Day One: Letting Go

I kept a daily journal of our China trip last year. I was good about writing during the first week, but after that my entries abruptly tapered off. Once we got Ren, we quickly entered into newborn delirium, even though he was already 19 months old. At that point, I had to trust that my mind would hold onto the moments I was meant to remember.

I thought I’d share the entry from Day One. I remember writing it in an airplane as we flew back to the west coast en route to Beijing. It was the second of ten flights we took round trip. It was such a strange feeling flying back to California that day, as we had just left our home there to move to Virginia. It felt as though we were back-tracking and getting nowhere, stuck in an endless round-a-bout of planes and automobiles, like an episode of The Twilight Zone. This journal entry could probably use some editing, but I left it as is, an authentic draft of delirious travel thoughts.

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Day 1 — Thursday, June 28th, 2012

We pulled out of our driveway at 7:15am this morning–or should I say yesterday morning? It’s past midnight EST right now, so technically today is already tomorrow, but I’ve entered into that traveling-haze where the hours blur together and it hurts your head to try and figure what time it is. All I know is that I’m tired.

We have been traveling all day but we are still in the continental US. We are flying over the western states right now, but it’s hard to say where because it’s pitch black outside. I think we are due to land at SFO in about an hour and a half.

The first stretch of today’s journey involved driving the girls down to my parents’ house in NC. We woke the girls up this morning and loaded them right in the car, gave them juice boxes and protein bars for breakfast. It was strange pulling out of our driveway, leaving our new home that doesn’t feel quite like home yet. We just moved cross-country from California, and after a week and a half of unpacking boxes and moving furniture, it is already time to let go of “home” again.

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[leaving the Atlantic coast. Portsmouth, VA.]

The road trip to my parents’ place is four and a half hours, door to door, with one stop. We got there around lunch time and my parents had food waiting for us. We were ravenous! Chris and I stayed for about 40 minutes–just enough time to eat, get the girls somewhat situated, and say goodbye.

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[driving through the Virginia countryside.]

That was the hardest part of the day–saying goodbye to the girls. I felt like I was betraying them. My dad wanted to pray for us all so we huddled together in the middle of their family room, held hands, bowed our heads. I immediately felt the sting in the back of my throat, the warning that tears were soon to follow. Both of my parents prayed over us and the gravity of what was before us hit me with each word.

I was eyeing the girls during the prayer. Tess looked around, not quite sure what to make of it all. She was studying our faces for some indication. Lucy stood next to me, lost somewhere in toddler-la-la-land. My heart ached for them because I know I won’t see them for seventeen days and I know they can’t wrap their minds around why we’ve left them–at least, I know Lucy can’t. Tess and I have been talking about her brother in China for awhile now and she seems to be tracking pretty well. I know my parents will do great and the girls will enjoy their time, but I also know that this is a long time to be away and this journey is going to impact everyone–everyone is going to feel it–everyone already does.

We all walked out to the car together and I scooped the girls up and squeezed them tightly, whispered in their ears how much I loved them. Tess burrowed her nose into my neck and didn’t want to let go. Lucy said, “I love you, Mommy.” She knew we were getting ready to leave her and she wasn’t going to let me put her down. Her legs tightened around my hips. Finally, my dad asked her if she wanted to come inside for a popsicle and she happily obliged.

Chris and I drove away, suddenly alone in the car. We drove past roadside stands of plump peaches, ears of corn as big as bowling pins stacked high in pyramids on wooden stands. They had tables full of watermelon and tomatoes and wooden signs advertising homemade ice cream–tastes of summer in the South. The dense green foliage along the North Carolina country roads stood in such sharp contrast to the golden rolling hills of northern California that we’d grown so accustomed to. I found myself struggling to adjust to the jolting differences between the east and west coast (not to mention the new continent we are now heading towards). I was quiet in the car as we drove by it all. Everything was starting to feel real.

We drove for about two hours until we finally reached the Greensboro airport, where we started our journey back to the west coast. We had a two hour flight to Chicago, then a two hour layover which turned into much longer thanks to delays caused by thunderstorms. Day one of travel has been full. We’ve been going non-stop in cars, terminals, and airplanes for about 18 hours and I’m ready to get off of this plane. Tomorrow is going to be just as intense.

The flight attendants are about the bring the beverage cart by for the second time. It seems strange to order coffee so late at night, but I think I’m going to need some. When we land at SFO, it will be about 11pm PST, but it will be 2am for us. Then we will need to rent a car and drive to Modesto–about an hour and a half drive. We will stay in a hotel in Modesto and then fly from there BACK to SFO tomorrow morning, and then onto Beijing a few hours later. Flying out of Modesto verses SFO saved us about $600, and Chris was trying to be as thrifty as possible when booking our airfare. It is insanity to me, but every $ counts at this point.

