I’m living an in-between life.
The days grow longer and hotter, the mercury already rising near 90 some afternoons, and I remember what it is to live coated with a constant sheen of sweat. But even as I dread the oppressive heat and the thick cloak of humidity beginning to descend, I remember that the cool kiss of the air in the mornings and the smell of the jasmine in the park and the dozens little voices screaming, “Hello, Lily Teacher!” from across the school yard will only be memories sooner than I know.
I measure my days in lasts – last cherry blossom season, last hikes, last baseball games, last weekend trips, last nights hopping in cabs and speeding home through the city with its crazy drivers and its flashing neon signs. Last few months of stability before this life disappears and I’m trying to find my place all over again.
Soon we’ll have our last home church meeting as the family who hosts us returns to the US for the summer. And then we will have last meals with our friends as one-by-one we leave this place and return to our Before lives. But we are not our Before selves.
For months I’ve dreamed of home – of a place where no one stares at me while I try to run errands or pushes me out of the way on the bus. I’ve dreamed of my mother who hugs fiercely and breathes deeply every time she sees me, so she can remember the smell of me when I’m gone again. Of a grocery store full of foods whose names I know, where cheese doesn’t go on cookies and where a watermelon never costs $16. And I’ve dreamed of my friends, the ones whose lives I’ve missed little by little as we’ve each taken two years of steps in different directions. But the closer I get to home, the more I understand that this home doesn’t exist anymore. At least not in the way I remember it.
I see it most clearly when I talk to my friends in America. Sometimes it feels like I’m playing the role of Before self in our conversations, unsure if this New self still fits. And as each day brings us closer to our return I find myself clinging to this life we’ve built – to all the strange and difficult things that have become oddly familiar, and to the adventure of it all, something I’ve nearly forgotten in my months of homesickness.
“What if this is it?” I wail to my husband. “What if this is all the adventure we are ever going to get and I spent so many months ready to move on?”
He says adventure is only over when we choose to see it that way. He says adventure is a gift that comes in different shapes and sizes – we only miss it if we reject the gift entirely.
I try to pray about all of this. About being torn between home and this strange place that has crept its way into my heart and about the fear of no longer belonging. I try to pray and I find myself reading Mary Oliver instead. She writes at the end of “The Summer’s Day”.
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
And the words come to me like a grace.
You are already living your one wild and precious life, Love. Pay attention. Today may be all the adventures you will ever live. What are you going to do with it?
And I catch my breath. Because in the midst of all of it – the fear, the uncertainty, the longing for things that don’t exist anymore, the warring desires to stand still and to run forward–isn’t this still the question that matters?
We are all living in the in-between, caught somewhere between who we’ve been and who we are becoming. But we are all also living in the very center of our one dazzling life. Pay attention. What is it you plan to do with that today?