July 1 marked three years since I left my Poland home. Anniversaries like this always give me a space to reflect, compare, and contrast. They help give a measure of perspective that I don’t have in the middle of the thing.
It’s a mercy that I didn’t know how hard re-entry and transition would be. It’s another mercy that it happened and I didn’t detour it.
Arched over the last three years is the word belong. I was comfortable in different places on the globe but when I came back to my birth country, I found I didn’t belong anywhere. I found this disorienting beyond words. The disorientation happened mostly subconsciously but it was the undercurrent in every new relationship and every new situation. I was a loose ion looking for an atom to fit into. I was the spiraling whirlpool in an identity that had evaporated. If I wasn’t the English teacher eating Polish bread and pickles and walking on Polish sidewalks anymore, who was I? I had no idea.
As if bread and pickles gives you an identity. But when your world tips you upside down and nothing is the same anymore, you get sentimental about bizarre things.
When I first came back to the US, I said I was homeless. I hated when anyone asked where I was from, because I didn’t know what to say. I’d get shaky and unreasonably worked up and exhausted from explaining my homelessness. Slowly, I’ve come to coin the word “home-full:” I belong in many places. Many people claim me, and I claim them. They press me to spend weekends and holidays with them, and I know they’re not just being polite, and when I’m with them, my soul is utterly at rest. In three years, I moved from a dorm room to a tiny apartment then across the road to a trailer. It’s like living in a tin box, but I live with a dear co-worker, and we have everything we need, and it’s home. For now. I don’t expect to be here long term because I don’t love marshes and mosquitoes and six months of winter. But for now, I love where I live, and I’m home-full.
The church search has been hard, hard, hard. A husband and family would make the church decision more complex, but this single woman has found it hard, uncomfortable, and bewildering to navigate all the questions, implications, and dynamics regarding a new church. I have good people walking with me and giving advice. But still. It’s no picnic.
I’m grateful to be attending a church that feels increasingly right and comfortable. When I’m not there, I miss it. When I’m there, I think, “Yes, I agree. I like how they said that. And I really like the singing.” It’s not home. It’s not my church. But they’re good to singles, and it feels like maybe someday I could belong.
Last month, I was on a Greek island and went swimming in the Aegean Sea nearly every day. The water was unbelievably clear, and when my ears were right at the surface, it sang its tinkling, golden song, and I thought I was in heaven. Then came this fleeting shadow: “Next week this time, you’ll be in the office.” But the shadow lasted only for a second, and it didn’t fill me with sadness or dread because I looked forward to whatever I needed to do in the office. I wasn’t going to rush there because no sane person would leave Greece before necessary, but I have no words to say how grateful I am for a job that I really, really love. I walk up the hill to work every morning and I think, “I’m living in a dream. How did this happen? How did I get here?”
I don’t know.
I do know that I’ve lived in many dreams in other places. It’s the life I’ve been given combined with a million decisions to see goodness in the present moment.
I still miss Poland terribly. I miss teaching ESL. My friends and students there and my people in Ireland have no idea how often I think about them and ache to hear them talk and laugh. But I’m learning that embracing the details in my present life no longer feels disloyal to my former life. Maybe these three years have expanded my heart to hold the paradox of both loving and grieving, both gaining and losing, both embracing and releasing.
Robert Capon said, “Man cuts the wine of paradox with the water of consistency.”
I choose not to dilute my life. Its wine is piercing and sweet.
14 thoughts on “The Wine of Paradox”
You give words to so many of my thoughts—and add plenty of new ones!
I’m home one year and can identify with so much that you said here. Being homeless and churchless when one returns makes the transition sooo much harder. Your honest writing is so refreshing, thank you!
I can identify with so much of this! Thanks for putting words to it, as well as sharing a bit of your reflections as of now. This is becoming true for me too: “But I’m learning that embracing the details that comprise my present life no longer feels disloyal to my former life.”
How do we put down roots so we can flourish while at the same time not knowing whether we’ll stay here? Maybe that answer comes slowly over time as well?
Also, I love the phrase “wine of paradox.”
I’m sure you get this, Karen. You raise a good question about roots. I don’t have an answer to that, but my goal is to live with open hands, which means my life gets fuller and fuller, (flourishes) and Jesus asks me not to worry about tomorrow, and shows me to love generously where I am. I keep stumbling toward that goal.
I like this … It’s where I’ve been coming out at too, although my very human nature wants to Know, and Plan, and (self-protect). Thankfully, we are never alone, for God is with us.
‘I do know that I’ve lived in many dreams in other places. It’s the life I’ve been given combined with a million decisions to see goodness in the present moment.’ Yes, this. This phrase stood out in blazing colour to me today. A challenge to me personally. Thank you.
Anita, I love how you spin words… and I love more how you challenge and gently encourage me through your own wrestlings and stumbling toward the goal. Looking forward to seeing you again soon!
I loved this post. Actually, I like all of your posts but rarely take the time to comment. Today we’re camping so I have lots of time.
I am inspired by how you think, and how well you write about the process. Thanks for speaking beautifully about life.
Dear, sweet Anita, I think I need to chat with you! Oh wow! You just really nail some things here. After 14 years in the classroom (plus the time spent at FB) I’m taking a break (for at least a year) with no definite plans to return to the classroom I left. Talk about identity crisis, especially since this break was one that none of us were expecting….
“home-full”… thank you for coining this word – I shall share it daily with myself and others, if you don’t mind.
Of course I don’t mind, Janelle! Bless you in your homefullness.
I like this – the update, the honesty, the harmony and dissonance. So glad you shared. Love you.
Loved meeting you over picnic food last night! Come see Hosanna so we can get a bit of you too! 😊
Aw, thanks, Jeanie–I enjoyed meeting you too! Hopefully our paths will cross again!