Goodbye 250

I get on the bus and swipe my Charlie Card, my ticket to discounted rides for the last ten and a half years. The bus driver nods as I say hello. There is room to sit down, but I stand. Central Square is a 12-minute walk from my house, but the bus is a wonderful back up when I’m running late. Or when it’s hot. Or when it’s cold. Or just because it’s there and it’s morning, and in the morning I’m a slow mover.

As I step to the side to hold onto a bar, I see that my bus friend is there. Bus friends are those special people that become a part of you and that cynics tell you are not your real friends, but you know better. This particular ‘friend’  works at Simmons College and we have seen each other a couple of days a week ever since I moved to Cambridge. We exchange greetings and I compliment her on a new hair cut. She laughs. It’s not the cut she says – it’s the glasses. “Ever since I got new glasses I’ve had compliments on my hair!” I laugh and say whatever it is, it’s a good look. We older women need each other. We know that our youth is gone. We know that our bodies and our faces bear the marks of life, sometimes well-lived, and sometimes just lived. We know that worship and attention go to the young, and so whatever we can give to each other, we give with abandon.

I get off at Central Square and walk down the steps to the subway. I do all these things without even thinking. They are second nature. I am now the person that strangers in the city approach – I earned the right to belong without even knowing I had earned it.

The subway ride is short. I know every station before we even get there. I know the pictures that form the tiles at Kendall/MIT. I know the coming out of the darkness and into the light of Charles MGH, the Charles River – beautiful, no matter the season. I know the sailboats on the river, their sails identifying the schools or organizations to whom they belong. I know the view of Boston from the subway. The subway moves on, going underground again to stop at Park Street. I get off and make my way up the stairs, into the light of Boston Common.

Park Street church, with its church bells that ring every day at noon, stands solid in front of me. Suffolk University School of Law is just down Tremont Street on the right. The gold-domed Statehouse stands tall up the hill to my left.

An ambulance bears down on the street, disrupting the early morning calm, as if reminding all of us that this is a city, and cities are never really still.

I begin to walk up Tremont Street, realizing that this city has become a part of me without me even realizing it. The beauty of the city with its walkability, its green spaces and its old charm is a part of me. The ugly of the city with some of its past abuses is now in my conscience. The good that I have been honored to be a part of through my job, watching community health centers and hospitals work with those most in need, is on my shoulders and in my body.  I know the names of some of the homeless. I know people who serve at the restaurants around me. I know the doormen at the Omni Parker Hotel. My husband would tell you that I know the manager of TJ Maxx, but I would quickly refute him.

From Tremont, I turn right at the Omni Parker, famous for Parker House Rolls and Boston Cream Pie, and continue down School Street, soon turning left onto Washington Street. I stop in front of the revolving doors of 250 Washington Street and take in the moment. I look at it hard. I entered these doors to work, first as consultant and then as full-time employee, in April of 2008. I have never stayed at a workplace for so long. Until this job, I never had to work through staying when the work gets mundane. I never had to work through bureaucracy and the patience it produces. I never fought so hard for programs to serve communities that I love as I did in this job. I never had the honor of working with community members who fight every day for their communities to get what they need. I have never laughed so hard or so much with colleagues. I have never shared myself the way I have with these colleagues, many who are now friends. I have never fought so hard, worked so hard, or felt so much joy with the results as I have these past ten years. It has been hard work and it has been such a privilege. I leave knowing what it is to quietly and persistently fight for what you love. We have been able to do work in the foreign-born Muslim community that I never thought possible. We now have a 5-year grant with a focus on women’s health in the Asian, Black, and foreign-born Muslim communities. I’ve learned the joy and strength that comes from fighting hard to serve those you love.

Somehow along the way during these ten years I have become a part of something bigger than myself and I have become from somewhere. It happened without a fight or a big bang. Instead, daily putting one step in front of the other I became a part of this city and her people, and she became a part of me.

And today is my last work day. The last day that I sit in my cubicle, answer emails from my official email account, and answer the phone in my official capacity. Soon I will leave Boston and Cambridge. A plane will take me thousands of miles away to a small apartment on the other side of the world. I will leave a place I love to go to a place I have begun to love. Who is so fortunate? I ask myself this question every day. 

