Tender

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Little by little

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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

 

 

 

 

My House of Belonging

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Fires still lit for early mornings and fading light at day’s end. 

Skies filled with a sometimes warm sun riding on still too crisp breezes. 

Spring seems to whimper in a corner as winter refuses to yield. 

But our rhythmic days have returned after the whirlwind tumble of school breaks. 

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s the mediative quality of the island, but I find myself so deeply in love with routine these days.

It means everyone is well. It means the wheels are all turning. It means contentment. 

I used to bristle at sameness, ache for difference. For my days to scream like a crow’s caw. 

Now I long for and settle into, celebrate my days that look like every other. 

I cook and study and play and tuck in and wake and do it again and again and again, happily. 

It’s become like a dance. 

The place I come home to. 

This routine of my perfectly simple life. 

A very special friend of mine in NY recently sent me a book of poetry. (Is there a better gift from a friend than a book of poetry?)

In it David Whyte writes, 

This it the bright home

in which I live,

this is where I ask

my friends to come,

this is where I want 

to love all things

it has taken me so long

to learn to love.

 

This is the temple 

of my adult aloneness 

and I belong

to that aloneness

as I belong to my life. 

 

There is no house

like the house of belonging. 

 

 

Road trip

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After 23 hours of flying my husband arrived from South Sudan and then just hours later we all packed into the car to drive up the Pacific Rim Highway, to where the sea crashes into the shore on wild waves. 

Our island is gentle, soft. Our shore is silent and meditative, calming.

The open north Pacific, out there on the edge of nothing, where land falls away into forever, the shore is brooding and powerful, and makes one feel so very small. 

What is it about that wild coast, where land falls away into sea that moves into forever? You can feel the curve of the earth while leaning into that horizon. 

We ferried and drove from our little island all the way to that wild sea, the Pacific in all it’s fullness. Farms in green valleys gave way to mountain roads still edged with snow that gave way to a long flat edge. There at the endless sea waves crashed against rocks, with a wind so strong you couldn’t hear your own thoughts. The beaches had no end. 

I thought of this amazing explorer I was just reading about, Henry Worsley. His need to push his boundaries, man’s boundaries, ultimately cost him his life. Standing there at the curve of the earth I thought of him and how some are pushed to go deeper than the rest of us. I thought of all the ones who set sail on that wild sea to discover and conquer, without even knowing if they would find land again or forever be adrift. The ones who kept their eyes skyward. 

How often do we not look up? As a child I never lost sight of this magnificent crazy earth. On hot summer nights I would lie in grass counting stars, making wishes on falling ones and everything seemed so tiny compared to it. The wonder of it all was my ship, my point of departure into becoming who I would be. 

Life gets busy. Kids don’t sleep. Dreams change. We have good days and bad. Good years and harder ones. But the stars are still hanging above us and some of them are falling, catching children’s dreams as they go. 

We are on a planet, spinning in space. 

Sometimes being on this inland has felt a bit like sitting on a butterfly’s wing. It’s so beautiful and gentle. Translucent and magical. We are protected from the open ocean, cocooned and nestled between islands. 

It was so nice to go past these boundaries, to reach up and over and to stand at that curvature of the earth and look up out of that butterfly’s wing to the chaos of this crazy and truly wild universe.

Wow.

Spring

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It’s the beginning of spring. 

It’s spring break. 

The rhythm of schooled days have turned into a tossed windstorm of bike rides, beach combing, farm visits, field running, and play dough covered hands. Children who never seem to stop moving, eating, needing, loving. 

All day we play, run, eat, until we collide with our pillows at night. 

Today, I watched them laugh for a solid hour. Laugh so hard their cheeks became flushed, tears running down from the  joy of their secret shared language. 

Siblings. To watch siblings as an only child….

I love these days when time stops, where no one needs to be anywhere. When they find each other and become one in imagination. When play takes center stage and I am the audience and guide.

The kids carry me through the exhaustion of these non-stop beautiful chaotic days. I feel like their joy is the scaffolding keeping me up, keeping me going…to hear that laughter again.

