Tuesday, September 1, 2015
In expat lingo I am what is called a "trailing spouse". I don't much like the sound of that term, but honestly, it is a fair descriptor. A trailing spouse is the one in a partnership who follows the other; usually on their career path, in the quest for success, financial security, the good of the family, and, in expat assignments, the thrill of unique experiences and adventure.
We have moved a lot both at home and now abroad. I am an expert at starting over, beginning again and again...
There is something exhilarating and liberating about moving to a new place where you have a fully clean slate. No one in this new town knows anything about you, much less that stupid thing you said at the meeting, or the embarrassing thing you did at the party, or any single piece of your baggage from the history of forever so far in this life.
Every time we move I get the opportunity to reinvent myself as much or as little as I like (to a degree). I get a kind of do over, armed with what I learned in my last hometown; mistakes I won't make again (hopefully), changes in how I will invest my time, or goals I will set, things I will set aside for awhile, new things I will try.
I always enter these new beginnings with ideas of how I will be, who I will be, how things will go...I am always surprised by reality. I find I really can evolve in these spacious transitions, but I am who I am, and I can't simply wish my basic nature, my core self away, nor would I, but I do sometimes dream of it, a break from me, a complete metamorphosis. I lack patience in many ways, and most of all with myself.
We move, and I am anonymous to the people around me. I am merely a face, a stranger, an unknown. This stripping away of identity, while ripe with opportunity, is also quite scary, startling and difficult.
I was a yoga teacher in Shanghai, and every place I have lived for the last 13 years. Suddenly, I am a yoga teacher with no one to teach. This happens every time, and every time it is quite uncertain what I will find, or not. Having to start from ground zero, yet again, is exhausting. And then the question arises, "Who am I if I am not being a yoga teacher?". I am really attached to that role in my sense of self. I panic a bit when I realize I might not be able to be that here, or not in the way that I am used to.
"Who will I be, if I am not...." Fill in the blank with those things we think "make" us who we are.
At the center of that question is the base fear; the fear of death, the fear of unbecoming, disappearing, nonexistence. If I move to the other side of the planet will it feel like annihilation? Will I become too far removed from those who I am leaving behind, will I be forgotten, will I be lost?
Of course I have the anchor of my husband and family. I have my role as wife and mother. The most important and beloved people in my life are right by my side. That is a great comfort. Yet, this one kind of falling away reminds me that others are coming. My children are getting older, soon they will leave home and begin their own unique quests. My nest will be empty.
Who will I be when I am no longer so defined by that role? I have been a mother, dedicated and fully invested, for almost seventeen years. I see in that near future an opening up, a space full of newness, and I also sense grief. I expect to feel and experience a vast array of emotions. I anticipate meeting that ending and beginning in ways I can't even fathom from where I stand now. I know reality will surprise me, it always does.
Life is full of rich searching, struggling. We are all here finding ourselves, experimenting with possibility that becomes reality, and we can get stuck in the safe haven of who we think we are, but that house is built of straw at best. The only true shelter is in making friends with flow, vulnerability, risk, leaps of faith, courage and surrender. Beyond identity, beyond typecast roles we zip ourselves into and hide, there is a greater self, the light we are at our core. Love.
I determine more and more through these repeated deaths and rebirths, that the most important achievement in life is not what you do, or how high on a ladder you might climb, how rich you can be, or even how smart you are, how much you "know", but rather, how much you risked to feel, how wide open did you allow your heart to become, and did you let it get broken, not just once, but over and over again? Did you let your heart be broken by joy, by sadness, by love, by grief, by upheaval and transformation? It is in brave vulnerability that we come to know our wholeness, our power, our ultimate truth.
If we are to be deep wells, dug down to our souls, we must allow ground to be broken, we must allow our earth to be split and upturned. From that the most beautiful things will grow, those things will have endings too, and we will begin again.