Knowing when to stop to appreciate what I’ve got, before it has gone, is a skill that I’ve always grappled with.
For a week in the December of 2019, my travel buddy and I passed our days strolling through a strip of protected jungle on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Cahuita was a relaxed place, verging on horizontal. Noisy nature surrounded us and evenings were spent with little more to worry about than the local mosquitos.
Life was good. After all, a career break is a luxury afforded to very few. Having been able to save from corporate roles in a large global company we were taking some time out to rest and travel.
Although as the days went on, we still found things to whinge about. It rained more than we had expected, the heat was tiring and the local bars quite expensive by backpacker standards. Some nights were sleepless from itchy bites and sweats in the humidity. We knew we were lucky to be there but even so, probably took it for granted.
Really, it’s all relative.
I lead a privileged life by global standards. I rent a warm, safe, new flat in a great capital city with a person I love. I enjoy my job and get paid well enough to see friends, eat very well and enjoy some of the events that London has to offer. I’m also lucky enough to have new doors ready to open if I wish – the chance of learning in my career and a good education behind me.
Through various means I’ve also been able to see quite a chunk of the world. My childhood spent in the south of France, working abroad as part of a language degree and travels in the decade that followed have predominantly shaped my world view. I’ve seen enough to know that I have everything that (and actually far more than) I really need.
I first became acutely aware of how lucky I was (and how vastly different things could be) in early adulthood. At seventeen my mum suffered a brain haemorrhage and began an eleven year downward spiral in a nursing home. The initial few hours were the most transformative moments of my life, the next few days were about survival. The weeks that followed became the new ‘normal’ for a time while I studied for exams in a hotel room near the hospital in a city I didn’t know.
Over the years, particularly following mum’s eventual and inevitable death, I promised myself that I’d always recall those first few days so that I wouldn’t take anything in my life for granted ever again.
But life just doesn’t work like that.
What we acknowledge as normality in our lives is completely dictated by multiple and seemingly endless factors: Our individual nature and nurture; the culture we live in; the people we meet and even those we only glimpse from a distance; and the events we go through in our life that might demand a massive overhaul of our priorities, both temporary and permanent.
So that’s how I find myself, from time to time, letting the smallest of things get me down. It’s why I’m still finding lockdown in my warm, safe home hard some days. It’s why even though I’m experiencing some very first world problems at the moment, like shoddy connections on a video call, cravings for a café-bought cappuccino and missing after work drinks with friends, it still has an impact on my mood.
It’s why I moaned about the rain that week in beautiful, beautiful Cahuita.
It’s also why it would be a waste of time for any of us to beat ourselves up for taking our normal lives for granted right now.
Of course we should learn from this, we should adapt from it and move forward for the better. But surely the very act of acknowledging what we’ve taken for granted is appreciative enough? For once, I’ve decided to accept the things I take for granted as my own, very personal luxuries.
Just perhaps, it’s these unique elements of all our lives that define who we are more than anything else…