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Our first sprouts have sprung. Green reaching, searching for the still coy sun. We are still swaddled in blankets. 

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A very sweet neighbor of mine walks down the mountain everyday to the village. She buys what she needs, then hikes back up. Sometimes she takes my offered ride. Every single day you can see her skipping down or trudging back up. I like the reliability of her. She’s part of my days without even knowing. 

Dear daughter, Dear son

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Be kind. I will show you how. 

Be strong in who you are, but flexible. Allow for change. Make room inside yourself for growth, even when it scares you. Especially when it scares you. I hope I’ve shown you what bravery looks like. 

Listen deeply, as I do to you. 

Speak confidently, as you see me do in life. 

When someone needs help be there as a friend. I will show you what friendship looks like. 

If your neighbor is sick take them food. We will cook together. 

Recycle. Nature is my gift to you. 

When you want to take a picture of yourself turn the camera around and take a picture of what’s in front of you. Better yet, put the camera down and just look. I will tell you stories of my youth where no one stopped to capture anything. 

No means no. I will teach you to say it firmly. 

So much can be fixed with a hot bath and warm tea. That’s why you see me making them so often. 

If someone hurts you think about how wonderful it was that someone meant that much to you. Each time we are hurt and it leaves a mark it means we have been touched by love. Keep going. A marked heart is full heart. I know that well. 

It’s important to join large causes and scream for justice with the masses. It’s equally important to see the homeless you pass by, or the overworked mother of 3 down the road. Give them your time, even if it’s to say hi, I see you. We’ll make a card together for the child who sits alone at lunch. 

You can always go in a different direction. See how many paths I have veered from. 

You can always start over. I will teach you how to take one step at a time. 

Remember that when the waves come all you have to do is ride them and go with the current until they spit you back out into calm water. You won’t drown. Listen to my stories of tidal waves fought. I will teach you to tread water. I will teach you when to paddle hard. 

It takes strength to cry. That is why I celebrate your emotion. 

Don’t be afraid of sadness. It is how you will truly know joy. 

Make strong boundaries. I have taken your hand and shown you when it was time to walk away. 

Sometimes though, forgive. Even I make mistakes. 

Don’t look for a happy life. Look for a full life. I am so very full, which is my happiness. 

 

Red, White, and Guns

I am from Florida. Most of my family still lives in Florida. I want my heart to break for the school victims, I want to cry and scream, and it did and I do, but my heart can’t break much more because it’s already broken.

It broke with Sandy Hook. It gave up with Sandy Hook. If little children dying in gunfire did not wake my country up, if little children watching their classmates die did not shock my country into change, nothing will. Little children.

The truth is guns are why I didn’t go home. It’s why I chose Canada.

My husband works in South Sudan. And he feels safer there than he would in the US. When a UN employee goes to a new country there is always a security briefing on that country. When going to the US he was  told to always avoid confrontation. No matter what, to walk away. Because in the US you must assume everyone has a gun.

You must assume everyone has a gun.

It’s been a fascinating journey to explore what it means to be an American outside of my culture. When I say, “I’m an American,” what I am saying, in essence, is I am an individual. I, capitalized. America as the myth where anyone can make it, where you can be and do whatever you want, you as YOU. And that is beautiful and powerful and intoxicating. But where is the WE? Yes, you can be a New Yorker, or a mid-Westerner, a California girl or guy, or have deep Southern pride, but what does it mean to be an American? What binds us all? The safety of our children should bind us all.

I recently became a Permanent Resident of Canada. At the end of my interview and swearing in the consular said, welcome to Canada, you may now work, and will forever have health care.

I cried. I hugged my husband and thanked him. I thanked him for giving me a new country to call home. A country where the collective is bigger than the individual. A country where my rights are tied to my obligations. I am a part of something, and my happiness is tied to my neighbors and my communities, my province, and I am humbled and awed and honored to play my part.

I love the US. My children are American as well as Canadian and I hope that one day they will be able to go and be a part of something larger than themselves there as well. That the good-for-all overcomes the me and my rights.

The US is not all bad and Canada is far from all good, but I love that I feel so less important here. I love just being a petal on the flower.