The movers come in less than a week to pack and ship about half of our remaining earthly possessions to our home away from home in The Netherlands. What we are not shipping, we are either leaving in the house for our tenant or stuffing in our luggage and hauling all over kingdom come. We make lists every morning and every evening and still we’re sure we’re forgetting to do or pack something absolutely essential. I check my countdown app incessantly and post some version of “ugh, I can’t wait to get out of here” on Facebook every day.
Before the sun had set on my last day of working in the US, I sold my car for just enough to make the final payment. Instead of selling most of our things, we are carefully boxing hundreds of items and taking them to the local thrift store that benefits SunCoast Humane Society.
Though such a move is easier than a lot of folks may think, I am fully aware that a lot of lucky stars have aligned to make this happen for us. I am lucky to have a partner who is a highly skilled teacher who’s been invited to teach abroad again, lucky to have found such a wonderful partner in the first place, lucky to have friends and family who will love us no matter how far away we go, lucky to have a daughter at just the right age to celebrate a mom with a home in Europe…this list of luck goes on and on.
But percolating beneath the surface of all this busy and bluster is a growing sense of the enormity of what we are doing – and not doing.
Contrary to the optics, weighing quite heavily on my mind are the tasks we are leaving at loose ends. I’m not talking about forgetting to wipe clean the cabinets or fold the load of laundry languishing in the dryer. A large part of what’s knitting my brow is the fact that we are abandoning ship at a time when America needs every voice, no matter how small and trembling, in the chorus of the resistance.
With every faith-based Facebook group I leave and each political email list from which I unsubscribe, I feel the creeping vines of guilt inching up from the ground which I will soon no longer claim as my own. I’m sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is the right move for us, but I worry about the difference we might have been able to make if we stayed.
We actually speak daily about the little and large things we would do to resist the overall culture of fear, greed and loathing that has been carefully engineered all around us. Gardening not mowing, increasing our chicken flock, working only for non-profits, attending every local and national rally against the regime and even fostering children in need, all top our “if we stayed” list. Because we have the capacity and will to make a difference in our community and country, but choose instead to leave, I worry.
But for now, I keep packing, knowing that some of my baggage will travel with me unseen, hoping that the weight will not be lifted from my shoulders, but rather remind me to keep watch from abroad, stay connected to the conflict at home while making the most of this amazing gift.
Among my most ardent hopes, is that my voice that has grown hoarse with hollering at the machine will have time to heal and, with time and distance, I’ll rediscover what called me to the keyboard in the first place – hope.
“Life is available only in the present moment” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger
Liminal space; it’s one of my favorite phrases, a notion I find rather fetching, but as it turns out, it’s a space I do a miserable job of inhabiting.
In less than 60 days Betsy and I will hop on the plane that will be taking us to our new life in Leiden. We have so much yet to do – paperwork for us and our two rambunctious dogs, check-ups for us and the aforementioned fur babies, sorting and selling and packing all the things and saying a host of “until we meet agains.”
And we are SO stinking’ excited. And yes, also freaking out a little bit.
Nearly every evening, we watch YouTube videos filled with windmills, tulips and boats puttering along quaint canals. Sometimes we unfold the rumpled photos of the house we’ll live in over there and talk about what of ours we’re taking and where it might sit in the scene. We take turns reading aloud from a handful of books about our soon-to-be home while one of us cooks or does the dishes or tries to sneak just one more decades old t-shirt into the Goodwill bag.
I have a countdown app on my phone that I peek at every day, as if I’m not keeping track in my distracted head. When we are with friends and family, nearly every discussion turns to our expat plans. More than a few invitations to hang out have been declined in favor of getting ready to go. With all the planning and packing, googling and gawking, we have little time to walk the 1800 steps to beautiful Manasota Beach.
Yeah, we are having a blast fiddling with the future, but I’m keenly aware that I’m not giving myself fully to the present moment of the rapidly waning days in America. Some days I want to crawl out of my own skin to hurry up and get there. I wasn’t sure how to settle my spirit, so I sat down to make this list:
1. When I wake up, sit still with a cup of coffee and look, listen and languish in the fleeting darkness.
2. Drive to work in quiet, notice the landscape of Florida, especially the bougainvillea, the Spanish moss, sand everywhere all dotted with lizards, spindly legged birds and post-card palm trees.
3. While at work, give my full attention to each task, even to the things everyone knows I won’t care a whit about in just a few days.
4. Go out to lunch and eat at my favorite pizza joint, taco stand or greasy spoon.
5. Stop at the grocery store on the way home and pick up a disgustingly, deliciously American snack.
6. While making or eating dinner with Betsy, share what did happen during our individual days, not what is going to happen over there.
7. Spend an hour or two a night mindfully going through stuff – linger over old photos, flip through a book or two slotted to give away and take time remember to why I loved that thread bare t-shirt in the first place.
8. Go on a few dates with my amazing wife – dine out, goof off at the pool hall, dance like fools at a concert by our favorite band or catch a blazing sunset with our toes in the sand.
