When I was little and would travel with my family, they never sold the souvenirs with my name on them. You know the ones. The mugs or the keychains or the magnets or the buttons. The ubiquitous tourist destination monogrammed souvenir items. Sometimes they had my sisters’ names, sometimes they didn’t, but never mine. Never. I came to accept it. Begrudgingly. So my name wasn’t a particularly common one – oh well.
But, for a few nights near the beginning of the trip, just after we left Dublin and started traveling south, we stayed with a couple named C. and Janelle and their two small girls. (And one absolutely adorable little white kitten. Who loved J. and ignored me, no matter how nice I was to him.) Janelle and C. are from California, but a few years back they moved to Ireland and opened a coffee shop. They live in a long bungalow style home, right on the water, and a ten or fifteen minute drive out from the nearest town. They have a beautiful wrap around back porch, a dining area that is pure window (all around the sides and the roof), and chickens in the backyard. Their home isn’t numbered because it isn’t on a street with a street name anyway – each house has its own individual name to identify if, with a small sign out front, and plenty of wide open space in between theirs and the next house. C. and Janelle’s bungalow is named “Tradewinds.”
It felt strange to greet Janelle only to immediately introduce myself, too, as Jannell. “Hi, Janelle, I’m Jannell!” I almost never get to do that. And as if it isn’t already tempting enough to superimpose the lives of those you meet along the way when traveling onto your own, imagining whether your own life could or couldn’t look similar, if you wanted it to, staying with someone with the same name as me and only a few years older – it’s suddenly even easier to imagine yourself into their life.
Sitting in a rocking chair all evening, facing the wheat fields and just beyond them the expanse of water, watching this other family go about their life, it can get easy to get carried away with all that imagining. Five years from now, could it be me and my husband, our two kids, our cute cat, our chickens, our laundry hanging up to dry in the beautiful dining room, light streaming in from all sides, succulents happily sunning themselves in the corner? Our coffee shop in town? (That has always been the backup plan, after all.) Our current life in the middle of Boston traded in for what seems like a much quieter one on the outskirts of a coastal Irish town?
It’s easy to imagine it could be. At least for a day. And then, a second day goes by, and you remember why you kind of like your life the way it already is. And all the things that make your life your own, and this Janelle’s life hers. Not to say that traveling doesn’t have the important potential, I think, to open your eyes to other ways of living, but just also to say that sometimes it might be just as important to stop and take stock of the ways in which your own way of living might be unique and wonderful in its own right. In all the ways that it is easy to forget when you’re living it on a day to day basis.
Irish Janelle’s life looks beautiful, at least from the outside in. But Boston Jannell’s life is pretty good too. She might not own very many monogrammed souvenir keychains, but that’s ok. She’s lucky in so many ways. Ways that are worth stopping to think about every so often, even if I have to imagine myself into somebody else’s life first to remember that.