That One Defining Moment

If I hadn’t been in that place, on that day, at that time.

Looking back on ten years of living abroad, I wonder what the turning point was that led to this life. What was the trigger or event that led to the decision to travel, explore the world, and live in countries far removed from my own?

Life is full of defining moments, of turning points that pivot us in unanticipated directions. What was my own defining moment? Or was there a series of moments cascading into one not unlike a row of dominoes toppling over?

Was it the time I looked ahead to my impending university life and to the gap year that would surely come before my studies? I remember picking up a travel magazine in a newsagents and gazing intently at the array of travel options in front of me. I dreamed of backpacking through Asia, spending six months working in Australia, and even partaking in one of those innovative tours from Australia to China. I visualised treks in New Zealand then North America, eventually returning home as the long lost voyager. I'd ultimately do none of these things, my sensible side choosing academia over adventure.

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden (Flickr Creative Commons)

Was it before then when the French teacher at sixth form college suggested a degree in European Studies? Did she inadvertently pique my curiosity in living abroad by recommending a course that would set me up as a bureaucrat in Brussels? An innocent nudge towards a career in Europe and suddenly expat life beckons.

Or was it earlier than this? The school exchange I went on to Normandy, France as a fifteen year old boy. Living with a French family, meeting local students, experiencing diverse food, soaking up the Francophone culture. Did my interest in foreign places and people start with a childhood visit to the Continent?

Or earlier still? The day my grandmother whisked me off to the Black Forest region to meet my Canadian relatives based in Germany with the Air Force. During two weeks away from the UK, a door was unlocked. I walked into unfamiliar territory where the residents spoke a mother tongue I couldn't comprehend. The Schwarzwald was a land of fairytale castles and ancient forests where a skinny young English boy quickly discovered how jaw-droppingly beautiful this world could be. One unique experience as a youngster which may have set in motion a passion for travel, growing and expanding like a snowball tumbling down a hill.

I'm certain these experiences framed who I am and led me to a certain point, but the pivotal experience occurred in a less exotic environment. It wasn’t a moment when the light bulb went on in my head and I suddenly knew it was time to ship out and move overseas, but a point in time when my world changed and when it dawned on me that life as I knew it would never be the same again.

It was the year 2000, on an evening like any other, as I headed over to my local gym. After a light work-out, I bumped into a friend in the corridor. As we caught-up, a pretty girl and her friend interrupted us to ask a question about the gym. Two girls, one quite different accent.

I’m a believer in fate. Things happen for a reason. And in that gym corridor on that average midweek night, I’d just met my wife.

Vivacious and bubbly with an infectious smile, she was the chalk to the cheese of my English reservedness. Full of the energy of life – enthusiastic, passionate, highly motivated – at a young age, she'd already grabbed life by the horns and wrestled it from one continent to the next, from the east coast of Australia to the east coast of the US, from east on to west, then across the pond to the UK.

I’d been waiting patiently for her my entire life.

She freed me from the shackles of my comfort zone and encouraged me to look at life with eyes wide open. She wasn’t solely responsible for the decisions and life changes that soon followed but, without her, they simply wouldn’t have been made. We were instant partners and soul mates with a common purpose and outlook on life.

Thirteen years later, after six years of marriage, three houses on three continents, two dogs and finally our beloved infant son.

On Saturday, we'll celebrate the sixth anniversary of our marriage to each other but this year's celebration will be for so much more than just that. We will celebrate our life together, our achievements, our incredible journey and the miracle that is our sweet darling boy.

There was only ever one catalyst for this life, only ever one defining moment that started it all. I may have been hardwired deep down for overseas adventure, but this one person was the spark that changed it all.

If I hadn’t joined that gym. If I hadn’t trained that night. If I hadn’t bumped into my friend. If she hadn’t walked through those doors.

That gym on that day at that time.

That girl.

That one defining moment.

Did you have a defining moment which led to moving overseas? What was the turning point that made you decide to leave?

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Aisha Isabel Ashraf said... Add Reply

Que sera, sera my friend. Beautiful post - sounds like fatherhood's brought on some deep pondering. That's another defining moment - there'll come a time when you look back at life before Elliot's arrival and find it one-dimensional. Sometimes, looking back, it feels as though our whole existence was spinning on the dime of sixty seconds. Keep hopping from one moment to the next...

vegemitevix said... Add Reply

Goosebumps reading this. Just perfect Russell.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

That's sweet of you. Thanks V x

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks, Aisha. I think it may have. That, and a few shifts in the Ward universe right now. Elliot's arrival has certainly turned everything on its head in a very good way. Lots of re-focusing and adjusting. More to follow on that soon.

