This morning I clicked on an email I knew might sabotage my day. By the time I’d reached the last line my fears had been realized. Only now, I had to get ready and put on a good face as my ride to the Old Town would arrive in half an hour. I tried to separate the two worlds; the fairy tale existence I’d lived the past two months, delving into strange lands and unfamiliar cultures, and the other – a pending reality of a still unmarked career path back home, whatever city that would now be.
I met Danko outside at noon as promised. We’d exchanged a bevy of emails in the 48 hours we knew each other, but I already felt as though I knew the man. He approached me as I stood gazing out at the Adriatic, my thoughts as wide, but likely not as fluid. We shook hands before heading to his car. “It’s going to rain, “ I said, pointing to the clouds. “Yes,” he said. “It’s never like this here in July.” “I love this type of weather,” I told him. “Not me,” he responded. “I like lots of sun.” I wondered for a moment what this said about our temperaments.
As advertised, a light rain followed as we headed towards town. We covered a lot of ground in our brief ride. I was curious if we’d have much more to say to one another if we drove across America together, or even as far as Zagreb in the north. Maybe we’d resort to silence or be forced to elaborate on topics already covered.
We talked about family, work, Croatia and its politics, and of course, women. Still, the bulk of our conversation revolved around hip-hop, a subject I cold rap about. Talking about Tupac, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z seemed to bridge the ten-year age difference between the two of us, assuming either one of us felt it to begin with. “Hip-hop is not popular here,” he said. “You probably know much more about it than I do, but in Croatia I am a doctor.”
“Do you want to live in Croatia the rest of your life?” I asked. “Oh, definitely,” he said, as if I’d asked if the earth was round. For a moment I envied his certitude, his assured sense of home, his understanding that where he belonged was where he already was. I hadn’t felt that in a long time. “Of course, you never know what will happen in life,” he added. “But the only way I would move is for a woman.” Some things are universal, I thought to myself.
Eventually he dropped me off near a staircase that would take me to the Old Town. I thanked him for the ride and quickly made my way past oncoming traffic, while hiding beneath my notebook as the rain began to fall harder.
Before long I was standing before the Old Town; a walled fortress dating back to the 7th century. I fought my way through the mobs determined to make the most of my brief stay and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Still, the relentless drizzle, the scores of clamoring tourists, and the jostling of crowded thoughts about my life’s new path made the potential rewards teeter on the precipice as I briefly wondered if it was all worth the effort.
As I worked my way past timeless churches and overpriced restaurants, thoughts of what prospects were available to a retired actor in his mid-30s danced in my head. Just the night before those same sentiments had exhilarated me and put the bounce in my step I’d been desperately seeking this entire trip. Yet, that email, now infamous, had eroded those spirits...at least for the time being.
I rounded a corner in one of the rare moments I was alone and took in a strangely familiar scent that reminded me of the halls of my high school. Bizarre, but I couldn’t help but remember how that waft had once brought forth a feeling of boundless opportunity. In that very moment, those emotions felt as far away as my school days themselves.
Dispiriting thoughts continued to tango in my mind at the most inopportune of times, as if cutting myself shaving before an important board meeting. How perverse is it to wander one of the most beautiful attractions on the face of the planet while wrestling with your life’s next move?
For a brief moment I even thought back on a favorite short story of mine, written by Anton Chekhov called, In the Graveyard. During the climax of the story, an aging actor curses the grave of the man who convinced him to pursue the arts in the first place. When asked what harm the deceased man did to him he responds:
“Great harm.” To me he was a villain and a scoundrel – the Kingdom of Heaven be his! It was through looking at him and listening to him that I became an actor. By his art he lured me from the parental home, he enticed me with the excitements of an actor’s life, promised me all sorts of things – and brought tears and sorrow…An actor’s lot is a bitter one!”
It wasn’t until very recently that even a semblance of this resonated with me. Thankfully, a stream of clarity washed over me as I realized what I had was a chance for rebirth, not a problem. And acting had not taken anything away, quite the contrary. It had given me everything. I wouldn't have done a thing differently.
Before long, the clouds began to part and the rain lightened up a bit. Now it seemed to be sprinkling subtle life lessons before me. I saw a man slip on a wet manhole just in front of me and nearly take the tumble of his life before catching his balance. A few yards later he delicately stepped around a second manhole not to be duped again. Learn from your mistakes, I noted to myself.
A mere 20 or so minutes later I saw a little boy fall hard on his bottom, slipping on a damp set of stairs. His mother went to coddle him before he waved her off. Afterwards, his entire family cautiously walked around the scene of the crime. Lesson # 2: Learn from the mistakes of others.
I continued my stroll past homes that looked as though they belonged in Tuscany. I glanced high and saw the parapets of the old wall and made my way to higher ground. The scene was sparse while just a hundred steps below a crowd that looked as if it could fill Dallas Cowboys Stadium meandered below. Lesson # 3: Most people don’t make the extra effort, which often lead to greater rewards.
I’d been shook from my daze by a masters class in one square block. My shoulders slowly loosened and the visage of defeat waned gradually. A voice within pleaded with me as I recalled the advice of my friend, Yusef, whose insight I sought for this very blog several weeks before. “DON’T STOP,” he said. Those words took on a meaning of its own. Now I took them to mean, “Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop trying. Don’t stop dreaming. Don’t stop being. No matter how messy it gets.”
Though the day had started on a slightly uphill note I decided it didn’t need to end on one. As I headed back to my apartment in the passenger seat of Danko’s car, the light poured brightly between surrendering clouds. It was good again. Perhaps I liked the sunny days more than I thought.
Halid, a 40-something kayak rental storeowner from Dubrovnik who I befriend this afternoon told me, “My father always told me if you go work, then work. If you make fun, have fun. But don’t mix the two together.”