I am imagining spring and early summer in Pennsylvania, and it makes me smile. I’m sure my husband would be cursing the green, already-growing grass, as he gets the lawn mower ready for summer. He has enjoyed his life of “leisure” with our little apartment – no snow in Singapore to clear from the driveway and no weeding or cutting the grass! For me, the blooming dogwoods in spring and the magnolia tree (with yellow flowers) that we planted almost 20 years ago in Downingtown always made me rejoice in the changing seasons.
It’s been 11 months since we left our home in Pennsylvania for this adventure in Asia. Hard to believe! I use the term “adventure” with great intention. I just looked up the word; it means “risky or unexpected undertaking.” Synonyms are: trip, enterprise, happening, hazard, peril, speculation! Such a perfect word to describe the experience of leaving our home and forging forward into this unknown. Truth be told, I feel a bit lax in my communications with friends and family in the US, but not for lack of spiritual connection and affection. It has been difficult, trying to articulate why I haven’t kept my closest people, my “tribe,” up to date on our experience in Southeast Asia. I think perhaps it has to do with my level of comfort here. In so many ways I still feel as if I’m floundering. I haven’t found my groove. Each day brings new challenges, even as some things become familiar and more routine.
Being an expat is not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure. And my introverted nature often leaves me feeling exhausted after my attempts to navigate this life. So much talking to strangers! I told my daughters (who are 22 and 24 for this year) that it’s a lot like going off to college was for them. Being thrown in to an environment where everyone is trying to make new friends and figure each other out. Learning what I have in common with a bunch of strangers. Being the freshman in a sea of seasoned residents. Not knowing my way around or the best way to get somewhere. Learning the layout of the grocery store so that it eventually feels familiar. Moving our “stuff” into an apartment whose layout is drastically different than our former residence. And getting rid of everything that didn’t fit.
I have seen parts of the world I would never have seen. Bangkok Thailand, the Great Wall, Beijing China, Saigon Vietnam, Hong Kong, Bali. Each place with its own personality, its own difficulties, its own cultural flavor. Different ways of getting around. (Taxi? Hired driver? Tuktuk? Subway? Even in Singapore, I drive a car with the steering wheel on the other side, Britain-style!) Each place with a spirituality I have never known before. It’s expanding me. I find myself at a loss for the spirituality I’ve known before. For the old, familiar connection with God. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.
I’ve had the opportunity to taste foods and cultures I’ve never tried before. To see Indian people walking on a pilgrimage of 4 kilometers carrying milk vessels attached to their body with piercings. To watch Buddhist monks in bright orange robes carrying alms bowls around the city. To listen to the Muslim call to prayer in a little neighborhood in Singapore.
I’ve met some incredible ladies who have lived in every imaginable corner of the globe. We like to joke about this. Whenever someone asks where we are from, our favorite response is, “It’s complicated.” I moved here from Philadelphia. I grew up in Michigan. My kids were born in Maine and Maryland. My experience is all over the US, but the ladies I’ve met have stories like this: “I was born in Louisiana. I’ve lived in Egypt, Paris, and Shanghai. I moved here from Abu Dhabi. We hope to retire to North Carolina some day.” In other words, “It’s complicated.”
I miss my wonderful parish in Downingtown. I miss my closest girlfriends. I miss Wawa and Jasper and the Struble Trail. I miss driving down familiar Chester County roads. I miss my yellow magnolia tree. Mostly, I miss my daughters, and my mom, and my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, in-laws.
So goes the roller coaster of expat life. And so goes the roller coaster of ANY life. Finding the spirituality of the experience of every day. Trying a new food at your favorite restaurant down at the corner. Hearing the words of scripture with new, fresh ears. Meeting incredible ladies whose life has been “complicated”and feeling connected to them regardless of where we came from.
I just finished reading a phenomenal book, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment, by Katrina Kenison. It is a beautifully written memoir, a pilgrimage of sorts, about a woman in mid-life adjusting to the new routines, a woman who realizes that her path has been a precious one, and whose path is still opening up before her. I highly recommend it. It has helped me to see that every journey through life is a beautiful one. And so, I will end this post with a quote from the book.
First, some background about the context: In Kenison’s heartfelt exploration through the changes she’s experiencing, she decides to enroll in a month-long yoga training retreat. At the end of the retreat, the instructors ask each participant to write themselves a letter that will be mailed a few months later, after they have re-integrated back into their “former” lives. Kenison’s letter to herself is one I will return to again and again, a universal commentary, and also one for me, personally. One I feel like we each should return to, regardless of our age or experience or any pain in the present moment. An expression of what we each should want, need and demand of ourselves, every day, for the rest of our lives.
“What I want to say to you, my dear, is this: Just for today, live the passionate truth of who you are. Stop looking at what is undone, what you haven’t achieved, where you’ve fallen short. Look, instead, into your own full heart. If your journey brings you to a choice between love and fear, choose love. Vulnerability is its own grace and its own gift. Offer it. Be brave enough to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be seen–dancing, and falling, and failing, and trying again. You are loved, and all that you have to offer is deeply needed. Your own presence is a force for healing. Be present. There is more going on than you know, more guidance and support surrounding you than you can even begin to imagine. Trust it. Your own strong roots are in place–in your own body, in the earth, in the ongoing story of your life, just as it is. Put your faith in these roots, and allow yourself to go with the flow. Let go and breathe into the goodness that you already are. Move with the current, not against it. Resist nothing. Let life carry you. You have work to do. Begin it.”
And so I begin again. Today. Tomorrow. And the day after that. Again and again and again.
I invite you to do the same.
“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”