There’s been a theme to this summer.
Well, aside from the obvious themes of freedom, change, and cultural faux pas.
No, I’m talking about a theme of inspiration. Specifically in the form of strong, independent, free-spirited women. Women who have been through a hell of a lot and lived to tell the tale that it won’t control their destinies. Women who have looked cancer, abusive relationships, international moves, and broken hearts in the eye and walked away refined.
It started in Belgium with my elegant friend, who broke ties with her ass-husband only to find herself cheated on by her lover and fighting an uphill battle over money, her home, and her kids. And yet she remains playful, artistic, and thoughtful. She put up an exit sign in her living room just to remind herself that, no matter what happens in her life, she always has an exit. She is renovating a house, making something her own. And she is constantly surrounded by friends and admirers, people drawn to her unquenchable spark.
Also in Belgium was my endlessly kind hostess, Nathalie. She’s been taking care of everyone around her since she was a child. She lost the love of her life to a ridiculous set of cultural differences. And whether you have a breakdown on the highway or a broken heart in your chest, she’s the one you call for comfort, love, kindness, and a hot meal. This year, she’s readying herself for a solo trip around Asia, determined to experience new things and learn more about herself.
And then I went to Germany, where I met Stefania (not her real name): an energetic, beautiful Italian woman living in southern Germany with her young son. Single, independent, self-sufficient, and utterly charming, she has whisked herself through life doing whatever it is she loved and wanted at the time. She wanted to learn German, so she moved to Germany—knowing no one and nothing when she arrived. She wanted to have a son, and so she devotes herself to raising him. During the day, she works in upwards of five different languages. In the evenings, she lights a cigarette on her balcony and teaches everyone lessons about life and love and independence.
She spends a little more than she should on her charming apartment with a view because she believes that she deserves something beautiful to come home to. I think there’s something really likable about that.
Finally, I found myself in Zermatt, hosted by a strong, beautiful multi-ethnic woman full of smiles and snark and oh-no-you-didn’ts. She is a cancer survivor and the survivor of an abusive childhood and an early abusive marriage. She’s been beat down physically, mentally, and spiritually. To the point where, in her words, “there’s a point where you stop feeling like a woman at all. You’re nothing.”
But out of the ashes of all this, she was born a phoenix. Firey. Fiercely independent. Passionately compassionate. The kind of woman who could raise a son on her own. The kind of woman who makes you want to stand up for yourself. The kind of woman who still believes in love, but who loves herself first and fiercely.
I needed these four women to cross my path. Older than me, but not yet old. Still trying to figure it all out, but pursuing life passionately each day, never letting their circumstances rob them of their joy, their verve, their spark.
At the end of this summer, as Luna and I slip into whatever our next adventures may be, these are the things I want to take with me: the realizations about who I want to be.
I want to be free spirited like my elegant friend. I want to always remember that I can try anything, do anything…because if it doesn’t work out, I always have an exit. I want to build an environment around myself that reminds me of the things I need to be reminded about. I want to take risks.
I want to be endlessly kind like Nathalie.
I want to always remember, like Stefania, that I deserve something beautiful to come home to. That it’s okay to lavish a little love on ourselves.
And I want to stand up for myself like my Swiss friend. I want to laugh in the face of challenges, to do what it takes to make my life (and the lives of those around me) better.
And so I leave you for now, friends. Contemplating the strong women I’ve been so lucky to meet on this journey. Contemplating who I want to be.