Life is Elsewhere / by Susie Lubell


I'm a little bit stuck on this subject.

I was chatting with a mom from my son's kindergarten class and she was telling me how before they had kids she and her husband had lived in Alice Springs, Australia, for three years.  And then they lived in England for two years where both kids were born.  And then they moved here to be closer to family. I told her how I'd lived abroad for almost five years too and we lamented the end of those days since now we are both fully embroiled in motherhood and elementary school and suburban splendor all the while wondering what the hell happened? When did we turn into these other people? 

Not that I used to live such a wild and crazy life. Let's be clear. In college I always took language classes at 8am so I went to bed at 10:00. Sometimes earlier. I sang in an a Capella group so that's about as nerdy as it gets. I never drank. My friends had to beg me to order a beer on my 21st birthday. In high school I only broke curfew once and that's because I didn't know Dances With Wolves was a three hour movie.

But when I was sixteen I went to London by myself to visit a friend and since then I've had the bug. The next year I went to Israel for five months. After college I went to Chile for five months with side trips to Peru and Argentina. Then I went to Israel for what I thought would be a year which turned into four+. During that time I traveled all over Europe. Always with a backpack, a Lonely Planet and not much money. But often with the address of a local friend or cousin or friend of a cousin whose couch was free. And then we took our big trip which brought me to places I'd never dreamed I would visit. Even in business school I managed to find an internship that had me living in a charming apartment in northern Belgium.

Those were my twenties. Running around the world, meeting wonderful people, learning languages. It was a ten year Eat Pray Love fest. And then I turned 30, got a job, bought a house, had babies and here I am looking down the barrel at the next thirty years feeling kind of hollow about the whole thing. And it's not just the kids. Lately I am bursting with love for these kids. But they have a funny way of making me feel tethered. Or maybe I'm the one doing the tethering.

Either way I can't figure out how to stop feeling like life is elsewhere. Because even when I was living my life elsewhere, I was still thinking about the next place. I even remember reading the book Life is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera, whose many books I have quickly devoured and just as quickly forgotten entirely, while staying at a guest house in Cuzco, Peru and wishing I was somewhere else. BESIDES CUZCO! Epically beautiful, spiritual and charming, "turn alpaca wool into just about anything" Cuzco. But for me life was elsewhere.

So where does that leave me? Us! Almost everyone I know around my age feels this to some degree. Bankers who wish they could open a deli. Lawyers who want to be chefs. Engineers who want to be bee keepers. I think that's why life coaching has taken off in the last ten years. We're a whole generation of people who have bought into this idea of having it all (work, family, love, adventure, passion, happiness, balance, inner peace) which, for me anyway, comes with a constant feeling like I've come up short.

To fill a gap, insert the thing that caused it.
Fill if up with other and twill yawn the more.
You cannot solder an abyss
With air. 
-Emily Dickinson

I feel the gap. Sometimes I feel like I might have found what will close the gap. I thought painting would do that. Sometimes I feel swallowed by the gap. Sometimes I'm at The Gap and nothing fits right and there's a long line and I'm wondering what am I doing here?

Seriously, what am I doing here?

And yet, of one thing I am absolutely certain. Ten years from now, thirty years from now, I will look back on this time in my life with an aching fondness and remember how simple it was when the kids were small and relied on us for everything. How squishy they were. How a kiss fixed anything. How they ran to greet us at the front door. And I'll wish I could go back. Or hopefully by then I'll have learned to live in the present.