And when people ask me where I’m from, I will say with some pride, and no hesitation “I’m from Boston.” Those are sweet words indeed. 

The View Becomes More Precious

Days are passing by quickly, and in every situation I am keenly aware that life as we know it is ending.

The other day I sat on my porch in early morning. It has been hot and sticky, with little relief. The small air conditioner in our living room window combined with multiple fans on in full force are no match for the heat wave that has people lolling in lethargy. I looked across at the apartments and houses of our neighbors. So, Christopher, Maria, John, Peter, and the guy that owns the Comedy Club at Harvard Square. It all feels incredibly precious.

I have lived in this condo longer than I have lived anywhere. Ten years ago we traded a house with designer paint and a sparkling pool for a rented condominium in a city. We tried to fit big furniture into small spaces, and laughed hard as we realized it couldn’t be done. We moved from perpetual summer to four seasons; from having to drive everywhere we went to a space where everything is in walking distance; and from not knowing neighbors to using our upstairs neighbor’s space every time we had our family visit.

Each day we have lived here our view has become more precious. And as transition closes in, our view becomes even more precious. I watch the morning light, ever-moving as the shadows and sun dance in perfect harmony. I peek out the window and observe a morning conversation. I hear the sounds of the two little boys next door. I watch, I wait, I observe and I shake my head at the beauty of all of it.

The view has become so precious; the sounds are sounds of Home.

Life has taught me that loss and her accompanying grief are constants. It has also taught me that beauty and daily grace walk beside the loss, pausing to pick me up, always there to comfort and hold the tears that come when I least expect.

I have shared before in this space one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes, but it is worthy of repeated sharing:

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.  Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” CS Lewis The Problem of Pain

I am so aware that the calm and grateful heart, the precious view I have now are a temporary gift, a respite from transition chaos. Like a child, I will take this gift with joy and abandon. The yearning for permanence will come soon enough, the moving boxes downstairs are multiplying like baby rabbits and the walls will soon close in on me.

But today? Today the view is so precious.

Mountains of Transition

I’m on a balcony in South Carolina looking across at a lake and then mountains. There are mountains, and then more mountains, and beyond that, there are even more mountains.

My view is stunning and soul-quieting; soul-quieting during a time where my soul deeply needs rest and my heart is beginning to feel the deep loneliness of transition. I feel it most when I wake up. A feeling of disorientation surrounds me and I am lost. It’s as though something or someone has died. I lie quiet for a moment, breathing through the panic. And then, it’s gone. I sigh and hold out my hands, the Jesus Prayer on my lips.

A Haitian proverb says “Deye mon, gen mon” – “beyond mountains, there are mountains.” This afternoon, as I quiet my soul and look out towards the horizon, I realize that transition is like this. One mountain after another to be climbed and conquered, or at least climbed. Mountains of change and mountains of moving; mountains of decisions; mountains of goodbyes and ‘see you laters’; mountains of letting go of what I hold so tightly and don’t even realize. Mountains of explaining and re-explaining; of prayers and laying all at the mercy of God.

And that mountain of loneliness? For me, this is the biggest mountain of all. There are both universal and uniquely individual components to this loneliness. I am humbled as I recognize those attributes. I realize that many in our world understand these feelings, yet they are still deeply personal, still difficult to articulate.

In a recent piece on “Going Home“, Tanya Crossman ends with these words:

Right now the best I can manage most days is just getting by. Take small steps toward building a life here. Celebrate tiny achievements. Look for little moments that encourage me, that tell me it’s going to work out and one day I’m going to find my feet here, in this new life. Transition is hard. It’s exhausting. But it’s also worth it.”

Small steps.

Tiny achievements.

Little moments.

It’s going to work out.

Yes, beyond the mountains are more mountains. Taken all together, the view is beautiful, but the steps are overwhelming. But taken one by one, reaching out to others in the journey, I just might make it.

What about you?

Where Our Experiences Find Life

My nephew, Tim, and his wife and baby are moving. They have been living in Mexico for the past two years, and their  time has come to an end. 

