Fish, Chips, and the Meaning of Life.

One of the reasons I encourage everyone (especially students) to travel is because traveling, I’ve found, helps you to discover yourself; and my latest adventure – to the East coast of Canada – proved just that.

Since calling this country my home, I have longed to visit Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and other must-sees of the Atlantic. Still, it took the end of a master’s degree and a need for something new and inspiring to push me over the edge and towards the other side.

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Point Prim Lighthouse, Point Prim Road, PEI.

Halifax, Nova Scotia and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island are capital cities for a reason. Both tell the stories of the greater pieces of land they represent all too well: Halifax, a bustling city, guarding the history of many cultures beyond its surface; and Charlottetown, as quaint as it gets in the best way possible, and the tip of the iceberg of a beautiful island.

In addition to the change of scenery, the timing of this trip coincided with a very deep train of thought that took over my mind: what is the meaning of life?

Without much explanation, once my studies terminated, I began to contemplate the point of it all: the purpose of living; a reason for having dreams and goals if, at some point, life ends anyways. Very morbid to say the least, but I thought a getaway from my current world of endless job applications would help me find an answer. And surprisingly, it did.

What helped me find that answer was a brilliant non-fiction book I purchased before my departure called, Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. In it, Frankl describes his time during WWII in Auschwitz, the people and things he lost while there, and the power and inner strength he relied on to survive inside the camps and later, back in the world. There were so many quotable parts of the book, so many “ah-ha” moments that I wish I could copy and paste here. But a few of them really stood out, not just for their message, but also how they seemed to coincide effortlessly with my travel discoveries:

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche”.

Charlottetown taught me quite well that our purpose lies beyond the interior. The quaintness of the city is lovely but limited. Eventually, we rented a car and immediately experienced the benefits of going beyond our (financial) limits. Point Prim lighthouse, Anne of Green Gables, Brackley Beach, and Cow’s Creamery – we saw so much! Even better was the fact that our trip took place at the cusp of tourism season; so it felt like we had the entire island to ourselves! Bliss.

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Anne of Green Gables, North Coast, PEI.

“We can discover [meaning in life] by creating a work or doing a deed”.

I saw the purpose and passion of a community – Africville, Halifax, one of the oldest settlements of Black Loyalists and freed peoples in Canada – in the fight for land ownership and cultural reclamation.

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Map of Africville, 1964, Africville Musem, Africville, Halifax.

In 1958, the Halifax government began a process of forcibly removing Africville residents to use the land – located by ideal waterways – for commercial industry and transport uses (one tactic included placing a garbage dump right by the community). Though most residents have now left the area, one resident remains: Mr. Eddie Carvery, a former resident of Africville, has continued to protest the extradition of his community for decades since its redevelopment. On entering the on-site Africville Museum (which is highly inaccessible due to negligence by the City of Halifax), it’s hard not to notice the big sign that reads “AFRICVILLE PROTEST” in all white letters.

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Just outside Africville Museum, Africville, Halifax.

Finally, love.

Of course, Frankl spoke of love, one of the most powerful qualities of life that continues to pull us through:

“The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is.”

Relating back to the first quote, one can find meaning outside of themselves, either through a cause (like Africville) or a person. I traveled to clear my mind, yet from that, I also realized that the world is much bigger than me. There are so many other people on this Earth that are familiar only with their own lives, their own community and their own problems. Traveling exposes us to other cultures, other people and other hardships unlike our own. It creates space for patience, understanding, empathy … and love.

Since finishing Frankl’s book, I’ve had several conversations about this heavy question with close family and friends – some of whom have lost loved ones or come close to losing their own life – and for the most part, it seems everyone is still trying to figure it all out.

The Maritimes is a heavenly part of the greater beauty that is Canada and, over other adventures, it’s surprising to learn what you can discover in your own backyard. There is meaning outside ourselves and in the world. And there is purpose in one’s passion for a cause or one’s love for another. Eddie Carvery found his.

And I continue to find mine.

À la prochaine,
Moi

Music of the Moment:

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An Internship in Ottawa, Season 6, Ep. 1

(Late Post: Summer 2017)

One of my all-time favourite TV shows is NBC’s Community, from creator Dan Harmon. It remains the only show I’ve ever willingly bought the DVD box set for. I remember randomly coming across the pilot episode one evening and thinking to myself, “This is hilarious!” A group of diverse characters who attend the same community college and who themselves form a community. Brilliant!

Like typical TV viewers, I generally just watched Community to be entertained; and it did that very well. I recently came to realize, however, that there was more to the show – a big fat (important) travelling message – that I had never quite clued in on until now, in doing a four-month internship away from home in Ottawa this summer: The key to discovering where your place is in this world lies in discovering where your community is.

And no, I’m not saying to go to community college. I am however suggesting that the people you’re with can really make a place you’re in.

