Tender

IMG_3376

I left my dog at his new home today. The lovely people who asked to take him have been waiting anxiously, their arms looking to pet and lead. I’ve kept hold, not wanting to let go.

I finally had to let go.

He needed to be in the home that will be his forever now. 

My dog now lives on a beautiful vineyard here on our island, overlooking the sea, his backyard rows of purple grapes and blueberry bushes. 

The goodbyes have begun. The letting go has started. 

This ex-pat life. This moving life.

So much letting go. 

I tell myself this time it will be different. This island is still ours, we will still come home to it. I can see my dog, no longer my dog, whenever I come home to my island. I have be welcomed there. 

But this time, this beautiful crazy time alone on this island with my children is winding down, and will never look the same. 

______________________

This island is full of artists who open their studios for tours.

I love to take the children to a pottery spot at the edge of an apple orchard where you can watch a woman’s hands shape clay. 

I love to take them to the weavers and watch their eyes get wide as the threads move in and out. 

Last week we took our first tour of a lavender distillery and learned the process that gives us the drops we scatter upon our pillows each night. 

Recently we happened upon a new gallery opening up, walls filled with explosive color on canvas. The kindest man walked us through each painting and when hearing my daughter is an artist he insisted we meet the artist of the work. He explained she was recovering from a stroke and tending to plants in her greenhouse below. Following him down a rocky path, past an ivy-hugged home, we came upon the glass house and met the lovely woman behind the work we were just admiring. 

What happened next was so beautiful, touched me so deeply.  This man’s tenderness to his partner was so sensory I felt I could reach out and touch it.

He explained to her, in the softest voice, that we had come to see her work.

He gently took her hand and walked her up and out of the green house, introducing us while smiling at her the entire time.

Life long loves and he was lit up completely looking at her as if they’d just met, and just that moment fallen in love.

He said he thought it would be lovely if she could come to the studio and do some art with my daughter, and would that be okay with me, as it would make this artist so happy to make art with my daughter.

Of course, I said, we’d love to.

And then he took his love’s hand and as he walked her through their garden he stopped to show her a new flower that had bloomed.

I watched them watching a single red rose blossomed in a sea of white roses, completely lost in their tenderness for each other and I thought, this, this right here is the most beautiful thing I have seen on this island. This is what I want to take away. To walk in that kind of tenderness. 

With my family. 

With my friends. 

With myself. 

I am holding onto the tenderness as I think of my dog, being gentle with my deep sadness. 

This letting go of this amazing two years.

__________________________

Parts Unknown in my very favorite show. It’s been a companion to me this last 2 years as much as my sweet dog has been, filling my nights with companionship. Night after night after night I have gone around the world with Bourdain. Night after night after night he brought me so much joy with his adventures.

__________________________

Let’s look to our neighbors.

Let’s all be tender.

Help someone.

Give them a smile.

Be patient in a store.

Be kind.

We are all trying.

We are all just trying to get through sometimes. 

Next stop Kenya

P1050078.jpeg

In only a few weeks we will turn the page and move to Nairobi. 

I wondered how I’d feel when the time came to pack up and leave my island.

I am surprised at the ease I feel. 

I am surprised at how ready I am. 

I am leaving a very different woman, than the woman who came to this island. 

I feel the island launching us into the next chapter of our lives. 

I hear it whispering, it’s time to go. 

One friend has already left. Another is planning on leaving in the fall. 

Even my willow branches have begun to fade and fallen leaves lay scattered on the hardwood floor. I cannot tell you how much I look at those curled up leaves, leaves that grew against all odds, and feel like this is all so meant to be. 

I met a lovely woman who ran a shop on the island. She and her husband move around the world every 5 years just because they want to. I asked her, as she was selling the shop and they were getting ready to leave for their next adventure in Australia, how she felt leaving here when she loved it so very much. She said,

“Just because we love it here doesn’t mean we won’t love it even more somewhere else.”

I am riding those words all the way to Kenya. 

