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.
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.
This post appeared originally on Kimberly’s previous blog over at Patheos.
Some of y’all may know that in July I will be moving with my new wife to the Netherlands. The inspiration for this leap across the pond bloomed one traumatic night in November when the changing of the guard ushered in the new regime of madness under which we now find ourselves.
See, Betsy has lived and worked abroad before, nearly a decade in Singapore and Budapest, and we had been planning to eventually move to Europe together, so on that devastating night, she began reaching out to former colleagues to see if there were any faculty openings for which she’d be qualified to apply. Apparently, the answer was yes. So, after nearly four months of interviews at a school in The Hague (her last interview happened to be on Inauguration Day) and nearly just as many sleep deprived nights waiting for an answer, the universe handed us a big fat YES! We are beyond excited to be making this leap together!
Although our own country has made immense progress (thanks to the tireless work of activists of all stripes and a previous administration that led with hope rather than fear) the US seems to be in serious retrograde where haters are celebrating their ignorance in unprecedented style! So, in less than 90 days we will be living and working in a culture not dominated by sexually stunted, willfully ignorant, fear-mongering religion.
I can hardly wrap my head around what it’s going to be like to no longer have to convince the government that we deserve the same portion of legal rights and protections as any other person. We’re moving to the first country to legalize same-sex marriage back in 2001. We won’t have to walk through our days deciding where it is okay to just be authentically and fully ourselves without fear of reprisal, professional termination or even violence. In the span of a few months and a 6-hour flight, we will go from abominations unworthy of basic human dignity to just a middle age married couple just trying to love one another, our friends & family and our work as best as we know how.
And as I’ve been peeking over the horizon to see the twinkling dawn of this new reality, I realize how far from American religiosity I have already come and how wonderful it will be to no longer beg for crumbs from the table of the American protestant church.
So, after a lot of thinkin’, praying’ and talking thing over with my wife (I do so like writing that), I have come to the conclusion that’s it’s time for a change. After this post, and maybe a flurry of Flashback Fridays, my blog will begin the transition from conversations about being gay and Christian in America to musings about being an expat in Holland trying her dead level best not to start an international incident while ordering a cup of coffee and a tompouce.
See, I’ve been saying (with varying degrees of grace and fury) the same damn thing in the 263 posts I have published over the past few years. So before I begin the transition of my blog from one sort of rambling hot mess to another, let me remind you of a few critical things. I’ve even created this here handy-dandy PDF that you can print out and hang on the fridge or use to line the bird cage.
God is love.
You are loved by God.
You are created to experience love.
Living into how you were created to experience love is not sin.
The bible is not God.
The church is not God.
You do not have to be part of ANY community where you are asked to live a lie.
There are some radically inclusive people of faith. If you don’t know any, PM me on Facebook.
There are some radically inclusive Christian congregations. If you don’t know any, PM me on Facebook.
Your sacred worth and civil rights are non-negotiable.
There is no such thing as A homosexual lifestyle.
It is okay to love Jesus and cuss a little.
So, that’s about it for now, friends. Be on the lookout for the new blog called “WTH!? Welcome to Holland…” where I’ll share my many adventures in trying not to be too obnoxious while looking for thin places in new spaces abroad.