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Be it the country’s capital, Ottawa is a beautiful place: very clean, close to nature and outdoor activities, and very family-friendly. All great features which would seemingly make it the perfect place to live. Yet when people continually asked me, “How are you liking Ottawa?” I could only tell them the truth. It’s a great place – but it’s not for me.

For most of this summer, I’ve struggled to understand why I’ve felt this way: I rented a beautiful apartment on the edge of downtown, not too deep in the mix but not too far from it either. I have a fascinating job that has taught me lessons for my professional (and personal) career which I will carry with me forever. And I’ve been given the chance to relax and get in touch with my own self-care after a year of doing a lot that wasn’t always the best for me.

Yet, all I can recall feeling every other day this summer was just a strong want to return home and be with my loved ones. Shocking for me, the self-proclaimed lover of travels and eternal wanderer. Still, the feelings were there, and, as much as I tried to go out, meet new people and discover new spaces, they never went away.

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Things became a bit clearer after attending a party with an old schoolmate. While there, I got into conversation with a young woman who reiterated to me my exact feelings, but from the opposite end. Unlike me, she had moved from Ottawa to Toronto to do her schooling. And unlike me, her core community of friends and family were here, not in Toronto. She proceeded to tell me how difficult it was for her at times to stay positive in a city where you can’t find your place or your people.

And so, it all made sense. Being a part of a community wherever you are is so important, even when far from home.

I had never truly understood this before because I had always been at stages in my life where I was open to discovering new places and people, and developing new, deep – though brief – friendships. However, I realized this summer that I’ve taken a shift in how I develop and maintain relationships, and I’ve come to realize a lot of who I am and my sense of belonging really flows from those who I love and surround me.

And that’s what it was like in Community too. Though the characters were in a community college overflowing with new, different people to meet and get to know, the dynamic energy between Troy and Abed was unbreakable. When Troy (aka Childish Gambino) left the show, things weren’t the same and Abed wasn’t his full creative, loony self. Furthermore, when Piers got sick, the mood of the group changed because one of their own could not be fully present.

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Community is a hilarious show. It’s got wit, oozing creativity and a weighty moral of the story to boot.

If you’ve got a community, cherish it. If you don’t, keep searching to find yours.

À la prochaine. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie
Moi

Music of the Moment:

The Day I Got Food Poisoning…

A Stroll in Strasbourg: the city where France meets Germany, everyone is trilingual, and the sausages and doughnuts keep you wanting more...

A Stroll in Strasbourg: the city where France meets Germany, everyone is trilingual, and the sausages and doughnuts keep you wanting more…

I will admit that I like to over-dramatize life sometimes; but after verifying the definition of this illness via viable sources such as the Internet, my hypochondriac mind can assuredly say that I am currently suffering from food poisoning (probably in the slightest, but it still counts).

According to these feasible sources, food poisoning is caused by the ingestion of alimentation containing unwanted bacteria of sorts. I had lunch with a friend at one of the university’s cafeterias, and though I am always skeptical of their choice of meat presented, my hungry belly is never strong enough to object.

Further skimming of these website articles and I found that the common remedy seemed to be re-hydration. Due to the effects of the illness, the most important thing to do during recovery is to maintain the body’s fluid levels as one tends to lose a lot as the bacterial invasion passes through (once again, my over-dramatized description prevails – I am not in such a bad state).

But, I could not help but apply my new-found maladie‘s remedy to my other, lesser woes. The same day I ingested the ghastly (no pun intended) cafeteria food, I had to then endure my final two-hour French class which I have been taking since the beginning of the semester.

Perfecting another language, I find, is like singing a familiar (but not known by heart) song. Some parts of it, you get right; some parts you get wrong; some parts, you just have absolutely no clue how it goes. But practice makes perfect, so one must continue avoiding defeat to learn the lyrics until it can be sung without fault. Likewise, when it comes to learning a language that one has been studying for the past, oh say, twelve years, it takes quite a bit of motivation to continue practicing after having high and low moments, a lot of rights and so many wrongs, and just complete incomprehension.

Which brings me back to French class: I have always enjoyed my French classes from high school until my second year of university when my grammar credits were finally completed and, to be frank, my teachers and professors have enjoyed my presence and participation just as much. But for some reason, it seems as though I try and try in this class and I keep pulling failures out of the hat. Though I make mistakes while on the road, my day-to-day interaction with the Frenchmen tends to run smoothly, with understanding and inquiry on both sides of the conversation; however, every time I step in that class, my confidence in the language and my second favourite passion in life plummets.

Rehydration.

As I sip from my water bottle to replenish my interior fluids, I must also refuel my drive, restock my incentives, and continue on. Though twelve years is a heck of a long while – more than a decade, in fact – there is a reason why I have been studying French for those twelve long years and am currently in France to achieve my ultimate goal of being fluent as a current in the ocean. It is a sad sight to see one give up the race before it has started, but it is even more disappointing to see one give up near the finish line.

So, I must continue on.

À la prochaine,
Moi

Music of the Moment: