I lived in Melbourne before I moved to Sydney. Specifically in Richmond, and before then Prahran when I was at university.
Back then Prahran was the poor cousin to, well, just about every other inner Melbourne suburb. The process of gentrification hadn’t really taken hold and it was still a cheap place to live. Affordable to students and just a short walk from where I studied. But the area was somewhat down at heal. Most of the pubs were still typical inner city dives – dark, smelling of beer, and inhabited by people there to drink away the day and forget. It wasn’t an inspiring landscape.
When we look back on our lives, we have pictures in our heads of the way that places were when we knew them. But nothing stays the same. Everything changes. Life moves on. Especially so in cities. But memories are comfortable places. They don’t challenge us, or ask us to change, or better ourselves. In fact they can be excellent excuses for not changing. For staying the same.
Last week while I was in Melbourne, I was lucky enough to have time to walk down Chapel St on Saturday night. Chapel St (for those of you who don’t know Melbourne) runs from Richmond, all the way down to St Kild. Through South Yarra and Prahran.
When I lived there, Chapel St had two faces: the glamorous South Yarra end and the down-at-heal Prahran end. Walking from one end to the other was to see a (certain) cross-section of life and culture in Australia.
Not any more.
I was truly stunned by what I saw. I had intended to only go half way down Chapel St, then turn right and head back to my hotel. But when I reached the half way point I was amazed to see that the glitter of South Yarra now spilled on into Prahran. Even the South Yarra end was more alive. More restaurants, more people, more activity – More life!
And it just went on and on… The further I walked, the bigger the change. The few restaurants in Prahran and the dingy shops have been replaced with more eating places than I could count – it seemed like every third shop front was a restaurant. And the shops themselves were now much more up market. And everywhere were people! Masses of them. When once Chapel St was a bit of a desert, even on Saturday night, now it was positively crowded! Tables full of people clogged the footpath, security staff stood guard at door after door of trendy pubs, clubs, and eateries. And everywhere were people going too and fro.
It was like nothing I ever expected to see in my old home.
And it was invigorating!
Not expecting to see anything of note, I didn’t bother to take my camera and sadly my phone battery died as well, so I only have a few photos to share. I tried to capture the moment, but it’s not an easy thing to do with such a brief photo essay.
Having walked the length of Chapel St and confirmed that my favourite theatre (The Astor) was indeed still there, I turn off Chapel St, walking past my old university (much renovated and upgraded I saw) and into the comparative darkness and quiet of High St, heading back to my hotel.
The walk gave me time to think. And the lesson that my exploration of Chapel St was trying to teach me was this: life is about change – or more to the point: life should be about change.
Especially when we are talking about ourselves. Places that stay the same, that don’t evolve, don’t challenge us. They allow us to be comfortable with who and what we are. They allow us to not grow. The extreme changes in Chapel St made me realise that not only were the memories that I had of that place no-longer current, but that my attitude toward that place was not even relevant any more! It made me stop and ask the question of _who_ I really am. Am I the person who went to university there? Are the ideas and attitudes that were shaped by that place – that doesn’t even exist any more – still useful and relevant? Was I living in the past? Did I need to look harder at myself?
The answer was and is: yes. We always need to be looking at ourselves, asking ourselves whether the ideas and beliefs that we hold are still relevant? Or are they holding us back from doing and being what we need to be? Are we letting the past dictate our future? Is it time to build a new life that gives us the things that we really want?
I wouldn’t expect Youtube to throw up instructional life lessons, but someone there threw up some ideas that mesh well with my exploration of Chapel St. He said words to the effect of: you need to stop regularly and ask yourself “Am I doing the one thing that I really want to be doing with my life?”. If the answer is no, then that is what you need to do.
Of course not everyone can simply change the course of their lives. We all have commitments and history that place limits on us. But the lesson is sound: we need to be constantly assessing ourselves and our life and making the changes that we need to make to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled.
This about the hardest, most scary thing that most people can do. We are hemmed in from day to day by responsibilities, by “conventional wisdom”, by expectations, by our own fear of change. But we can’t let that stop us.
We have to be brave – because the world simply WILL NOT WAIT for us. It will change around us. It will not care how difficult life will become. So it is up to every one of us to take on that challenge and find a way to thrive.