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.

My Beautiful Mess

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I’m always trying to find my balance. Every move leaves me wobbly and wondering. Did we make the right choice? Will this be okay? How can I ever know if I’m on the right path?

I suspect the answer is simple, although it doesn’t ever feel that way.

With new surroundings come new challenges. Every day is bursting at the seams with ups and downs. One minute finds me frustrated, hot and thinking it’s time to throw in the towel (which is drenched with sweat) and the next I’m overwhelmed with amazement at some small piece of magic.

Leaning out the window as the clouds burst one night, I was greeted with a friendly call of “sabaidee” from the man across the street. He kept pointing up at me to lure his small daughter out. She waved shyly to me and scooted back inside as fast as possible. My heart swelled.

Sitting down for a glass of wine on the quiet main street of town, the soft, low drum and chanting of monks washed over me from across the narrow street. My heart was calmed.

Riding Scout, our scooter, through a riverside neighborhood of unpaved streets, we were met with kind faces and friendly waves from the residents. My heart glowed.

This morning as we came down the steps of Mt. Phousi, two male tourists stopped us with what sounded like Japanese. At first I thought they wanted Rob to take their picture together but that wasn’t it. They each wanted to have a picture taken with Rob. He kindly agreed. My heart laughed.

The answer I feel somewhere deep down inside is that every path is the right path. I don’t believe in fate or that some things are meant to be.

Life to me is a chaotic, random and ever changing beautiful mess.

What we do with that mess is entirely up to us.

Counting Wild Geese

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“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
― Mary Oliver : Wild Geese

 

I memorized this, my favorite poem, over a year ago. It has become my ritual at night when I close my eyes to repeat it in my mind over and over until I can sleep. Some nights I make it only half-way through before dreams arrive. Some nights I lose count.

What’s your favorite poem? I’m looking for a little inspiration this week. Please share.

(picture by my pilot husband. somewhere over Laos)

Bangkok Reds

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“You know the days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?” 
― Truman CapoteBreakfast at Tiffany’s

Walking is the only way I truly get the feel of a city. It was on one such walk in Bangkok that I found myself on the edge of a breakdown. We had been walking in the heat through a dreary section of the city. The sidewalks were never ending and our destination felt unreachable.

It could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Bangkok. Our three days there were overflowing with walking and hunting for things we can’t find here in Vientiane, Laos. The first mall we ventured into was immense. I saw H&M and heard the little girl inside my head squeal with delight. Here were clothes I understood and liked! This mall was one of about five or six we found ourselves nearly lost inside of. Bangkok is truly a shopper’s paradise. I’m not a mall lover in real life, but in my new life as an expat in a country where I can find very little of what I’d call ‘normal’ shopping I suddenly found myself ravenous. I had a short list of items I hoped to bring home with us and was able to find almost all of them. Thank you Thailand!

But back to that walk.

At first I thought I was simply tired, hot and thirsty. I figured it would pass. Instead I found this bubble growing inside my chest and it got to the point where I wanted to sit down and sob on the sidewalk. I wanted to go home.

“Home?” I thought. Where is that? I don’t quite feel like our Vientiane apartment is home. With each step I became more distraught as I realized I felt homeless. That’s quite silly I know. When the emotions are given free reign this is what can happen. I felt homeless and lost and somehow it made me terribly afraid.

Ah there’s that fear again.

So we continued walking and after many twists and turns found our haven in the city, a restaurant called The Veganerie. As we fell into our seats, sweating and frustrated, Rob saw my face and said the words that seem to always break my resolve not to cry, “Are you okay?” he asked. I shook my head and went to the restroom to pull myself together. I had to return to the table and admit I was not crying tears of joy at reaching the restaurant, but tears of fear and frustration.

Minutes later a torrential downpour let loose outside. I almost started laughing out loud. How perfect was our timing to be sitting safely inside? If we had still been out walking in that storm I’m pretty sure I would have lost my head entirely. Instead I was safely and happily sitting across from my favorite person in the world, enjoying a perfect vegan lunch as the rain came down and the wind stripped the trees. We lingered as long as we could which is easy when nobody is forcibly bringing the check, trying to free up a table. (This is one more thing I love about Southeast Asia. We have to ask for the check and even then can take as long as we want.) The rain halted almost the minute we stepped outside.

So the angry reds? They passed. I came back to my senses and continued on with our Bangkok adventure. And I remembered where home is.

Home is anywhere as long as I’m with the one I love.

Akin to Panic

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I don’t want to call it “Panic” per se.  Maybe more than basic fear but less than terror.

Basic fear? Is that a thing?

I woke up this morning and made my coffee (french presser for life), went to the gym and walked home in the cold.  As I washed the sweat from my face I suddenly felt the intense urge to cry my eyes out.  Of course, I did what anyone would do. I looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and said “Pull yourself together lady!”. Then I was upset that I called myself lady because it made me feel old like when the clerk at the store calls me Ma’am.

So, back to the panic.

I started doing more of the cleaning and little packing things one does when moving to a third world country. All the while I couldn’t actually breathe.

It began to snow slushies outside. I went to the store for supplies and also to be around humans so I was forced to act normal. No crying in public. It’s a rule for me.

Back at the apartment I was still counting the hours left before driving away from Missoula followed by counting the days left on American soil. Not many days left. Before I was scared shitless, I was overflowing with excitement about fulfilling my dreams. Now my dreams started looking like nightmares because what if? WHAT IF???

What if?  Surely you have felt the dreaded What If Disease before. It’s brutal.

I know that what I seek is on the other side of fear. I know it. I know that if I’m not afraid I’m not really living. It’s the part where I have to feel the fears turned up to eleven that kills.

I’m doing it. Friends, I am doing it. I’m feeling the fear and I’m not turning back.

Today I win.