9. Spend as much time as possible – in person, on the phone, via Skype or even in private messages online – with every single person I love. Be fully present to their lives and listen deeply to their stories.
10. Hug everyone who is a hugger.
Content warning: the views expressed in this blog post are expressly those of an author seething with frustration about her home country while wearing rose colored-glasses about her future home.
In just about 70 days, I will hop on a plane with my wife to begin the next chapter of our lives together. It has all the promise of a grand adventure, but it doesn’t come without a portion of sadness, a pinch of anxiety and just a dash of WTH are we doing?!
I am paying closer attention to life around me and I’ve been thinking deeply about what I will and won’t miss. Truth be told, there are only a handful of things I will miss, most of them not things at all. But we will get to that in a moment.
Right before I began writing this post, I quickly consulted the oracle of Googly goodness to see what other folks have said they miss about America when they are abroad. I bet it will come as little surprise, but what I mostly found were a bunch of whiny, privileged, consumer-driven lists about fast food, phone service and freon. While I’m a woman of a certain age and I will miss my A/C on the occasional warm day in the Netherlands, I can say with a high degree of certainty that I will not miss anything on those other lists. But for now, here is the list of what I think I will and won’t miss. Actually, lets start with what I won’t miss.
What I won’t miss
More than a few acquaintances have expressed gape-mouthed astonishment that we are giving away or selling most of our things. And for a couple of broads with nearly a century (combined) under our belts, that’s a lot of stuff to let go of. And you know what, I really won’t miss that sofa, or those plates or that rug, the pants I never wear or the shirts I’d forgotted I even had. Very few of the things I own are of intrinsic or emotional value. Most that are, will make the voyage. Some we will have to let go, like our camper that has brought us so much joy in such a short time. But these are just things and by my way of thinking, life is too short to be possessed by our possessions.
I will not miss the oil changes I always forget to do ’til she’s wheezing and sputtering. I won’t miss flat tires. I will not miss driving in rush hour traffic (or season traffic in Florida). I will not miss paying for insurance or gas. I will not miss my heavy carbon footprint.
Fast food, not even the fried chicken.
I am looking forward to walking to the farmers market twice a week to explore fresh, weird & wonderful food. Betsy is a fantastic cook and we are both over the moon to traipse around our new city and country learning how the locals eat.
I will not miss “debates” with “conservative Christians.” I will not miss the posturing and politics of “Christian leaders” who grow rich peddling fear and loathing. I won’t miss the Christian industrial complex that takes more cues from capitalism than Christ. And I’m really, really over politics masquerading as Christianity used to manipulate the masses.
Everything about America, from day one, has been about the bottom line. The truth is, America was founded, not on the quest for freedom of thought and religion (like our quaint little school books would have us believe), but on a quest for wealth, a lust for power and a desire for dominance. Sure, we penned some right nice ideas in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution puts forth some grand democratic ideals, but in reality, if you are not a rich, white, heterosexual, land owning male, it was never really about you. Now more than ever, I can see that we are and always have been a government of the dollar by the dollar and for the dollar.
The glorification of busy.
It seems that the notion of sabbath taking, true and deep rest from our work, is shameful in America. We are on an ever moving treadmill of doing rather than being. I am ready for a a significant change of perspective and priorities.
Homophobia everywhere, every day.
Just the other night I sat with my wife at a pub in Florida, sipping a good beer, laughing with a few good friends, and right across the bar sat two disgruntled people who glared at us and pursed their surly lips as we dared to flaunt ourselves in their faces by just happily being ourselves, holding hands. To be quite blunt, this ever-pervasive experience tops the list of why we’ve decided to make the jump. I have mixed emotions about leaving y’all to fight the good fight, but I’m ready to just live openly and without the daily dose of ignorance and loathing, please and thank you.
Really, just stop. You know what it means, we know what it means. You embarrass me as a southerner, you embarrass me as an American. Read a book, listen to people, grow up and stop it.
What I will miss
The number one thing I will miss is not even a thing. I will miss my daughter more than I have words to convey. It is a tender ache already laced in and around my every fiber. Sure, she is thriving in her own life, deeply immersed in college, but I miss her every day and night just being a few hundred miles south of her right here on American soil. Though I’ll be just a six-hour flight away, it’s hard to untangle my heart from the notion that I will be living an ocean away from my Z. She will visit, almost as soon as we get there, and frequently I know (because Amsterdam), but this I’m sure will prove to be something about which I will need a great deal of reflection and meditation. And maybe a session or two of full-on Steel Magnolias ugly crying.
I will miss the smattering of loving family that still are crazy enough to claim me. And I will miss the handful of friends that it’s taken me a lifetime to find. I’ll be leaving behind friends in Georgia and Florida who feel more like family than most of my own kinfolk. Friends who, by all accounts, love me and root for me even when I forget how to be the good friend they deserve. Yeah, I will really, really miss my people.
The second thing I will miss is not a thing either…
I will miss Georgia. I will miss her troubled yet delightful cities. I will miss Atlanta and Decatur, both the familiar and the frustrating. I will miss her mountains to the north and her coastline dripping with magnolias and moss. I will miss the bloom of wisteria in the early spring and the first flicker of lightening bugs dancing between dogwoods of summer.
