I’m looking for the humor in everything lately, just to help me smile and laugh through this difficult week of moving and parting. The small truck I feel crushing me and shortening my breath is having to admit we aren’t here any longer. We can return, but we aren’t h e r e. Then, of course, there is the neurotic compulsion to control the things in my life (I did not say people) so I am counting the hours to when the packers arrive on Thursday morning and begin stuffing my good order into brown boxes creating a disorder in my life that could prompt some hyperventilating. I like to know where my things are. That’s all. My worst case scenario is simply not being able to answer six people who rely on me to know the answer to the question : “where is….” and I like my answer to be a five second point to the exact place. (and it could be a photo from Craig in high school, I will know where it is.) Looking for things is something I don’t do. Because, I am soooo American, and my time is critically important, more valuable to me than the actual things I keep in an excellent organized system, so I make a decision once, and that’s where it ought to be. By now, the kids appreciate my system, and I have to answer the question only seldom, and it’s usually Kevin who is the one who says, “where is…” and we all laugh because he’s looking right at it. Observing the boring details of life is not his gift.
I read a book at the beach, a collection of accounts by authors who have found a home outside of their native country. I tend to follow expats around, make them my friends, and in general keep a keen interest in their experiences. My closest friends are Colombian, British, and Argentinean. The year I was an expat was the year that changed my life forever. That sounds like the worst cliché but it is true. I discovered things about myself I never knew before. Specifically, I began to learn what it means to be American, because I could begin to compare how others live, think and work with my own biased American experiences. Isabel Allende wrote what it was like for her to leave South America and make northern California- specifically, but America in general her home…
“The hedonistic lifestyle was a bit of a shock. People here have time to bike, hike, walk their dog, surf or join a cult…those who are not in search of enlightenment are in search of the perfect croissant…I am a person of rough edges. It took me a while to feel comfortable in Paradise. It was a surprise for me to learn that the American Constitution guarantees the right to search for happiness, something that Americans take very seriously. They also want to be permanently entertained. The rest of the world accepts that life is mostly boring, and they consider themselves fortunate if they have a few moments of joy here and there. No one expects to live happily ever after! In my Chilean family happiness was irrelevant. Life was supposed to be tough…Coming from a society where things are always oblique and ambiguous, I found the direct approach of Americans offensive. Their sense of time is so different! Time is gold: fast money, fast sex, fast food. To this day I have not been able to find a translation for the words “quickie” and “snack”. The concepts don’t exist anywhere else…. I decided to incorporate what I like about this place without renouncing any of the things I cherish about my own culture. I love this country and California in particular. Diversity fascinates me. All the races of the planet come here with their traditions and their dreams. Everything new or important starts here or comes here. I like the awareness, the sense of future, the generosity of the people. Their sense of freedom.”
Excerpts taken from: A House Somewhere, tales of life abroad edited by Don George & Anthony Sattin
I laughed out loud after reading her experience with our cultural ways. I have spent so much time trying to understand the British culture while living in Wales, and now Ugandan culture as we work with the orphanage that to read someone trying to understand MY culture sheds a little light on why certain cultural circumstances I experience feel like obstacles. It’s because I’m American! Not because they are Ugandan, or British, Chilean, European, Chinese, Japanese, Costa Rican… etc.
So, lately, as I scale my thinking down and prepare to transition from one Texan city to another, I am eager to discover differences, similarities, and how flexible I can be yet “without renouncing any of the things I cherish about my own”…family. San Antonio is a new adventure, and I really really really like adventure. I just don’t like good-byes… or to see my things get scrambled inside brown moving boxes. So, I’m going to keep my eye on the adventure, and I’m going to ask all of you to keep me accountable, to keep my humor, and to continue to seek God’s will in all the details of my life. And soon, this moving encounter will just become number eleven, not the mountain it feels like this week.