Europe Explained (part four)

Berlin, Germany

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***

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It’s been a process to explain my time in Europe. Catch up by reading part one, part two, and part three

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Part Four

The guilt wraps around my head like a white bandage, kicking, punching, and screaming inside a brain that can’t seem to forget the past. It’s easy to forgive someone else for their shortcomings, but relieving myself of those same faults proves impossible.

I found myself in a funk recently, the type of spiral that isn’t rewindable. It’s taught me what’s important, which consequently has brought great shame to an identity I spent too long forging under the pretenses that I was doing the right thing.

That’s what’s troubling. So many past decisions I made with the best of intentions, but now, armed with knowledge gained from life experiences, the past seems so foolish.

Life is brutal in that sense. It teases us with potential glory and then slams its hammer, a reminder that I am indeed not special. Instead, I’m just another person. It’s hard to accept not being special, admitting that my life isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. But that’s what past dreams of glory tricked me into believing.

It’s not as if being normal and unremarkable is a failure. I don’t have to be special to do special things. Essentially, my life doesn’t have to be appreciated by others for me to feel good about myself.

I usually carry a quiet confidence, an infallible exterior that deep down has the same fears and insecurities as everyone else. For so long I felt that falling into a life of mediocrity was a failure in not exploiting the talent I have. I held this desire for grandiosity, to achieve recognition from the masses even though all I really wanted was love from a select few who will never again give me access to their heart.

I don’t know if this is everyone, but the successes in my life never seem to cross my mind. It’s as if they never happened. What sticks is the numerous failures I have endured. Revisionist history lets me sit back and use all the experience I have now to belittle and degrade my past. I didn’t know then what I know now, but that in itself seems like a failure, like I should have been better than I was.

Maybe that sounds silly. Those moments will never come back. They will forever be reminders of where I fell short, a time in my life where I couldn’t get out of my own way and enjoy the happiness life had given me, despite the countless subtle signs telling me life was good.

I always wanted more, as if achieving that would bring me a joy I hadn’t yet experienced. A rush of energy runs up my spine and I get the chills thinking about what could have been had I taken a deep breath. It’s true that life gives you second chances, but it doesn’t give you eight. I’d probably trade in the past and what abs I have for a dad bod, loving girlfriend and halfway enjoyable job. Maybe that’s what happiness looks like.

***

I’m finally in a rhythm. I feel like I belong in Europe. In London and Amsterdam, everything was so fast and new, trying to keep up was a challenge. But now I’m on my third city of this trip, and I’m convinced I have a system down.

Besides leaving my favorite water bottle on top of the ticket kiosk, I am confident in my ability to navigate Berlin. A bus takes me into the heart of the city, and before I go down into the subway I stop and have a bratwurst while street artists perform all around a square.

It’s a magical time to be alive. If you watch the news enough, they will have you convinced the world is falling apart and we all have only twenty years before meteors are going to shower down and cause havoc on our species. Trump said something controversial again, but then I look up more about what it is he is doing versus saying and I’m pleasantly surprised to learn he isn’t actively trying to destroy the world.

It must be cliché to hate on old Donald, his orange floppy hair an easy target for the population to attack. I still don’t understand how Americans voted the guy in, and now proceed to bash him daily. Clearly, there is a quantity of people who like what Donald is about, and it goes further than the 1% who don’t want to pay more taxes.

Never have I witnessed this much social persecution of a president. Neither of the Bush’s nor Obama dealt with this much animosity, social media and news outlets taking up their platform with hate toward a man I’m not entirely convinced is this bigoted, racist scoundrel people want you to think he is. I know saying this will draw concern, because as a millennial I’m supposed to hate Donald Trump and all he stands for.

But truthfully, as I walk the streets of Berlin, none of that matters. It’s refreshing to look at the TV and not see something political or negative blaring on the screen. Where I am, people don’t care about America’s problems.