When they joined the Foreign Service, they knew that theirs would be a life of hellos and goodbyes; that boxes and moving trucks would periodically turn homes back into houses; and that they would ever after categorize their life as a life lived Between Worlds. 

But even though they knew that, living out that reality is different then anticipating it. In a beautiful blog post, my nephew describes the experience of watching their home become a house. You can read it by clicking here

I’ll end with these words taken from the blog post:

Watching the physical symbols of home go into boxes is a melancholy experience. It means we are leaving soon. But we also know that home is not our stuff. 

Home, for our family, is finding love and belonging in all of the new places that we are blessed to experience.*

*You can follow Tim and Kim’s journey at Far and Away, With T, K, & J

Moving Manifesto

Note: This essay is from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available here.

April is the time when it hits many people that their reality is changing and a move is inevitable. This post is dedicated to all those who will be moving in the next 3 months.

  • Be ruthless – check
  • Don’t go into memory mode – check
  • Keep on telling yourself  “it’s just a ___________(fill in the blank), I don’t need to feel that attached to it”- check
  • Bite back your tears – check
  • Remind yourself that your life is exciting, that others should be as lucky as you – check
  • Try not to listen when friends begin talking about an event that is coming in the future, after you’re gone – check
  • Tell your kids numerous times that they will get to have a ‘new room’ and ‘new friends’ where you’re going “Isn’t that so exciting?!” – check

This is the Moving Manifesto. As days fill with parties and packing, numerous goodbyes, short tempers, unexpected tears in public and private places, we who have traveled this road many times must remember this manifesto. We are comrades of sorts, travelling a path not everybody travels, loyal to each other and to change, unable to explain to people that though we cry now, we really wouldn’t trade our lives. But we need to express those deep feelings of loss and grief in order to do what we do, and do it well.

We go into auto-mode once it becomes inevitable that the packing must be done. Until then, there is a part of us that pretends life will always be as it is ‘right now’. Occasionally doing things like purchasing items for our current reality, almost as a talisman against what’s coming, or a nesting despite knowing that very soon the nest will be knocked from the tree and it will take a while to rebuild. We are well aware that some of our current relationships will survive the move, and others won’t – everybody doesn’t have the capacity to withstand distance and change in friendship. We won’t hold that against people in any way, but part of the manifesto is that we are allowed to feel sad.

We are well aware that some of our current relationships will survive the move, and others won’t – everybody doesn’t have the capacity to withstand distance and change in friendship.

And all too soon, that final party will come. We will be the life of that party as we retell stories with our old friends. We won’t admit to ourselves that they were not part of our lives 3, 4, or 5 years before – because that would give in to the idea that it’s ok that we are moving, and right now it’s not ok.

As the day arrives, the manifesto becomes more important for part of this process is frustration with our current situation. If we can be mad at ‘right now’ our future looks much easier and brighter. So everything that can possibly go wrong often does just that. The moving truck doesn’t have a permit, the moving people break your favorite clock, your best friend has an emergency and is not there to help, your other friends show up like Jobs friends, telling you everything you’re doing wrong, and your kids? They realize this is a reality, suddenly recognizing they are displaced people, and the tears are unstoppable. Hours later, final goodbyes are said with sinking a feeling in your chest, and a catch in your voice. As you drive away – you don’t look back. You fear you will, like Lot’s wife in the Biblical account, turn to stone and you don’t want that.

Despite this, you survive.

Two days and hours of jet lag later you’re in your new location, figuring out how to make it a home. It all feels like a whirlwind and dream – neighbors or other expatriates have looked curiously at your family, trying to assess your kids ages, and one conversation has already felt promising.

Time to bring out “Settling and Surviving: The Arrival Manifesto”.

Related Articles:

A Life Overseas – To the One Who is Left Behind

Hi Readers! I was at A Life Overseas yesterday writing to those who are left behind. You may have already seen a first version of this post a couple of years ago, but if not I would love it if you joined me!

Airport Check-in

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
― Frederick Buechner

I watched with a sinking heart as my son walked through security and down the hallway to his gate. He was leaving from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts for a gap semester in Oxford, England.