TheAmericanResident said... Add Reply

Powerful, lovely, romantic, but not at all cheesy (even if you're the cheese to her chalk). Now you're making me think about the defining moments in my life--expat and otherwise (some of those moments, I think I shall just gloss over, while others are quite nice to linger on).

aidan larson said... Add Reply

'That girl.' Love.
Happy anniversary to you both.


Jack Scott said... Add Reply

Aah, you've gone all slushy - squish, squish. Life is full of chance encounters and what-ifs? Thank God for them, I say. It's what makes us who and what we are. Happy 6th anniversary. Many more to come, I'm sure.

Katie Gunston said... Add Reply

Just beautiful! What a lovely story :) Happy Anniversary!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks Kate. Much appreciated.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Cheers Aidan. Glad you liked the post.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Sure have, Jack. I blame it on Elliot's arrival. Making me look at the world through slushy eyes :) Thanks for the best wishes!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Phew. Glad the cheese wasn't spread on too thickly in this one! Thank you :)

Do share some of those defining moments - would love to hear them.

Kristina said... Add Reply

Such a wonderful story!! You are right, things so happen for a reason! Happy Anniversary!

After having lived in the USA, Singapore, Switzerland and now Australia I am not sure what the defining moment was in my life, but I am glad that it happened!


Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks, Kristina. I'm looking forward to celebrating it on Saturday :) It sounds like you may have many defining moments yourself but they all led you to have some amazing experiences no doubt. Thanks for stopping by!

Amy Rogerson said... Add Reply

The things we do for love. My moment hit when I dragged myself to a wedding while completely wiped out with the flu. I met my now husband a week before he moved to Libya. I followed a year later and now 4 years in we're about to move to our 4th country together. I don't think I was hard-wired to do this before, but now it is a part of who I am, as well as who we are as a couple.

Congratulations to you both!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Absolutely. And thanks! Imagine how different things may have been if you hadn't dragged yourself to that wedding... Right place, right time. Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing, Amy :)

Grace said... Add Reply

My defining moment came when I was 19 years old and studying in the Philippines. I took a scholarship exam for Japan, along with my friends. I didn't take it too seriously and was like, pffft! Japan?! But I was the only one among our group who passed the exams and I found myself packing my bags, ready to leave the comfort of my parent's home to go to an unknown place - where I don't understand or speak the language.

And this was even before internet gaga - there was no Skype, Gmail or Facebook!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Call it karma, fate, the planets aligning, whatever. It makes for a great story. Thanks for sharing, Grace. These things always seem to happen when you're not expecting them or when you don't care about the outcome too much. Can you imagine what your life would have been like if you hadn't got the scholarship? Would you have preferred that other way?

TheAmericanResident said... Add Reply

You inspired me :) http://www.theamericanresident.com/2013/03/the-path-that-led-to-this-expat-life/

IotaM said... Add Reply

Lovely story (found you via The American Resident).

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thank you - pleasure to have you join us here :)

Carrie Sanderson said... Add Reply

Congrats! (sorry bit late...I've been away travelling!) What a lovely story. I am not sure if I had (a) defining moment(s) that have led me overseas. It was perhaps curiosity; for example, I'm a Brit born and brought up in the Netherlands and I hadn't lived in my passport country, yet I had this desire to taste life over there. So when I finished school in NL, I went to uni in the UK. Then I had a longing to go to NZ for a year...so I did. A wish to be back in NL, so here I am! Who knows where I will go next?

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

That's okay. Better late than never! Where did you go to uni over there?

Carrie Sanderson said... Add Reply

:) I went to Sheffield (the Uni for my bachelors and Hallam for my masters) - it was fab! I also lived in Bristol for a few years. I do miss the UK but I don't feel I have ties to somewhere specific there. Gives me the freedom of choice to live anywhere in the world, but with so many options it can be challenging to choose. ;)

Russell Ward said... Add Reply

I bet. Bristol would have been fun (in good weather!). Freedom to move around is a wonderful thing. Ties can be good as long as they don't put guilt on you to return!

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