“Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.”
Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun
As you read this, I hope you are imagining me right now in my quaint Swiss chalet, situated charmingly on the side of a mountain, with cowbells faintly audible and towering Swiss peaks visible in the distance. I have just returned, of course, from walking my dog along a winding dirt path and breathing deeply of fresh mountain air. Along the way, I waved to my neighbors, Urs and Jürg, who may come over later to enjoy a hearty lager and soulful conversation by the crackling fire.
I don’t know how to break this news to you, faithful readers, but that is not where I live and that is most certainly not my life. I’m not even sure that place exists – outside my fantasy life which, I confess, has been really, really active over the years.
I would read books like Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayles’ A Year in Provence, and then I would imagine myself moving to a place like that, and in my imagination I would meet charming, slightly eccentric people who loved life in tiny villages, and I would renovate an old farmhouse (never mind that I can’t change a light bulb without checking a YouTube video first to find out how it’s done), and I would master a new language, and I would discover the meaning of life – or at least important truths about life that were somehow inaccessible to me in my humdrum, American suburban life.
None of this has happened. I did not move to Tuscany or Provence, it’s true, but I did move to Switzerland, which has all of the charm of those other two places (and much more besides). I have not (so far) renovated an old farmhouse and do not see that happening any time soon (unless the movie rights to my new book bring in a tidy sum, and then I will probably hire someone who knows what to do with a hammer).
I have met wonderful people here, also true, but they are not always charming, and they are sometimes more than just a little eccentric. A better word might be “irritating.” Not all the time, certainly, but often enough. For heaven’s sake, they are human beings, and I knew plenty of them where I came from.
And as for the language, I have two comments to make. The first is that there is nothing all that romantic about speaking Swiss German. To be honest, it frightens me to hear it spoken. And the second is that learning a language is hard work. After two years of study I am still far from fluent. In fact, people usually laugh when I work up the courage to say something in German.
I think this idea that moving someplace new to discover the meaning of life is … well, a sham, a fraud. Book publishers and movie producers like the idea, of course, but mostly because people like me buy the books and watch the movies. Eat, Pray, Love, anyone?
I can truthfully say that there is no secret to life that cannot be found closer to home.
Francis Mayes writes well about her experience, but she is wrong. And not just wrong, she is dangerous. She could have stayed home to find out what she needed to know. And lots of other people who have set off for exotic-sounding places could have stayed home too. They could have saved themselves from a lot of headaches (and heartaches).
If discovering the meaning of life is what you want to do, I recommend that you stay where you are, even if it’s a crummy little town, find a comfortable place, close your eyes, and then wait for the voice that will eventually come to you. It’s the voice of God, and don’t ask me how I know. Everyone else who has heard it over the centuries has also recognized it immediately. And there have been large numbers of women and men who have heard the same voice I have.
And then of course listen to it, really listen, as you have never listened before, as if your life depended on it.
The voice sounds pretty much the same whether you are in Tuscany or Provence or my little village of Meilen, which is twelve minutes by train from Zürich. I get up early, while it is still dark outside, and I sit in my living room, always the same place, and listen, knowing that I could be anywhere in the world at that particular moment. It doesn’t matter. Because the voice I am listening for speaks to me of truths deeper than charming village life or mountain views. The voice I am listening for speaks to me of truths worth knowing, truths that are worthy of me. The voice I am listening for asks me how I’m doing, how my week has been, and how I plan to live my life for the people around me. The voice I am listening for tells me that I am loved with a love that is beyond description.
If adventure is what you seek, it’s closer than you know.
(Note: I’ve been away – for a few days in Israel and then for a few days in the U.S. Lots of travel seems to mean less blogging. But we’re coming up on the holiest week of the year for Christians, and I should have something to say about that. Plus, there’s the presidential election in the U.S. Thanks for being patient. Please stay tuned.)