If I’m being completely honest with you, life, and the world, has got me feeling pretty overwhelmed lately. I’m not too sure if it’s just me, or perhaps the collective? After all, we are in the middle of a pandemic, a plague if you will. And 2021 wasn’t exactly the rescuer we were waiting for to pull us out of the wreckage. I don’t know, everything seems a bit… much. I’m feeling to take a break, some time away from the public eye. A little journey inwards, perhaps. Like a tortoise retreating into its shell, or a bear finding a dark, hidden cave to hibernate for the European winter. A place where I can be still. A place where I can write and reflect on all the events that have led me here to this self-contained studio apartment on a quiet street in the seaside town of St Julian’s, on the island of Malta, in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we… Oh yes, I had once again uprooted my life in another rendition of “Bianca flies away.” This narrative is becoming quite frequent, isn’t it? I leave the comfort zone, the cocoon that is Sydney, to experience growth, to wonder in fascination over foreign lands and alternate life experiences I could once only dream about. For a while I soar above the clouds, wings stretched as far as they can go, watching the whole world in supreme awe and admiration. For a while I am invincible. But soon my wings become weak and weathered. I long for the ground beneath me, I long to feel the safety and comfort of that impregnable cocoon who kept me so loved. I ask myself, “Do I keep flying and endure? Do I turn around and go back? Do I find a place to rest my heavy wings?” Which one will it be this time, she ponders.
Some days I feel as though I am living in a multiverse version of my former life, only with some minor adjustments. A different sweater, a red pair of shoes, perhaps they hired a new set designer. Some of the backdrops have been altered, scenes modified. Characters have different facial features. It all seems oddly familiar, yet different… OK guys, if this is my very own Truman Show then speak up now!
Let’s say the multiverse is real, and there are parallel realities in existence, and I am living in one. What would this mean? Am I experiencing this similar reality because I am supposed to change something, to learn something? Am I looking for the lady in red? Have I not yet found the golden ticket in my chocolate bar? It is all very peculiar. My spiritual side is leaning towards the lessons I have not learnt yet. My childish, imaginative side is sold on the multiverse theory.
Malta in 2021 wasn’t planned. I just so happened to be travelling through Portugal with a blank canvas up ahead, doing my best to live in the present moment, indulging in the best hot chocolates in the world (I dare you to object), and exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Town, Lisbon. My father had vaguely entertained the idea of returning to his motherland of Malta for the first time in over 10 years and the first Christmas in 38 years. We chatted about the idea of him travelling to Malta over the phone a few times while I was in Portugal, but due to the continuing pandemic and the uncertainty around travel, it wasn’t a surety. In one of our latter conversations, dad told me he had decided to overcome the fears and anticipations associated with travel during this time and take a leap. “I’m not letting this pandemic get in the way of me returning home for the first Christmas in 38 years!”, he pledged. I was proud of him. On some level, we both knew he needed this. “Trust your intuition!” I responded. “Perhaps I can meet you in Malta.”
Those words, that courage, ultimately led me to book a one-way ticket to Malta in early December for a unique adventure with my dad. Turns out, both our intuitions were spot on, we needed this time together both individually and collectively. I mean, can you ever really doubt that intuitive feeling that seems to know you better than you know yourself? Listen to that inner voice, she knows the way.
My father was born and grew up in a small village called Żebbuģ on the island of Malta. Naturally, this makes me half Maltese and very connected to this country and its culture. I grew up with rich Maltese heritage, feeling a strong sense of family and hearing the language spoken on the weekends I’d spend at dad’s house. I was proud to call myself Maltese and eager to spend some time back on the island under the warmth of that glistening sun, surrounded by the calming colours of the deep blue sea. For an island barely 300 square kilometres in diameter (196 square miles) one can never be too far from the ocean, and that’s what I loved about it.
Although only a few months had passed since I decided to re-embrace location independence, I was surprisingly exhausted towards the end of 2021. Moving from place to place, packing and unpacking my bags, adjusting to the new energies of a city – it got pretty tiring, pretty quickly. I couldn’t help but wonder, was all this moving around just me searching for meaning? Was I seeking experience and adventure to avoid sitting still and dealing with the uncomfortable emotions derived from that difficult decision to leave my home, to leave my relationship, to leave the life I had created back in Sydney?