It’s also nice to be back on a bike again, rolling through the streets of Berlin that are filled with photo-mad tourists. There are so many cameras and phones being waved around, it’s hard to imagine anyone is embracing the moment. People are so concerned with capturing their presence through the click of a button that they’re not actually present in reality. But that’s our world now, society reduced to people scrolling and texting their way through life. I can’t say we are all missing out on something extravagant by having our heads buried in phones, but life wasn’t intended to be viewed through a screen. Simply looking up can provide all the satisfaction one needs.

I’m tired of spending $15 every time I go out to eat, so I have been skipping meals. If you know me, rare is the meal I turn away. In fact, I usually double down on the burrito bowl at Chipotle. But out here I’m content to simply not eat, to fall asleep while reading another masterpiece written by Frank McCourt. Life is so much simpler when I experience it from a different vantage point.

I suppose this detracts from the human experience, but putting myself in the mind of someone else is less painful than absorbing my own reality. I follow Angela’s Ashes up with another best-seller that seems to reiterate my own thoughts, only better.

The man in this story hates himself for taking the easy way out, the one where he got married, settled into a job and had a kid, all before finally bowing out of that life with an ugly divorce. He then chases after his girlfriend from high school. Their reunion is awkward and ugly, just how one might predict it to be. There is no fairytale ending to this story. It’s just life moving from one point to the next. It’s called The Sense of an Ending, written by a man named Julian Barnes. It’s one of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever read, maybe better than Frank McCourt’s books. Every book I read takes my breath away and suspends my otherwise pedestrian reality. This must mean there are many brilliant people in this world. I hope one day to be included in this list, not for the notoriety, but I want to profoundly impact someone. The Long Road North was a start, but I know there is more in me, a bigger opportunity to write material that people can relate to and then be inspired to carry out their own version of greatness.

That’s part of what getting older has taught me. I want to help people. I don’t fully know how or why yet, but I want to make someone’s day better, because when life is good, problems seem to matter little. It’s the smiles and the camaraderie that power us through the pain of life. I guess that’s why I always give money to those less fortunate. We all just want to be loved.

***

Today is a privilege. 30 kilometers from the center of Berlin to Brandenburg, the next city over. I don’t know what I’m going to see on this ride, but the majority of this gift will be spent on two wheels. I wish I didn’t take for granted how much fun being free and alive is.

Mike and I ride with pace through the suburbs, passing old industrial complexes, hospitals, forgotten suburbs and upscale condominiums. An Australian woman is with us, but it’s like she doesn’t exist because she rides in the back the majority of the time.

We come to a trail in a forest. I’ve been down a road like this many times before, but it’s the originality of each one that brings a numbing rush of joy.

30 kilometers later we get to a lake that isn’t flooded with tourists. “Nein!” screams a young man when I open the wrong door to use the bathroom. This is the oddest Euro I’ve ever spent. Most places will just let you piss for free, but not here.

It’s on this afternoon that I solve my hunger issues. “Just go to grocery stores,” Mike tells me after I share my struggles. His words are so obvious, but sometimes we have to be reminded of what we already know.

Mike is willing to ditch the Australian woman on the way back. “I’ll buy her a train ticket,” he says. “Most people don’t want to ride back, so I’m happy you showed up.”

I smile. Riding a bike is one of only six things I’m good at.

My plane for Italy leaves tomorrow afternoon. Today has reminded me that it’s okay to feel good about myself. Bouts of fear, insecurity, and shame have riddled my thoughts for weeks. It takes a slump into the depths of my own despair to realize life is a privilege. I’m lucky to have walked this path.

See, months earlier I thought I deserved my good fortune, that I was one of the few who rightfully earned their place. Opportunistic may be a fair label, but I by no means deserve my life. I was born into middle-class privilege, in a country that prides itself on being the greatest nation in the world. The more time passes, the less I’m convinced that latter part is true.

But I’ve been given a life, with every breath a chance to affect the world in some small way. That in itself is a gift, one that until recently, seemed more of a burden than an opportunity.

***

A quick word from this post’s sponsor: 

Interested in buying or selling a home? RE/MAX agent James Eason can help with all your real estate needs.

Get in touch with him today by clicking on this link!

 

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