An exam point-of-view

IMG_0708.jpeg

I have now sat exams on three continents, in 4 countries, and am just mesmerized at how beautifully illustrative the process has been on culture. 

I do want to stress that everyone I have dealt with in all of these situations was EXTREMELY kind. There is no end to wonderful people all over the world. 

That said, the processes could not have been more different….

In Rome, the exam center sits in a gorgeous old ruin of a building, filled with statues, a cobblestone courtyard, and a teeny tiny elevator you are not quite sure will actually make its journey up. (I took the stairs.)

Right across the street is a lovely café for a quick espresso and cornetto con miele to enjoy before you head in. 

It’s all so lovely and relaxed. I put a big bar of chocolate in front of me and nibbled my way through the questions, my bags scattered at my feet, my coat across my lap to keep me warm. I have no doubt had I asked for a pizza halfway through, or explained that I really did need another espresso, I would have found no resistance as these are mandatory for good exam taking there. 

In Uganda, the exam center sits in a warehouse type building in a field that seems to be abandoned at first glance, and second.

Exams are supposed to start at 9 and by 9:30 my fellow students and I were still waiting. The clock kept ticking, we kept waiting, and when finally someone arrived we were all so excited only to learn that we were to be led to another seemingly abandoned building, and then told to wait some more.

Around 10:30, almost exploding with stress, I took it upon myself to ask what the problem was and was told that because the rooms are not used much they were trying to find a rag to dust the tables with, to make it nice for us. I explained that I didn’t really think any of us cared about dust, that we were already well over an hour late to begin and were all getting tired which was probably not the best thing as we came ready to hit the exam hard. At this point my fellow examinees chimed in that I spoke for all of them and we were finally escorted into the dust and cobwebbed room, depositing our things all around, and finally finally finally given our booklets to begin.

This is what is called “Ugandan time.”

In Brooklyn, New York City, I went to a very large campus and after being dropped off on the wrong side of it, felt myself suddenly in a scene from a movie as I raced across field after field to find where I needed to be. Fully no nonsense, as NY people are, I was told there is your locker, put your things into it, here is your desk, pay your fee, sit down. All very straightforward and I did as I was told. Exam started. I finished early. I left. Badda Boom. 

This week I sat my first exam in Canada. I can honestly say I have now had a true Kafkaesque experience.

Upon entering I was told I would have to go through the “procedures” thoroughly. I was first given a fire alarm drill–I kid you not–and then told to sit while I was read the ENTIRE booklet on exam regulations. These are the same regulations I am sent as a student and have read many times and nowhere does it say they are to be read to me. 

I am then searched, making sure I have nothing with me to take into the room, even having to take off my scarf to show I did not have words hidden inside of it. I was able to get my tissues authorized—which they put my name on— after explaining I was sick and needed them. 

Once in the room I was told if I needed anything to just raise my hand as I was on camera. I looked up at the fish eye in the ceiling and this is when I thought this is just all too surreal. 

Finally seated and trying to shake off all I just had to go through, I put my head down and dove into my exam, finishing in 2 hours and 50 min. Once finished, I got up, as I have done for the last 7 years, in Rome, in Uganda, in NY, to turn my exam in and was met with complete panic that I had left the room! We then had to get the rules and regulations book and look at whether I had committed a terrible offense. The booklet said, one must not leave the exam room until the exam is completed. 

“But I completed it,” I said. “And I am the only one here.”

I was the only one there. 

“But there is still 5 minutes of test time,” my proctor says. 

“I have never had this happen, I just leave when I am done, I am a bit confused as to all these protocols and please, what do you want me to do?” At this point I am panicking that they are going to rip my exam up and I just wanted a way out of the maze. 

“I want you to go back into the room.”

Into the room I went, 5 feet from her, separated by a thin glass window, just staring at her, while the fish eye stared at me, until I was allowed to leave exactly 4 minutes later. 

I went out into the parking lot only to find a parking ticket on my car. I had apparently parked 2 spots into the staff parking area and while there were NO OTHER CARS around this was not to be overlooked.

If I do a Masters, I am going to Rome. 

