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

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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.

Scout

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Meet Scout. Scout has a young soul and an old(ish) body. She enjoys long rides out of town where she loves to just relax (aka breakdown) and chill. She also likes long strolls down the sidewalk (aka getting a flat tire) in the heat of the burning Laotian sunshine. Scout sure is a little trickster but we love her anyway.

We found Scout about two weeks ago. She’s a 1984 Honda Super Cub something something something (aka more letters and numbers). The first full day of ownership we really did breakdown on the outskirts of the city. After she spent a weekend at the mechanic, we had about two days before the flat tire.

My mom commented that “Everyone needs a friend to keep us on our toes” and I believe she’s right. When Scout stops working, we have to negotiate the circumstances without losing our patience. Rob and I have to work as a team to find help, stay safe and learn even more about Vientiane.

I surprised myself the first time she broke down. We were far from home. Nobody spoke a word of english. It seemed like we could really be stuck, but at no point did either of us give up or even get annoyed. A previous version of me would have been freaking out, but this strange new Expat Rachael 3.6 kept calm, helped or stayed quiet as needed. Rob found assistance in a new friend who drove to where we were and led us to a great mechanic who specializes in the classic bikes.

The afternoon of the flat tire was extremely hot. I had an overflowing backpack full of groceries. Rob was pushing Scout as I tried to keep up. Sweat dripped from places I didn’t even know could sweat. It was Sunday which means most shops are closed, but he didn’t give up and I didn’t either even though I felt like I was going to keel over. A stranger walking by spoke enough English to help us when Rob asked for a local mechanic. This stranger walked into a minimart to ask as we waited. He even hurried around the corner to check that the shop was, in fact, open and able to help us.

Once again saved by the kindness of a stranger.

I found water while Rob watched the mechanics work their magic. Soon Scout was ready to go and we were on our way home. I’m beginning to suspect that this motorbike really does have ulterior motives.

She knows when it’s time to spill us out of our comfort zone right into the lap of a learning experience.

Scout is named after a character in one of my all time favorite books: To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a name for a tenacious, brave but sensitive soul and fits our new wheels perfectly.

“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird