Mobility

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The annual move is complete. As with the last four or five moves, I swear I’ll never do it again.

Except I will.

I won’t regale you with the tortuous days of packing up in Portland, driving one thousand miles, living in hotels for a week while looking at rentals, unloading our belongings into temporary storage when the search seemed futile, taking a few days out of town when the hotels filled and became unaffordable (welcome to fabulous Las Vegas), learning to do everything with crossed fingers, almost crying with relief when the approval call came through, loading our stuff back into a truck in 104 degree heat, unloading it all into our newest home (also in said heat) and collapsing exhausted at the end of it all full of hope that it would at least be a year until we do it all again.

Oops I regaled you.

You’ve been regaled.

 

P.S. I left out the broken garbage disposal and the rat I met yesterday. You’re welcome.

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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.

 

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.

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?

 

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)

 

 

Surviving

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I usually resist writing when I feel distraught. Today I feel like it might take over if I don’t get it out so here I go..

A week ago my car was broken into and my belongings stolen out of the backseat. I’d just pulled into Portland and parked downtown near my new place of work. My suitcase and duffel bag were gone when I came out two hours later. I didn’t think to worry as it was the middle of the day and so many people were around. I was also too excited to see my best friend and my new place of work.

When I saw the broken window and realized what had happened I felt sick. I cried. Hard. As each item that I’d lost registered, a new stream of tears would flow. My passport, sentimental jewelry and my favorite clothes just gone. All of my toiletries from bobby pins to glasses most likely in a dumpster somewhere.

I know crimes like this happen to so many people every single day. I know it’s just stuff. I tell people so often that I barely own anything anymore and really don’t place sentiment on physical belongings. But I’m sitting here now even a week later feeling like my identity was taken from me.

My friend and I taped up the hole in the window with massive amounts of duct tape over cardboard. All week long I’ve felt like when the window got replaced, I’d feel whole again. It was replaced this morning. I don’t feel any better.

The duct tape residue is still all over the car and slivers of glass remain inside. I tried for a while to remove it with oil. I held back more tears and said over and over “It’s just a car it’s just a car it’s just a car”. But I still want to cry.

I fight the thoughts telling me I’ve made a huge mistake.

I go over and over the things I’m grateful for: a place to stay with my best friend, new co-workers that bring bags of clothes and shoes and toiletries to work before they even meet me,  the way time goes by so quickly now, being the opposite of bored, enjoying nature, having the money to begin replacing my lost things. I’m lucky. I know.

So why do I still want to give up? Why do I want to sob like a little girl?

I think because I’m human. We can’t always be strong. When life keeps throwing challenge after challenge we sometimes throw down the glove and refuse to play anymore.

It can’t always be sunshine and roses.

I’m writing this here because I strive to be authentic. I don’t ever want anyone to see just the highlight reel. It’s easy to look around on social media and start to think our own life will never be as good as everyone else’s. But the truth is we all struggle somehow. We all hurt. We all go through periods we think we can’t survive.

Here I am though, surviving.

 

Zero to Sixty

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I’ve been back in the states for a week. Already it feels like my expat life was lifetimes ago. My brain so easily slipped back into the ways of American life. Driving a car, grocery shopping, speaking English to strangers, going to manicured parks and exploring shops who’s wares are not necessities.

A few days from now I’ll be starting a part time job. A few weeks after that I’ll start a second part time job. Within a very short time my life has gone from zero to sixty. In Laos I spent hours alone and without much to do to pass the time. As I look at my schedule for August I worry I won’t have enough time. I like this problem.

The challenges I faced in the last five months in Laos have left me much stronger than I realized. Admittedly, a version of me years ago wouldn’t have embraced such massive life changes and challenges happening so quickly. I would have needed time to ease into each one. I would have dipped one toe in at a time. Slowly, I’d walk in up to my waist and when finally acclimated I would carefully go in over my head.

I’m cliff diving into this one.

Does this mean I don’t have anxiety and worry I’ll be a total mess? Not at all. I know that even when I’m a mess I can still succeed.  I’m remembering that not trying at all is the true failure in life.  Whatever happens, I want to know that I didn’t let fear hold me prisoner.

Failure to Thrive

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One word has been resonating through my heart and my head every day. A word repeatedly spoken as a gift by  Onmyfeet . He ends each encouraging comment with:

Thrive

Every day I go rounds with myself. How do I make this work? How can I find ways to thrive here in Laos? What am I doing wrong? The truth is I just plain don’t feel well. It’s been weeks of using my ‘mind over matter’ approach to sickness with no improvement. It’s a scary thing to admit you’re not physically well so far from home.  I’ve blamed the extreme heat and humidity. I’ve blamed lack of sleep and dehydration. I’ve blamed lack of physical activity. I’ve blamed myself.

I’m strong. I should be able to make this work. I shouldn’t wake up every morning figuring out how I’ll slog through the day ahead. I should embrace it all and be excited. Should should should.

It’s left me torn, confused and sad.

But, a wave of relief came over me yesterday when we bought my ticket home. Does this make me a quitter? I tell myself that the finish line was a point I set myself. I had this idea I’d last a year and anything less would be a failure.

So, now I try to come to terms with leaving. I will miss so much of this life.  The future is totally unknown again and that knowledge is also difficult to deal with. I crave stability and health at this point more than anything.

In a week I’ll be on a plane home. Rob will follow a month after and we will continue our crazy beautiful mess of a journey together into the next chapter.

And we will find a place to grow and more importantly to thrive.

New beginnings await.

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