Curating a Life (and a Tribute to London)

On this date in 2005 I departed O’Hare Airport for a semester abroad in London, a stretch of time that would alter my life with incredible magnitude. London isn’t a city that allows you to sleepwalk through your days. Its breadth of history, energy, beauty, and progress force you to take notice, to wake up to the world around you. For me, it was also a city that showed me what my ideal self and life could look like.

I walked everywhere, mostly to the rhythm of songs playing through my headphones. This kept me physically active, energized, and increasingly tuned in to my surroundings. I admired art by rotating weekly through many museums, perused books new and used at the plethora of bookstores, shopped boutiques and markets in various boroughs, and danced in bars and nightclubs until I was nearly too exhausted to walk my sweaty self home in the wee hours of the morning. I listened to live blues and jazz music, saw the ballet, absorbed gorgeous choral music, especially moving in Latin, in churches dotting the city. I learned to try new foods and approach strangers to initiate a chat, both exercises in pushing past my comfort zone. I ate brunch or had lattes with new friends and love interests, reminding me of the power of connecting with people in a genuine way. I read in parks and journaled in coffee shops. Each Friday I’d buy myself a bouquet of tulips or daffodils and a fancy dessert from the cake shop display to treat myself to simple pleasures. I still managed to fit in classes and school work, as well as Sunday evening yoga and a bubble bath because, despite the city’s novelty, I’m ultimately still one who thrives on routine. I felt radiant, content, and in love with my life.

All of this is to say I flew across an ocean to a country I’d never been to with people I’d never met but set about building a life that would serve as a paradigm for my ideal future. 

When I returned to the U.S., I felt deeply homesick for London, as it had felt more like home than my actual home ever had (so much so I returned the next year for another semester). However, what I realized years later is that, as fantastic of a city as London is and as wonderful as my new friends and romantic interests were, what made my time there life-changing was the way I filled my days with everything that brings me joy. I had curated a life that I truly loved.

Ever since this realization, I’ve been trying to bring more and more of those practices and activities into my current life, continuously reflecting on the state of things, cutting out what isn’t working and merging in what does. It’s a gradual, often slow, process, unlike how it all serendipitously came together in London. I remind myself that good things require time and attention but are certainly worth the wait.

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