I’m writing this in Thailand, having just come out of the new Richard Curtis film, About Time, and for only the second or third time in a year, I feel homesick. The sheer Englishness of his films takes me to London, the South Bank, Covent Garden, the south coast, and I feel sad.
I wonder what Thai people feel when they watch it. Is it a glimpse into an alien world? What conceptions of the UK do they have from TV? Do they watch so much US and UK TV that they’re as familiar with the London skyline as me? Or do they think everyone in the UK lives like the family in About Time? How do they feel about the fact that Thailand is mentioned once in the film – in a joke where it’s considered a sex tourist destination?
The film made me heart sick as well as homesick, but this time for an alterative life. A more traditional life where two young professionals live together in London. Meeting, dating, marrying in an old English church, visiting family, having kids, working, the sort of ‘normal’ life, if I’d thought very hard about it when I was a teenager, that I assumed I’d have. A happy life, an ordinary extraordinary life, full of beautiful every day moments. I always thought I would follow the same path as the majority of my peers, and in that sense, be normal.
Of course, now I know, there’s no normal.
Friends have travelled and left their jobs before 30. Haven’t started a job until 30. Had babies early. Had babies late. Not had kids. Changed career 3, 4, 5 times. Got divorced early. Married late. Married again. Lived together in straight relationships, lived together in gay relationships. Been serial monogamists. Never settled. Had open relationships. Settled at 21. Left home at 16. Still living with parents in 30s. Moved out of their parents at 18, back in in their 20s. Had a glittering career, walked away. Never had a ‘proper’ job. Got sick. Got well. Got sicker. Died.
And all of these different paths for different people, there have been an equal number of ordinary, extraordinary moments.
Happy, unhappy. Sad, joyous. Fulfilled, empty.
The choices on array in front of us each in the 21st century, especially coming from a Western background, are stunning. And can be confusing and paralyzing. Which is interesting, because one of the most helpful things for being happy with your choice, is to have a smaller number of choices in the first place.
And to know for the most part, it doesn’t matter what you choose.
You can still decide to be happy. Or unhappy.
Even if you didn’t choose your course, and it chose you.
There’s no normal. So choose happiness – whatever your path.