Tuesday, March 25, 2008

happy reunions

Since returning from Africa, I've been asked fairly often whether it's been difficult to readjust to American life. Generally, my answer has been "no." I'm apparently adaptable enough that I can recognize that life there and here are different from each other without really being thrown by it. This week, though, I've discovered a bit of readjustment that has been trickier than I expected: the shift from the mindset of guest to the mindset of resident.

I hadn't realized quite how deeply eight months of living in the always-flexing and always-trying-not-to-be-a-nuisance non-rhythms of the traveler have infected my person. It's turning out to be a less-than-immediate shift in my head as I work to let myself settle into a place again. The challenge is less in settling into my city and more about settling into a particular abode. It just feels so foreign to have furniture and large amounts of belongings again (these things really belong to me?!), to sit down at the same desk every day to do my work, to really unpack. I’m excited to cook my own food, for example, but I'm struggling to figure out where to start in a kitchen again when I'm not just offering to help someone else with the meal they're preparing. What did I used to fix for myself when I was choosing and preparing my own meals? I'm struggling to remember.

The positive side of settling, though, is showing me just how real it's been that working while traveling is really challenging. Efficiency is nearly impossible. God's generously provided me with a great living situation with my friend Alice. My room boasts a window perfectly situated for my small desk. I get to look outside, watching people come and go (which keeps me from feeling so lonely when work keeps me holed up) and enjoying the currently white-blossomed, soon-to-be green-leafed Bradford pear tree. It's awfully nice when you're in a stage where you're a beggar who can't be a chooser and you end up with an inspiring view out your window in a room that feels good for working in (the feel of the room is quite essential to productive writing, mind you). I'm so excited and hopeful to begin to slog through to do lists that have been taking way too long to get through and to work on writing projects that are part of my processing of these past months of experience.

Perhaps partly increasing the challenge in resettling is the reality that I finally know I'm not resettling here for very long, so there's still an aspect of temporary to it all. I expect to be in Nashville only through the end of June, but that's still long enough to practice "being" for a few months. And readjustment issues aside, I'm really excited to relish these next months in my city. Now that I know where I'm going (defined loosely) I can relax and enjoy where I am. And I can enjoy where I am better because I know that rather than boxing me in it's launching me out.

Because of being in one place, I can finally begin to soak in and sort through the experiences of the past eight months, particularly the four of them that were in Africa. Up to this point, I've felt like the trip wasn't really over because I've still been traveling. And even though I'm pausing for a stretch of time, I actually feel like the trip still isn't over, because I feel like four months in Africa was really just the beginning of a new season of life. In this new season, I'm working as a full-time freelancer with no other sources of income, and I'm exploring cultures and living into this part of my life that's been waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for the God-ordained moment to bloom. There's such a sense of energy and momentum and celebratory life in this part of this season; these are the things that cover over the awkwardness of readjustments.

As I reunite with the belongings that have been allowed to hibernate this winter, I’m discovering another bit of growth that Africa has brought for me. Traveling without so many things as I’m normally surrounded by has produced a healthy lessened attachment to my things. On a practical front that’s helpful as I embark on further purging; the purging is a bit less painful than it would be without that disconnection. On another front, though, there’s freedom. One of my lifelong challenges has been letting other people use my belongings. Perhaps it came from being the big sister of little siblings who might break things they borrowed or from living with people who are less careful with things than I am. Who knows. Whatever the reason, it’s plagued me. I’ve wanted to be generous with my belongings and have appreciated the generosity I’ve benefitted from when I’ve borrowed someone’s ladder or book or paintbrush. But, though I’ve improved over the years, I’ve continued to struggle. I expect the struggle’s still not over, but these months of being a traveler have certainly provided a bit of breakthrough.

As for what’s next, here goes the announcement I’ve been hinting at: I’m making plans to move to London this fall, in mid-September, in order to continue living cross-culturally as a writer and mostly because as much as I can understand His voice that’s where God’s directing me to go. I’m slowly getting used to saying with some level of confidence that this is what I’m doing. But, I suppose it could still fall through. My freelance life has taught me not to live in the world of the definite until after the thing has happened, and my language about future plans tends to reflect that.

In addition to that big news, I’m also planning to spend most of July in Haiti working with some MAF missionary friends to do what I did in Africa. I had to figure out what was happening with England before I could figure out Haiti, so I haven’t talked about it much, though it’s been sliding around in my grey matter (that would be brain not hair—yet!) for months.

There are many details to work out on all these fronts. Those will come. For the moment, I’m first relearning how to live in a place. It’s an important thing to relearn.

No comments: