Detours

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about detours. Obviously, since our son’s diagnosis with Type I Diabetes we’ve taken a pretty big detour from the path we were on in Madagascar. Then of course, in addition to this big, giant detour, there are all the little detours we encounter every day – school cancellations, finding we didn’t pick up an essential ingredient for a meal, plans for dinner out thrown off when a friend is working late, traffic, rain, etc., etc.

From my perspective, life’s not really about simply managing the detours, it’s more about recognizing that the path we’re on is just plain winding. We make all these plans and, in the best of circumstances, it all works out as we envisioned. The road spreads out ahead of us, each brick in its place, each blade of grass grows straight and perfect, the sun shining…and on and on. But, almost always, there are bumps along the way.

Few people understand this reality better than expats. It’s not that it’s easier for us (it’s not), but I do think that when your world is so big (and honestly so small at the same time) you realize really quickly that there are a whole, whole lot of things outside your control. We rely a lot on others, perhaps more than people who stay put. We also have a great internal locus of control – an “I can do this!” attitude. We become almost absurdly adaptable. We get really good at seeing the big picture – the world outside ourselves.

We’re not perfect and despite the ways in which we expertly go with the flow, sometimes, just like anyone else, we get knocked around a bit by the detours. But, let’s not forget in challenging times to tap into our inner adventurers, our nature as modern-day explorers and our deep understanding of the quirky. Because whether you’re on one giant detour or finding a moments respite in the straight and fully-paved – life’s really about the way you handle the road more than what path you’re bumping along on.

In Memoriam

My paternal grandmother passed away this past week. I made the trip up to Indiana to her funeral alone. I can’t say I was exactly looking forward to the trip, but I also knew I had to go. There was of course the knowledge that it was the right thing to do, I could easily get away and it would be nice to be with my family during this time. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I never in a million years imagined I would be here in the US right now. It felt like a door in the universe was opening up and there was no question I would need to walk through it.

Death is sad. Of course. But, it’s inevitable and my grandmother had lived a long, full life. She was blessed with 4 children, 16 grandchildren and over 20 great-grandchildren. How incredibly awesome is that!? She was married to my grandfather for 64 years. They started dating when she was 13. Really, they were one – in the beautiful sense in which soul mates with time just fall into a natural rhythm of being together.

I spent much of the time over the weekend reflecting on the awesome power of values, tradition and the give-and-take of family interactions. Each member of the family makes up one piece in the long, long mish-mash of individual characters. But even in that seeming haphazard existence of each person (born into a family, but influenced by so many different experiences and stories that bump and guide each trajectory), bits of what most makes us family come through.

As family and friends spoke at my grandmother’s memorial service, the same themes kept floating to the surface – unconditional love and acceptance, hard work, adventure. It was an experience of looking around and realizing, “Hey, I come from somewhere.” My own experiences have shaped my beliefs, but the base work – We’re here for you. We love you. Work hard! Get out there and have some adventures! – were laid and then reinforced a long time ago.

All of that was so clear and beautiful this weekend in the process of remembering my grandmother. And, it makes me realize, maybe in remembering her, we’re reminded of what makes up our Selves…on our own or a part of one really, really big family.

Bon Voyage Mary Esther. Thank you Grandma. xo

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What’s Your Mantra?

I posted a great video from Brené Brown on the World Tree Coaching Facebook page today. I find her bravery, wisdom and just plain human-ness incredibly compelling and insightful. There’s so much to learn from her research into what makes people tick, what motivates us, what makes us live fuller, braver and more completely and, in the end, what factors join us in a spirit of wholeheartedness.

In the video – which you can see here – she references the following quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The quote is commonly referred to as the Man in the Arena quote and it comes from a speech delivered by Roosevelt in 1910, in Paris. I can’t imagine a soul not being moved by the powerful and heartfelt strength of these words. How true they are.

But, in my quick (and admittedly rather limited) research into this quote I stumbled upon something perhaps doubly powerful – the comments section of the websites where the quote is presented. The beauty of these words has and does serve as a mantra for many. Many commentators speak of failure and rebound, loss and discovery, heartbreak and new love fortified. Many simply said, “Words to live by.”

From Shakespeare to Steinbeck, Mandela to Mo Willems (not kidding here – few things can inspire my inner child like Elephant and Piggie) words can very much be what we live by.

So, what words inspire you? What’s your mantra? What messages do you carry with you, in your heart and your head, that move you on through thick and thin, around the bend and back again? Here’s a gentle reminder to keep them close – on your desktop, your fridge, even scribbled on the back of your hand on a particularly rough day (although I’m guessing Roosevelt’s a little lengthy for this one). When your heart feels heavy, cuddle up to these words that give back, hold them close and keep right along your windy, pebbly, occasionally bumbling path. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.

The Constant of Memory

Today is one of those days.

No, not one of those days that leave you feeling overwhelmed, drained, lost or homesick. Today is one of those days that I find to be my favorite type of expat-life days – when all the places I’ve lived (including and especially “home”) can be felt in the air of the place that I am.

It’s spring here in Tana. It’s the rainy season. This means that everyday, at some point, it rains. And this is rarely some brief drizzle. It can be hours and hours of rolling thunder, steady downpour, and off and on again breezes that completely wipeout the humidity. And, it’s a really quiet day. My daughter is going on the second hour of her nap. Our housekeeper is out sick. I hear the neighbor’s gardener mowing with one of those hand-push, squeaky-wheel mowers (the kind that only the most environmentally sensitive Americans use, but that are considered quite a luxury…over the everyday machete…where I live). We have great birds here; they’re chirping away with their super unique Madagascar songs.

All these things together – the sounds, the dampness in the air, the dim light of the house even with the curtains open – make this like a day I’ve experienced before. A day that’s happened here…and there…and there. Those days in my old office in Austin where a bit of rain kept bus-riding clients at home and meant a colleague and I could steal a moment to catch up on a cup of tea and a chat. Or, those times as a child when I’d wrap up in this old blanket from my Mimi’s house and read The Three Musketeers. Or, when we lived in Japan and I’d get home early from teaching young boys sections of Casey at the Bat, the rain would start and I’d doze off for a brief nap. And don’t even get me started on how this reminds me of the rainy season in the Dominican Republic. It may be halfway across the world, but I can practically smell the rice and beans cooking through the drizzle.

Even the most adventurous of expats crave a sense of belonging. I believe these moments – the stream of past events that bind us through each stop in our journey – have the power to make us homesick. That’s okay, of course. But, they also have the power to help us realize that we can carry home with us. We are a part of something constant through the power of our own memory and the people with whom we share those times, even if we move around a lot. It takes stopping to notice. And really, not just noticing, but feeling the noticing, filing it away, making it part of our collective records of the home we hold inside us. That’s a good thing. Because we’re not home-less, we’re home-full. We’re a long, long list of places that we collect together into a new land called “us.”

 

When In Doubt…There’s Always Flash Mobs

When you move a lot you find surprising ways to perk yourself up. Your typical habits for brightening a rainy day may not exist…no Starbuck’s, no lunch with your very best childhood friend, no quick cup of coffee with your mom, no browsing the crafts aisle at Target. Did I mention no Starbuck’s?

So, you find other ways to celebrate life. One of my favorites? Watching flash mobs on YouTube…especially ones that involve marriage proposals…although anything that combines both smiles and tears can be a winner. All it really takes is 3-4 minutes and the decision to let yourself smile (or cry) and you’ll be all lemonade and absolutely no lemons!

This one’s been making the rounds quite a bit. I love it! Happy Friday Everyone!