That’s the way the cookie crumbles

IMG_8300

I’ve lifted my head briefly from my world of stories and sniffles. 

We outpaced all viruses all winter and yet I am felled right before my first exam. 

It started with my daughter who brought it home from school. 

She passed it to my son who shared it with me. 

So we all three are sniffling and aching and coughing while I study and study and study. 

And try to rest. 

********

Summer didn’t want to wait. From cold damp days to a scorching sun that had us racing for shade this week.

That’s the thing about mountain living on this island. You get colder winters and hotter summers. 

I think I am dreaming of a little seashore cottage. 

Still waiting for spring. 

**********

We have hummingbirds fly into our house often.

They move so fast in the world, yet are so docile when I go to lift them up and place them back outside. 

I can reach out my hand and simply take one, and it will sit there and just be. 

It’s a bit how I am looking at this sickness right now that has come at the worst time. 

I’ve got my exams, and having to ferry over to another island to take them, and hotels to stay in, and it’s all so much if I let it be. 

Instead I am laying it down, like a hummingbird in a hand, and just resting my wings. 

Instead of struggling and worrying. 

Just letting it all be exactly how it is. 

 

To the Pacific Northwest weather

IMG_8506.jpg

Dear Spring,

I am going need to you to try a little harder. It was a very long, dark winter and while I appreciate your tenderness, I need you to assert yourself now, please. 

Okay, yes, I did complain about your early arrival last year with a sun that blazed and scorched a bit too soon, so let me apologize. I am sorry.

I will never complain if you coming rolling in like a jet again, because this snail pace is just really getting me down. Yesterday my fingers lost feeling in the cold and really that’s just unnecessary in April. 

Okay, yes, I did go to the beach and yes, it was probably too cold to put my hands in the water, but did I mention it was April already? 

Are you even there, Spring? Hello?

 

Dear garden seeds,

I sometimes get too eager, like a chihuahua that’s caught in a purse, so I understand why you are trapped in mud with no way up to the surface and I am sorry to have put you in that situation. I suppose the laughter at the nursery when I bought you should have tipped me off that I might have been jumping the gun. 

If any of you can make it up, keep trying or at least hang in there during these floods that just will not end. One day there has to be some sun. Doesn’t there? 

 

Dear wind, 

That’s enough now. 

Little by little

IMG_8563.jpg

My silence is so full.

In between hands reaching for me, my every moment heavy with things to do, care for, tend to, I steal chances, seconds, hidden moments behind doors. I am diving deep in these hidden moments, deep into my nights, into words, literature. 

I have been inching my way towards a degree for what seems forever. 

I remember years ago, when having to start all over again, after leaving Columbia University and settling into a school in London, feeling like it was impossible. 

I asked my husband how I could do it all? Keep moving all over the world, raise our children, and get a degree? I told him it would take years as I would only be able to do a little at a time. 

My husband said, the time will pass anyway. 

Those words have pushed me along. Those words have pulled me when I felt like I had no more nights to give to theory to learn and books to memorize. 

The time will pass anyway. 

How perfect for all of us to think about that. Days, months, years will still keep coming, if we are lucky, so even if it’s little by little imagine what you can have at the end of an endeavor.

One paragraph a day and years later you have a novel.

One newly discovered meal a week and perhaps the next year you have your own cookbook. 

One chord a week on an instrument and years later music will flow from your soul.

Time will pass anyway.

My last exams are only weeks away. Some years I could take three courses, some I was only able to inch out one. But I kept on going, little by little. The time has kept passing and here I am all these many, many years later about to have my degree. 

Back I go to Tolstoy and Cervantes, Saramago and Rushdie, Chinua Achebe and Dorris Lessing, so happily swimming in them, in the past, in times when space seemed so much more tangible, the world before our every seconds were filled with the touch of a button.

I will be sad to leave this study which has been my companion for so very long. But I am excited to find a new passion to walk in time with. Even if it’s just little by little. 

“We think we have arrived at the end of the road, but it is only a bend opening onto a new horizon and new wonders.” –The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Jose Saramago