Independence

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The fire burned hot as I tossed another handful of handwriting onto the pile.  Large black flakes of ash rose and drifted away. Two full shoeboxes of memories that only weighed me down were slowly disappearing forever. The already warm summer night combined with the flames made my eyes burn and water.

Or were they tears…

Rewind to that morning as I unloaded everything I’d been storing for the last ten years in a cedar chest tucked away in a place a rarely visit. This “hope chest” was never filled with hope, but weighed down by the past. Realizing that I’d held on to every card and letter I’d received as well as notes passed between friends throughout high school was overwhelming.

I knew it was time to delete the things I no longer want to carry with me. I have no problem getting rid of “stuff”. I lead a happily minimalist life with my husband. I no longer believe that I’m required by some strange law to keep every sentimental item ever given to me.

I needed to go through these letters and cards to pick out the few I’d like to keep a while longer before tossing the whole lot.

Initially I thought I’d do a quick dig through the large shoebox of letters. I was certain it would be a quick and easy job with a few laughs at my younger self thrown in.

What I hadn’t counted on was my heart.

One name in particular kept showing up over and over and over and had me in tears before I knew what was happening. A stack began to grow. A paper monument to a friendship now lost. Still a fresh wound.  When Rob saw what was happening he gently stopped me. Later he would pre sort these out so that I could finish with less emotional distress.

I’m not totally heartless…I did save some very important pieces of paper. Love letters from Rob when we were first dating are not going anywhere. A handful of letters and cards written to me by my family also were too precious to burn.

But the rest entered the flames without regret. I don’t need boxes of notes to remind me how clever my high school friends were. I don’t need letters written to me by people I haven’t seen in twenty years.  I don’t need birthday or graduation cards from the 90’s.

I certainly don’t need letters spanning nineteen years that had become painful to look at. I don’t need anything to remind me of a treasure I will always hold so close to my heart. Those memories aren’t going anywhere even when the physical reminders are gone.

As the flames ate away at the last scraps, I wasn’t sad anymore. I hold all of it in my heart. The memories, sweet and bittersweet, aren’t going anywhere.

 

 

Homeostasis

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I move a lot. Each time I find my new home, I decide to make changes. This time things will be different. This time I will start over. This time I won’t do this but I’ll always do that. The list can be quite long.

When I first arrived in Portland everything changed. I had a completely new part time job. New people to get to know and become friends with. The studio apartment was a new challenge in minimalistic living and the weather clearly would be the antithesis of what I’d been enduring in Loas. Even my clothes were different (my bags being stolen out of my car on day one).

I’ve done my best to be the employee, friend and spouse that I want to be. I want to energetic and happy. I do. Sometimes I genuinely am. But often I just want to walk in the trees alone. I want to listen to music and be inside my own head.

Most of the time I want this.

At first I went full blast in the opposite direction of my inherent introverted hermitism. I worked almost every day. I said yes to social things and tried to be the opposite of me. My husband wasn’t on his new regular schedule yet so I had no real routine for months.

I’m a routine person.

It wasn’t working.  So I’m on my way back to myself and it feels right.

There’s nothing wrong with me.

The life that makes me happy is a simple and quiet one. I love sunshine. I love my husband. Mountains and trees and rivers will always make me happiest. Some days I want to be alone and that’s fine. Some days I want to hang out with my friends but only for a few hours and that’s fine too.

There’s nothing wrong with me. Next time I move (and yes that will be this year) I will try to remember that I don’t have to make a list of ways I want to be different in my new home.

Wherever I go….I’ll always end up just me actually.

 

Playing Alone

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When I was a little girl I liked to play alone. In my mind, elaborate story lines and characters swirled. The only way they would go exactly as I’d imagined was for me to act it all out on my own with invisible friends.

My little sister didn’t like this arrangement. So, the only way I allowed her to play with me was if she said and did what I told her to. Every word out of her mouth was what I wanted her to say. Whether we were playing with dolls in our room, or running around outdoors playing pirates, she was my puppet.

One day we were sitting on my bed playing with our cabbage patch dolls. My doll said something to her doll and I waited for a reply. My poor sister looked at me helplessly and asked what I wanted her doll to answer. In that moment I realized I didn’t want my perfect stories anymore. I wanted the play to be spontaneous and unpredictable!

I think of this day often. I think of it every time I realize I’m let down, angry or frustrated at another human response (or lack of response) to something I’ve said or done.

Lately I see it all around me unfolding in the story lines of lives intertwined with mine. I see family relationships torn apart, siblings not speaking, children pushing away parents. I see friends pulling away from each other.

Maybe it’s simplistic of me to think it all starts with the common thread of expectation. Maybe it really is that simple.

We expect a very specific response to an email or a text. We have an idea of how a father should always react. We are sure a sister only says certain things. We hold fast to our picture of what real love is and when our love doesn’t match, we rip it apart.  We get so wrapped up in our own pre thought out ideas of how everyone else should be acting, that we lose the entire plot.

The plot is, there is no plot.

Without the freedom to be their very own human selves, we actually wouldn’t like our loved ones very much. We would miss the spontaneity it brings to our lives.

So what I’m wondering is if we can try to let go of our expectations? Can we allow our people to be flawed and love them anyway?

Nobody likes to play alone. Not even me.

 

 

 

 

Salve

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What a world.

