We’ve been back in the US for a year now. Last summer, we sent the kids off to summer camp from our temporary home (a hotel room), and they came back to a new house with mostly empty cupboards and a few blank rooms . This summer, we sent them from a house stuffed to overflowing, from rooms filled with photos and fingerprints and ticket stubs taped to the walls. We sent them with the knowledge they have friends and a church to return to, and a year full of memories gathered up, trailing behind them. It feels good to send them with a sense of permanence, knowing they will return to a life that is much the same. In previous summers, we anticipated returning to Zurich from our time in the US, knowing that many of our ex-pat friends wouldn’t return there with us.
Almost all of my friends from our life in Zurich have returned to their home countries by now. If I were to return there, it would be to a different life, an entirely new set of people with a different agenda and no common memories between us. As I see friends from our years in Switzerland posting on Facebook about returning to their home countries, it feels as if I am saying goodbye to my life there all over again. That season of our lives is well and truly gone, and I can only capture it by returning there in my mind now and again. The only constant in the international ex-pat life is change. Well, a lack of decent peanut butter seems to be an ongoing problem too, but change is ever-present. Every year you circle the sun and you catch a different slant of light.
I feel like I’m grieving all over again–saying goodbye to a life that I loved, to friends and school-mates and flight paths that will never catch that same slant of light. It’s similar to the feeling you get when you close the cover on the best book you’ve ever read. You mourn the loss because you know those pages will never speak to you in precisely the same way. You can’t recapture the magic of the first time or the feelings it stirred in you as you read it. Life today feels a bit like reading the same pages over and over in a book I don’t particularly enjoy. It makes me realize how much I like change; I like the sense that something undiscovered is around the corner. This is harder to cultivate in a life tethered to a typical suburban town. Change is incremental here. For the most part, I know what’s sitting around the corner, and its the same thing that sat there last year and the year before–mostly it’s the weekly runs to Target and Costco and if I’m feeling really kicky, a visit to Old Navy too. I’m trying to love this returning day after day to the same thing, but it doesn’t come naturally to me.
Does it come naturally to you? If not, if like me, you’re possessed by a spirit of wanderlust, what do you do to cultivate a life that satisfies you without picking up and moving every few years? How do you develop a sense of permanence and make peace with the story you’re living?