This was my youngest, my baby. The entire process of getting him ready and off was an event. I have said goodbye to many before — other family members, dear friends, other children — it was never easy, but this one felt different. It was the end of an era: An era of parenting that was finishing, a new stage beginning.

My husband and I had reversed the roles we had for so long; the roles where we were the ones leaving. Now it was our children and we were the ones left behind.

It’s always the same. I stand at the airport or in the driveway and the word ‘grief’ feels too shallow for what I feel, all the emotions that flow through my heart and mind. I watch as my life changes in slow motion as the people I love drive away or go through airport security.

“You sob like you will never stop. There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort. Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it. And somehow you know that God is there.”*

I know with each parting, that life will never be the same and I’m never quite sure I will be able to handle it. I’m never sure whether this time might be the time where I become undone, where I can no longer pick up the pieces and move forward accepting that those I love are gone. But each time I do. Each time I survive, and I smile and laugh again, and though it hurts, somehow it’s okay. 

So this piece is for the one who is left behind.

I don’t know your exact situation, but I surely know this ‘deeper than grief’ feeling, I know what it is to leave, but I also know what it is to be left behind. Here are some thoughts for those who are left behind:

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

“I Knew Flags, I didn’t Know Allegiance”

hiking-1149737_1280

Last month, I found my son Micah’s college essay. I was sorting through some papers in a desperate attempt to find a medical document. As often happens when you begin sorting, you find papers and letters from long ago and you end up lost in a past time and place.

Micah’s essay focused on our first year in the United States. He was eight going on nine , a free-spirited active boy who had spent his entire life in Cairo, Egypt. The essay was a window into his memories, a window into the way his memories differed from mine. He talked about his first day at an American school, how he did not take his precious baseball hat off, because he didn’t know that this was a sign of respect to the flag and the pledge.  He wrote about being made fun of because he didn’t know the Pledge of Allegiance. “I knew flags,” he said “but I didn’t know allegiance.”

He described the contrast between his small, one-room school house in Cairo and the seemingly huge elementary school where he was the new kid. In reality, the school was small by American standards, but to Micah and his siblings, it was huge.

Mostly he wrote about the solace that he found in a pond in back of our house that year. We rented a ranch-style house, nothing special. It had four small bedrooms and a bright orange kitchen that the advertisement had described as “large and country.” It sat just off a busy street in a small, New England town. A wooden jungle gym in the back was perfect for a family with five children. We were used to renting apartments in a large city – this house, while not large, had both the jungle gym and land in the back with a stream that widened into a small pond in the woods.

The year that we returned was chaotic and filled with transition and grief. After carefully preparing for months, everything that could go wrong did. We arrived in Massachusetts tired and wounded.

It was at the pond where adventure abounded and joy could not be squelched. “At the pond I could be anything I wanted to be.” he said. “One day I could be a pirate sailing the Seven Seas, the next an explorer discovering a new land.” Every day, whether rain or sun, whether cold or hot, my children played in and around that pond. It was a place that was safe from the do’s and don’ts of adults, open to all the possibilities that a child needs to grow. The pond brought extraordinary comfort and escape from family and parental turmoil by providing room for imagination and adventure.

The expat parent and the third culture kid have vastly different memories of the same events. Children see events through the lens of childhood; they don’t know everything that goes into a decision or a move.  Parents decide what and how to communicate. Children are left with half the details and in their minds they fill in the rest of the story. They interpret events through the often limited details they know and it can be many years later that they understand the entire story. Children are excellent recorders of events, but not always reliable interpreters. In the words of my son, they “know flags, but they don’t know allegiance.”

Until I read the essay, I didn’t realize the significance of the pond. I didn’t know that this small body of water, secluded from the world of transition, was a place of imagination and solace. The year that my son looks back on as full of possibility, I remember as incredibly difficult. Unbeknownst to me, a pond and children were creating their own alternate memories that would serve them well through the years, well enough to make a difficult transition bearable. A pond became a balm and comfort, nature doing what it does so well – providing healing and fostering resilience.