We are quickly approaching the end of our funds. We are almost tapped out. We have about $8,000 cash strapped to our bodies in money belts. As we stashed the wads of money around our abdomens this morning, it felt as though we were conducting an illegal transaction. We are close to reaching the limit on our credit card. There have been so many costs along the way but most of them have come right at the end. We weren’t expecting that. Still, God is providing in ways we didn’t imagine and I know He will continue to do so. And, like Anne Morrow Lindberg says, purposeful giving has a way of filling one up…the more you give the more you have to give…like milk in the breast. I don’t know that life always feels that way, but I’m hoping this proves to be true.

That’s it for today. I will write again tomorrow, most likely on the flight to Beijing, high in the sky over the vast, blue, Pacific Ocean.

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[back to the Pacific. San Francisco, CA.]

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a history of thought

I find it obscure how memories can be latent and lost for years, beyond recollection, until something suddenly awakens them again. There are massive gaps in my childhood memories, and yet there are certain moments I remember with such precision, it seems as though they only happened yesterday.

Many of my vivid recollections seem to be attached to a particular age, and for some reason, ages seven and eight seem to hold some of my most accessible memories. I believe these years brought with them the wonderful and equally tragic world of self-consciousness. For me, they mark the beginning of a more abstract and complex pattern of thought.

Age seven. I remember standing in the large foyer of our house, my small form swallowed up by empty space and high ceilings. I remember staring out the windows that bordered the front door and thinking about God. Who was He? Where was He? What would life be like if He had decided not to create any of this, any of us? What would the absence of life feel like? All I could imagine was a void of nothingness. All I could picture was blackness. The thought made me shudder, but I found myself returning to it again and again, as if my mind was a new toy I was just learning how to play with.

Age eight. I remember carpooling with my friend to gymnastics practice. I remember sitting in the backseat of her mom’s Mercedes Benz in my leotard, my thighs sticking to the tan leather seats in the humid Atlanta heat. I looked over at my friend’s thighs and noted how much skinnier they were than mine. I thought that if I positioned my legs in a certain way on the seat then they might look as small as hers. When someone mentions the word “self-consciousness,” this is one of the first memories that comes to mind.

One afternoon, at around this same age, I remember sitting on the wooden swing set in my best friend’s back yard. I anchored my toes in the dirt as I swirled the rest of my body around in a circular motion, trying not to tangle the metal chains that suspended me. These random details surround the first time I can remember having “the thought.”

It’s a thought that we’ve all had. It says, “What if I had done that, and not this?” The thought looks like a person standing at a crossroads and choosing one direction, and then, miles and years down that chosen path, looking back and wondering, how would life be different if I’d chosen the other way? 

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This thought of “what might have been” can be intricately laced with regret and longing, and if carried too far, can become unproductive and even damaging. However, I also think there’s a chance that it can enhance and inspire how we choose to engage in the life we have chosen, or rather, the life that has chosen us.

As a seven-eight year old, I didn’t do much with the thought. Most decisions were made for me; life was still quite simple. At the time, I think I was more intrigued that a person was capable of pondering such things and that the human imagination could construct such vivid scenarios in attempt to fill in the blanks to questions it did not know the answer to. In the years to follow, this would become a favorite past-time of mine.

And now, twenty five years later, I still find my mind drawn to these questions. What if I’d never gotten married? What if I’d never had children? What if I had never joined the military? What if I had never met this person or attended that university or gone to that church? Where would I be now, and how would life be different from what it currently is? The current one I’ve been pondering: “What if I had chosen art instead of nursing?” (more on that later.)

What if? What if? What if?

I believe that my ability to construct elaborate and fantastical answers to this question can be a strength, but it has also been one of my great downfalls. My mind can create and imagine that which has not yet become a reality. This means that I also possess the ability to scare myself–to create my own worst scenarios and entrench myself so deeply in them that I start to loose a grasp of what is real and what is not.

Over the years, and with support, I believe I’m starting harness up the darker side of these thoughts while also loosening the chains on the brighter side of my imagination. This is leading to a greater sense of gratitude and contentment with where I am now, while also allowing myself to dream deeply about what is yet to be.

I’ll finish with a poem that comes to mind as I write all of this. After all, there is a poem for everything…

“What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live
your life.”

–from “Mornings at Blackwater” by Mary Oliver

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Food for thought:

What are some of your most vivid early memories?
When do you remember first pondering more abstract and complex ideas?
What thoughts does the question “what if?” provoke in you?