What a scary, beautiful, disastrous, heartbreaking mess of magic.

It’s okay if all you did today was breathe (I say to myself like a salve for the bruises).

It’s okay if all you did today was breathe (I say to you like a salve for your broken heart).

 

 

Reaching

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Most of the time, my definition of strength is complete self reliance. Admitting I need help or attention…the epitome of weakness.

Life throws random difficulties at me and I respond by hardening my outer shell. Oh life, your parking tickets, rain, loneliness and depression can’t reach me in here. Nothing can get inside. I’ll even crawl down into this deep hole to hide from you. Nothing can harm me through my thick armor down in my dark pit.

Nobody can know I’m hiding so I smile bigger and I laugh louder. Distraction is key.

Eventually I remember I’m afraid of the dark. I don’t like being alone. I’m very brave and I’m very strong, but why wouldn’t I want my hand held? Why wouldn’t I reach out to someone who loves me and ask them to hold me up when I get too tired?

I’m still learning. I’ll always be.

But, I see my fingers stretched out in front of me more often. I see how this does not make me weak. Quite the opposite.

When my confessions are met with love and validation, when I’m bolstered by even one person who reminds me none of us are going it alone…. my heart opens and I know I’ll be okay.

And so will you.

Doubts

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There are days when I feel like all I’ve made are bad decisions. I take a raw look at my life and what I see is a mess.  I see a disaster so complete and so expansive that nothing could clean it up.

Then I look up.  I look to the sky for answers. If I’m lucky, the sun peeks through. If I’m extremely lucky, wild geese take flight overhead.

Lesson: Keep looking up. And if the rain is relentlessly falling, let it mix with the tears and wash them away.

It can’t rain all the time.

Can it?

Transitions

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Last night I had a nightmare that my passport had been stolen in Loas and because it is such a difficult place, I couldn’t come home to America.

I keep having flashbacks. I keep remembering small things I’d forgotten in this swift transition from a third world country back to big city America.

Walking down the sidewalk in downtown Portland, I still think to myself how clean it is, how well laid out. I stop at crosswalks. I don’t run at full speed across the street between scooters and small cars.

I miss scooters.

The months I spent overseas are so small in the larger scheme of things. But… I’ve put off getting a hair cut because I love knowing that the last person to cut my hair was a man in Bangkok who didn’t speak much English but treated my head like a Bonzai.

It’s a strange and alienating feeling.

This morning in the shower I opened my mouth to the warm rush and drank from it. I can’t ever shake that fear of the water in Laos. Wondering if I was poisoning myself or my husband by rinsing vegetables in tap water…

I randomly remember so many things from life in Loas. I’m realizing that I basically came “home” and tried to turn off one valve while opening another.

Life doesn’t work like that.

So what do I do? I try to let myself think about what happened, how difficult and rewarding it was, I try to allow the managerie of feelings to have the space they need.

But, I still just want to shout at people around me that they are SO lucky! They can drink the water in the shower! They have a  light at each crosswalk the vehicles follow that allows them to cross safely. Oh how I want to tell the lovely people around me how many things we can be grateful for!

All the while, most of my energy is spent trying to acclimate. Even now I feel out of place and awkward. It’s not easy. Portland is amazing, don’t get me wrong I love it here, but SE Asia to Portland is jarring and I’m realizing more and more all these weeks later that I have to find a way to work through these feelings.

Transitions in life are like this, don’t you think? Some small, some leaps over canyons but none are easy.

What has been your most difficult transition and how did you work through it?

 

healing

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On a day like today
(But not today)
I will wake up
My legs will take me
Where I want to be
My arms will hold
What needs to be held
On that day like today
(But not this day)
I will not worry
Lament or bemoan
My thoughts will blossom
And spread their seeds
My heart will open
Letting go at last

– Just Me Actually

Bravery

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Brave. That’s what she called me.

Me? Brave? But I’m afraid of everything.

Fear is like my shadow. My heart races while my thoughts spin and I sigh. Oh it’s just you again. My fears come in all shapes and sizes but behind those masks are one and the same.  Anxiety, depression, stress…all coming from that deep elemental place where fear reigns.

When I look back though, when I play the movie of the last few years, I watch myself experiencing constant fear and moving toward it. I haven’t let it stand in my way. There I am moving from place to place almost never finding my comfort zone. And that’s me living halfway around the world in a strange new country. If I saw anyone else doing these things, surely I would describe them as very brave. Especially if I had insight into how deeply fearful they were to begin with.

And so I’m left with this: I am Brave.

Bravery is not being fearless. It is being overwhelmed by fear and not backing down. We can only be brave when we are afraid.

So, embrace your fear. Look it right in the eye and thank it for making you a warrior.

 

I’m Alive

 

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….but the past doesn’t work like that.

Our previous selves, the ghosts of who we’ve been, remain inside and form vital portions of who we are now. I’ve withstood a challenging year because of my past. As much as I’d love to close one door, barricade it with rocks and set monsters as guards, I know I have to let it all come with me.

I’m busy conquering a new fire swamp. It began with the car break in and robbery, but that has become a footnote. I’m working and exploring and getting a feel for this new home.

I’m finding my rhythm.

My expectations and well laid plans fall away as I stride forward into the unknown.

It may be hard for me on many levels, but damn I do feel alive.

 

(Poem by the exquisite Mary Oliver)