The nine months ended six months ago. Still in France, I once jokingly described to a friend over coffee the nine months we had spent on exchange were the pregnancy in which we developed before going home, reborn.
At some point, across the ocean, between the cheese and coffee, the cigarettes and wine, I had a period of, what one might call, existential depression. How cliché it is, to be reading Sartre in France and trying to comprehend your own meaninglessness, and what, if any, meaning can be derived from that.
One evening, while my visiting parents slept in a hotel a street away, I asked a friend the question I had contemplated during any moment of silence between strides in the sunshine of a coastal town. Life is inherently meaningless, thus one must give their life meaning through their actions, yet if one finds they cannot do so, is suicide justified? She and I, over hand-rolled cigarettes and lager, decided that it isn’t. That the journey is never ending.
Through her gentle Italian accent, she succeeded in convincing me that our aspirations have a point. The world around us may be absurd, yet we are still a part of it. We’re so privileged simply to be able to take the time to think about and discuss these ideas, and we came to a conclusion not dissimilar from that of Sartre. We ought to take responsibility for our behaviour, and any consequences which arise from it, and this duty extends much further beyond our own being.
Everything has been figured out, except how to live. – Sartre
I resolved to live better when I came home. Better, in health and mind, by my own terms. I imitated the lists I had once written during a summer when I was filled with the idealistic optimism of the nineteen-sixties counterculture with which my sixteen year-old self had been so enamoured.
Coming home, however, brought along a series of foreseeable difficulties in my effort to make such an upheaval of change in my habits and way of living. Settling back down into the familiarity of home was not what I would describe as particularly difficult, and yet, it felt impossible to all of a sudden put the fruits of my self-reflection into practice.
I had been unrealistically optimistic. To think one can alter their lifestyle to suddenly drop a number of bad habits in exchange for good ones so simply is childish. Such change certainly does not come overnight, and thinking that a plane ride to another continent is going to help the transition is certainly foolish.
Instead, I felt guilty and shamed myself for every day I smoked a cigarette and didn’t exercise, or spent time mindlessly clicking through internet pages rather than read and write. I would blame the physical exhaustion of my summer job, or being home and reverting to the immaturity and irresponsibility of the teenager I was when I first left, or simply no longer being able to understand why I had been so adamant about wanting to change in the first place. Now, I only blame myself.
As the summer begin to come to a close, I began to understand the necessity of understanding that change in a person is a slow process, needing time and careful thought. Being overwhelmed by putting too many ideas into practice at once is an easy path to failure, and leads to the vicious cycle I went through. It’s a humbling truth to finally accept that sometimes life really does need to be taken one step at a time. Even when you thought you already understood the journey doesn’t end, to realize life is an endless state and labour of becoming, and not simply being, can be dispiriting.
Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams.
For if dreams go,
Life is a barren field
Covered with snow.
– Langston Hughes
Once more, I resolved to invoke the change I wished to see, just as I was readying myself for my return to Toronto and Glendon life.