I’d been here before. On some innate level, I knew what I had to do. It was time to do the work, to go inwards and ask “why I am really here?” We can run from ourselves for as long as we want to. We can run in circles to avoid that confronting moment when we are summoned to look deep inside ourselves and examine what it is that we truly desire. And it’s not the fame, it’s not the success, it’s not the perfect partner or the perfect friends. It’s so much simpler than that and yet often so hard to expose.
Dad was waiting for me at Luqa International Airport. As I passed through customs I could hear his distinct voice chatting to one of the airport staff. I admired that about my dad, he could and would talk to anyone in a room and that insight only became more established as I spent the next few weeks with him. He embraced me with a big amiable hug that evening in December. His arms were the most familiar place I had encountered since September and I had to contain myself from bursting into tears of both joy and relief.
I was craving a familiar setting and so being in a place that felt like home in many ways comforted me. I also felt happy to be able to experience Malta with my father. If you’d have asked me a few years ago if I would have spent weeks on holiday with my dad I probably would have spurned at the thought. We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs and our relationship has had a tendency to be rather tumultuous at times. In hindsight, it is because we are extremely similar. We are both ardent individuals and very close to our respective causes. We both value compassion above all things, and we are both incredibly emotional beings. I have a feeling I get my emotional and sensitive side from my dad. He’s probably one of the most sensitive people I know aside from myself, and yet we both actively attempt to conceal emotions when we’re around one another. I think it comes from an intrinsic impulse to not want to inflict any emotional pain on the other, which could also be defined simply as love. But we would never admit it.
There was something different about this time with him though. I went into this experience with so much love and an openness to see my dad as not only a father but a person too. That perspective allowed me to be really present with him. It allowed me to put aside our differences, to join him in his appreciation for Malta and to learn more about where he came from, both physically and emotionally. As I age, and as my parent’s age, I’m starting to feel more gratitude for the time we have together. Sometimes our relationships with our family can be the hardest ones of all, but healing them can be one of the most liberating things we can do to move forward in life with a full heart.
We had a fabulous time on the island. Our car, which we nicknamed Topolino (an Italian name for little mouse), took us to many places. Dad even saw areas of Malta he had never seen in his life. For a small island, there is certainly lots to see and experience, and immense history to uncover.
As the new year approached I couldn’t help but find myself in a deep state of reflection. Although at any given moment we can examine our goals and aspirations and set new targets for ourselves, there is something about the new year that makes that type of reflection come much more naturally, and sometimes forcibly.
So there I was pen to paper, writing a letter to my future self – a letter I would open at the end of 2022. This reflection was a real eye-opener for me because as I sat there I realised how different my life was one year prior, and how much my priorities had changed. I went into 2021 with big goals and big dreams. I started a company, I had moved in with my partner, I was ready to buckle up, work hard and become something. Yet as 2022 approached, at my very core all I wanted was to slow down. No longer did I feel drawn to the constant hustle of the year that was. I wanted to be present, above all. I wanted to read, to write, to spend time with my dad, to simply walk along this promenade and watch the waves break on the rocky shores, nowhere to be, nothing to do. And not only for a week or two, for much longer than that. Forever, if I must. Or at the very least until the day I wake up, look in the mirror and say to myself, “You are enough. You don’t have to become something because you already are something.”
We often look for acceptance in the wrong places. In what we do, in what we own, in who we love. But the reality is none of that will give us true satisfaction if we don’t yet find acceptance within ourselves. And this is something I am learning as I grow. This is something I started learning over two years ago before the pandemic put us all into a gravityless, timeless washing machine, floating aimlessly without clear direction. It took me off my path, and I can’t help but feel as though my feet are slowly returning to the stable ground, to a place I can revisit that journey I was on and those lessons I was learning. I think this is why I needed to be alone. I think this is why I needed to leave Sydney. I needed to find the truth. I needed to see myself in my own reflection, not in the mirror of something else or someone else. Because I’m realising no matter how much I am loved, or how much I achieve, will it ever be enough for me if I’m not enough for myself???
I don’t believe we make mistakes in life. I think at any given moment we are presented with lessons, experiences, choices, free will. Life’s journey is a journey of both becoming and unbecoming, of both learning and unlearning. As we enter 2022 and embark on another beautiful cycle around the sun, I am determined to live a simple life with an open heart and work on finding that deep sense of peace and acceptance within myself. What better place to do that than my home island of Malta?
As my dear teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said – “Each moment is a chance for us to make peace with the world, to make peace possible for the world, to make happiness possible for the world.”