazy.” Could be said about my life on the East Coast too! Ah, corrupt New Joisey.

  • I guess in that way it’s sort of like a vacation—but a lot longer.

  • You raise some important points, Ruth. Of course, everything is just temporary, it’s just that most of us, most of the time, don’t choose to view it that way.

  • I’m laughing because I’m from Alpine and that Prada “store” in as inexplicable to us as it is to everyone else!
    In the year that I’ve been on the road as a full-time housesitter I’ve learned the joy of that “temporary” to which you refer.  You’re on vacation, albeit a long one, and tend to do as vacationers do.  See everything, experience everything and it is marvelous.  My time on the east coast is drawing to a close and I’ll be heading to Houston in a month.  Another adventure in another new city.
    Do you find yourself seeing Austin in a new light after your long absence?
    Do you know Allison Allen at the Good Life Team there?  She’s a wonder.  If you don’t know her, look her up!

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