An Explanation (learning to embrace the Foreign Service Lifestyle)

I woke up this morning and realized that maybe I owed y’all some sort of explanation for yesterday’s frustrated blog-burst (similar to an outburst or cloudburst but more computer-y).

I planned to write about that angst, that awful sinking feeling you can get when you ask yourself “what am I doing here?” as if it took me 3 and a half months to realize that yes, yes I did leave a good job and a beautiful city and wonderful friends to move to the middle of China where there are not non-profits to work for, where it’s not safe for my lungs to take the long runs through the city I used to enjoy in DC, where I struggle everyday to understand and be understood.

But the universe works in funny ways.

In fact, I’d like to think that the universe has a way of working things out as long as we are paying attention, trying to do what’s right, and trying to make the world a better place however we can.

I’d like to think that all of the bizarre twists and turns, the seemingly random decisions made, the gut instincts, and the wild moves across the world will all make sense in a way that I might not be able to understand now but that I might someday when I look back, months or years or decades from now.

And sometimes I think the universe doesn’t just take care of the big things, sometimes I think the universe has a way of nudging you back on track with just a hint and a gentle shove even in the places and times you least expect it.

Which is what happened this morning.

Before I sat down to write my post, the totally uplifting one I had planned on writing about angst and despair and life choices, I did what I always do before I start writing for the day: I procrastinated.

I made coffee, I surfed the web, and I checked for some new content on the blog that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites.

And that’s when the universe sucker punched me in the gut.

Because the first line on Kelle’s blog was:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver

And for some reason, that simple line resonated and ricocheted around my head and my soul and made me think that, maybe, just maybe, the life I am living right now, in spite of the unemployment and the frustrations and the loneliness, could be wild and precious in it’s own way.

It reminded me that maybe there is more to my life than having a big prestigious job, or a master’s degree before I’m 30, or a life that fits neatly onto the pages of a resume.

It reminded me of the vow that Chris and I made long before we got married: to seek out the best of life and share it with each other and our family and our friends, whether it be a long walk on a perfect summer day, or a hike up a sacred Chinese mountain top, or the best hamburger from the grill, or a backpacking trip to Vietnam, or the perfect soundtrack to a good cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday morning.

And as Kelle Hampton’s fabulous playlist went on in the background, I scrolled through a blog post that seemed as if it had been written, not for Kelle’s legions of followers and not just to reflect her thoughts, her life, her philosophy,

but as if it had been written to remind me of my own.

Hat tip universe, I guess.

And as I sat and procrastinated and pondered on what I read, I realized that no matter how much I want to understand the bigger reason for it all right now, China doesn’t make sense yet, maybe it won’t ever make sense.

There are sacrifices I make everyday to live here with my husband, some big, some little, some so scary-overwhelming that I want to run screaming for the hills if I think about it too long.

I’ve gambled a career, my independence, and the security of “following the game plan” that was supposed to deliver me to middle-age with the predictably admirable accomplishments and angsts desired by any successful, Type A woman living on the East Coast of the United States.

I’ve gambled all of that, but in return, I know that, if nothing else, my life won’t be ordinary.

In this life, I think Chris and I will always live on the razor-thin edge between adventure and the despair of the unknown and unfamiliar.  I will never have the chance to get too comfortable to pursue challenge and change.  It will be a life oh-so-wild and precious in it’s own way.

A friend shared this quote online the other day,

“What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being. We come across a cascade of light, and there is eternity.” – Albert Camus

It is true for the travel Chris and I will do but also for the choice to live a life of constant movement and change, much of it beyond our control.

But then, are we ever really totally in control of what happens to us anyway?

Unlike a lot of my friends and peers,

I don’t know if I will ever again have the opportunity to feverishly devote myself to professional ladder climbing that I once enjoyed in D.C.

I might have kids before I ever get that Master’s or MBA degree that I’ve always planned on.

I’ll be unemployed more often than I ever thought I’d be.  I’ll work more random jobs than I ever thought I would.

But, as is fitting for a life lived somewhere off the beaten path,

I will also have the opportunity to see more, to experience more, to eat more, and drink more, and suck more marrow out of the bones of life than I ever thought I’d be lucky enough to.

And in doing that, in constantly striving to explore and understand and connect with the people and place around me, no matter where it is, no matter how hard it is, I think the universe will eventually work out the rest of it.

And someday I’ll look back and know exactly why I lived and suffered through China for 2 years.  Why I spend hours each day learning the hardest language in the world, why I spent months unemployed, filling my days with writing and photography instead of work.

Someday it will all make sense, but for now, I’ll keep doing what I can learn from, what makes me happy, what makes my loved ones happy.

I’ll write and shoot photos and bake too many cookies.  Somedays I’ll spend too long sitting on the computer in my pajamas, and somedays I’ll walk around outside so long that the pollution leaves my throat ragged and raw for weeks.  I’ll paint when I feel like it, and make ice cream for new friends when I feel like it.

I’ll stop worrying about spend an extra ten or twenty dollars a month and buy books that teach me new things about China and the wider world.  I’ll push myself to be brave and ask my cab drivers and maintenance people who they are and where they come from, and what their story is, even if I use all of the wrong words and grammar structures.

Because our time is short and and change is the rule, and if we live everyday relishing the wildness and preciousness and  absurdness and awesomeness of it all, then I think it will all be ok.

Or at least, give plenty of food for thought for this little blogger in the middle of China.

p.s. Check out Kelle Hampton’s blog, it really does make me happy everyday.

I should also point out that she has ridiculously cute offspring which, I think, is a situation that lends itself to producing gorgeous, adorable photographs (she is a talented photographer though, and also lives in a place where the sun actually shines but that’s a gripe we’ll continue with another day).  So y’all, my apologies that Chinese parking lots and vegetable vendors are just not quite as cute or adorable as little kids.  It’s a situation we will just have to remedy someday…


3 thoughts on “An Explanation (learning to embrace the Foreign Service Lifestyle)

  1. Danie as I go older I realize my life and everyone elses is a mess the difference is I know I have a mess but what is wrong with a mess in a mess you can indulge your creativity.

  2. China does that to you. There were so many days when I choked on the air and wondered why, exactly, I was doing this to myself. But the experiences, and the friends, and the food, and the craziness, all add up to something positive in the end. Even though there are days when you can’t wait to escape.

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