I will miss Florida. I have to be honest and say I did not believe that would ever be true. I will miss our little home and big yard and the many sacred spaces we have carved out together. I will miss the lushness everywhere I look. I won’t miss the miles and miles of strip malls, but I sure will miss the miles and miles of beaches, rivers to kayak and dark night skies framed by palm trees.
Oh and parks! Our nation’s beautiful national parks! Geeze o Pete, I hope the asshats in charge don’t destroy them while I’m gone because I really love my parks. Our parks, wildly diverse in their landscape and lore, are thin places if one but gives themselves permission to wander and wonder. Please enjoy and take good care of them while we’re away, m’kay.
Wild Goose is an event, both a place and a whole lot of people, that have helped me live into another way. It seems to be an example of best of this country could be if it really wanted – hopeful and diverse, open and warm, generative and rejuvenating.
At Wild Goose we:
showed up in our camper with very few things,
spent a lot of time walking,
shared our food, drink, umbrellas and really, all our stuff,
listened deeply to a lot of different faith journeys,
took a whole lot of sabbath,
welcomed everyone to be themselves just as they have been created
and draped anything & anybody that would stand still with peace and rainbow flags.
For just a minute up there in Hot Springs, we were reminded that a better way really is possible. Maybe even here. I sure hope here. But for now, we are getting ready for our own journey in search of that better way, on a little street, in an old neighborhood of a cool city in Holland called Leiden.
The travel books are piling up. Early on, while Betsy was still interviewing, I bought a picture-filled, tourist facing book of The Netherlands. I was afraid to read it in depth before we knew if our dream was a merely a puff of smoke or a beautiful flower blooming at our feet. So, I carried the book around, a rather cumbersome four leaf clover, taking it out to touch the cover, glance at the super saturated photos of tulips and windmills and peek between the covers at a life that might be ours, but not yet.
Then, as the interviews continued, the call finally came offering Betsy the opportunity to do what she loves – teach literature – in Holland! So the book took the top spot on my night stand, the cover covered in images of our future.
Not too long after Betsy said yes to our new address, and I said yes to the dress, we walked down a sandy aisle and promised before God, Buddha, family and friends to love and hold one another – in sunshine or rain. And for what we are learning, there’s gonna be a lot of rain! But I am getting ahead of myself.
A colleague and friend gave us as a wedding gift the first book to begin truly opening my eyes to the world that we will soon call home. Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates is a pleasant, entertaining read that’s also jam packed with facts about the history and current culture of Holland. On more than one occasion Betsy and I have been heard reciting newly learned fact after another (such as: “Hey, do you know what the windmills are for? Like, what was their original purpose? No? We do! See, much of The Netherlands is below sea level and the windmills – get this – pumped the water away and made it possible for the Dutch to CREATE Holland!). Many a party guest were both thrilled, and soon tired of, our little game of Did You Know? But, fear not, we’ve also heard our fair share of “just what the Netherlands needs, a couple more dykes!”
Then more books arrived as more or less assigned reading for folks preparing to expatriate to The Netherlands. Books such as Holland Handbook and At Home in Holland, are full of history and helpful hints on current cultural norms (such as – it’s highly recommended to be prepared to offer a guest coffee the moment they step across your threshold). The books also take a generous a look at Dutch society at large.
And the more we read, the more excited we get. And a little sad to realize America is just not what we have long thought she was.
See, it seems that everything we have long fooled ourselves into thinking that America is, the Dutch are doing a WAY better job of actually realizing. I know we are in the beginning stages of our new nation crush and we both fully realize that the social and political landscape is far more complex than can be captured in a handful of tourist and expat books. We are painfully aware of our own broken hearts over the current state of cray-cray in our homeland. And yes, we know that NO place is perfect, not this side of paradise, but damn, y’all. The Dutch do seem to be a whole lot closer to getting it right.
To be fair, the Dutch have gotten some things VERY wrong – from brutal colonialism to their despicable role in the transatlantic slave trade. And the recent, disturbing rise of Geert Wilders is something to watch closely. But overall what they have become seems to be what America has long pretended to be. A nation for the people.
From all that we are reading (yeeeesss, we know this is just what the books are telling/selling us), the wind that powers the windmills, is permeated with living, breathing sense self determination, a genuine concern for the well being of their neighbors and a clear commitment to consensus all with an underpinning of equality that may indeed be too good to be true. The result appears to be a pattern of life, politically and privately, that privileges the good of the community over the prosperity of the person. And guess what? They actually eschew legislating mortality. What the what? You mean if you don’t create a perplexing and contradictory codex of morality laws, civilization will not crumble?
So, Betsy and I are rapidly preparing to trade in our cars for bicycles, leave the sunshine state for a country soaked by over 200 days a year of rain in search of another, possibly better way of life, where teachers are highly valued professionals, the common good outweighs personal profit and gay marriage is just plain old marriage.
Coming up next: 10 things I will miss about America.