Follow your heart

Funny thing about dreams. They can be like that friend you lose contact with. First a day goes by, then a week, then a month, then a year until finally that dream has been deferred for many, many years.

Life gets in the way… Babies, spouses, necessary work to pay necessary bills. Life. Those dreams then seem unattainable. You get to the point where you ask yourself, “What was the dream I once had?” And when you finally remember, it may seem trite or like another person in another space and time dreamed your dream. It happens to everyone at various stages of life. 

It almost happened to me. Almost. I’d like to say an 80-year-old woman changed my life.  Let me explain.

In the early part of 2019, I took a trip to my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. I joined my parents in visiting a mother from their church that resides in senior citizen housing.

As I strolled through the hallway, I noticed the aforementioned life-changing octogenarian. She lay in her bed motionless, gazing up at the ceiling with a hopeless look in her eyes.  At that moment I thought to myself, “When I’m in my 80s what will I be thinking about as I lie in my own bed? Will I reminisce on how I lived my dreams? Or will I be filled with regrets?”

That question permeated my thoughts for days on end.  I couldn’t get the 80-year-old lady out of my mind; it had become an indelible memory that nagged at me to do something. 

Finally, a few months after my fateful visit to that senior citizen home, I had a moment of clarity. I needed a break from the chaos of life. It was time to reflect. Time to change my perspective. Time to recalibrate my mindset by finding my joy, grabbing my freedom, reclaiming my dreams and following my heart again.  In a word, it was time to feel alive.

I embarked upon my first solo trip to Europe. For 7 days I lived a different life; it was unbridled, uninhibited, unencumbered by fear or doubt. I was free and it felt good.

My first stop was London, a city I underestimated as I thought it was going to be similar to Boston or New York. I was wrong. London has its own unique style.  I had the time of my life traversing the streets of this great multi-cultural city.

In Hyde Park, London’s largest Royal Park, I attended a music festival where I experienced a performance by Florence and the Machine, a band led by one of my favorite artists Florence Welch. Watching her create vocal magic in her hometown was unbelievable!

I met a new friend named Mikhail from Georgia (the country). After the festival, we checked out one of the top underground DJs at club XOYO and danced until the wee hours of the morning.

After two days in London, I popped over to the place that had captured my heart a decade earlier: Rome, Italy. It was the summer of 2009; I was a 21-year-old college junior studying Art History. During that amazing summer I discovered that there was so much to see and learn about the world. I returned to the “beautiful country” to celebrate how far life has brought me in the 10 years since my inaugural visit.

My second day in Italy, I traveled 30 minutes from Rome by train to Palombara Sabina where I had the bucket list experience of learning how to make pasta from scratch. No more spaghetti out of a box! I had an incredible time with my instructor Nonna Nerina and her beautiful family for 5 glorious hours. Not only did I learn the steps to make homemade pasta, but also the Nerinas made me feel like part of the family as we enjoyed good food, good wine, and the genesis of a great friendship.

It was difficult to imagine being able to top my unforgettable Italian experience, but I said ‘ciao’ to my new friends and hopped on a plane to Zurich, Switzerland. There, my breath was absconded as I took in the most scenic 2.5-hour train ride to the town of Interlaken for a paragliding adventure.

Backstory: In 2014, I watched the movie The Intouchables about a Parisian aristocrat who became a quadriplegic following a paragliding accident and later developed a special bond with his caretaker. That film inspired me to want to visit Interlaken and paraglide for the first time. And boy did I! With absolutely no fear I soared through the sky for 20 minutes staring at the mighty Swiss Alps. I felt so free. It was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life.

I left the mountains of Switzerland for the peace of Reykjavik, Iceland. I rented a car and drove south to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck where I was surrounded by nature. It was a short stay but provided a tranquility that lasted beyond the visit. It’s befitting that Iceland was my last stop in a 7-day journey that quite literally changed my outlook on life. I needed a break from what had become my old normal. A break from always being busy. A break from forgetting my dreams in a siphon of chaos.

On my way back to the States, I thought about my trip. I have a confession; I almost didn’t go. I kept second-guessing myself, finding petty, insignificant excuses that prevented me from fully committing. Truth is, I was being cheap! I thought I could save the money and put the trip off for another time. I nearly let frugality hold me back. So on my way home I reflected on what could have been if I had allowed money or fear or life or doubt prevent me from taking that incredible journey. I would have missed out on a week filled with courage, joy, discovery, and new enduring friendships. 

Fortunately, I didn’t miss out. I set out on that 7-day odyssey having told no one except my brother. I just wanted to explore and discover in my own freedom of following my intuition. I learned not to be afraid to go after that very thing that’s pulling your heart. Reach for your dreams and when you think you’re stretched as far as you can go reach higher and never look back.  Don’t let money or fear or naysayers or doubt or YOU hold you back.

Earlier I said that an 80-year-old woman changed my life. In retrospect, that may seem dramatic and perhaps hyperbolic.  But what’s even more dramatic is gazing up at a ceiling that in its very structure puts limitations on your dreams. No looking back upon what could have been. Let’s look forward on what is and what will be. Follow your heart and live your dreams!

Ciao!

Duran Ross