Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Two Weeks Notice

Seems like, lately, everything is a precursor to my eyes becoming watery and my head telling my heart, you'll be back, really, you'll all come back every few years to see people you've come to know, walk the obscenely curvy, narrow streets you now are no longer afraid to bike on, and catch the # 7 bus into town.

And yet.

Almost three years ago, Jennifer and I and Tyler--then not yet two years old--boarded a plane at Boston's Logan Airport wondering if, in fact, the apartment we'd leased on nothing more than a phone call and a York, England address would in fact, well, be real. We carried pretty much everything we owned, which by the time we boarded the plane was, well, whatever we could fit into three suitcases. We had enough money to make it a few months and then, well, then--

A few months turned into a few years and Jennifer finished a draft of her PhD thesis on human trafficking.

Tyler went from almost-two to almost-five and in that span concocted analogies that made my aspiring-poet / bathroom-humor-loving dad-self rejoice, such as: "Poops are like thunder; pees are like rain."

I worked as a dad, writer, night-teacher, and morning-paperboy.

Together, we all learned something we didn't expect to be the point of this journey. (But then again, what we learn from the adventures we choose to traverse is seldom what we think we'll learn them beforehand.) We learned that gender roles are tough to reverse, no matter how progressive a family is. But they're worth murkying up and seeing what results.

We learned that living without a steady salary is tough. Really tough. But the freedom to experience what an entirely different class of life is like is priceless. We learned that no judgment is ever warranted--no matter how well we think we might understand someone else's situation. (Or, as Mother Teresa put it much more succinctly, "If I am judging, then I am not loving.")

We learned that life is about learning. There is no getting it right the first time. Period. No one gets it right the first time. (And if they did get it right the first time, they probably just hid their earlier attempts!)

We learned that it's really, really hard to set one's heart on something, and then be rejected from that vision again and again.

And again.

And again.

Until finally, the dam breaks and--!!!--rejection, again.

And again.

But we learned that--trite though it sounds, I'm sure--this is where authentic love happens. In the seemingly endless caesuras after defeat, rejection, almost-but-not-quites, there is an incredible and breathless space for love. The kind of love that doesn't come easy and doesn't feel easy but that, when chosen, feels like your heart is, quite literally, bursting open.

In that openness, it seems there is space for the whole world to fit.

We learned that perfection is a ploy. And even if it weren't, we wouldn't choose it anyway. Perfection leaves nothing to imagination, mystery, depending on others, vulnerability, risk, joy, pain, hope. We learned that choosing the latter is much more fun.

We learned that people are remarkable. I mean, remarkable. People! We learned that people will stop and talk and invite you in to show you their pictures of America back when they lived there fifty years ago, laugh as your son plays with the cat, cry when they remember their own adventures, then ask you if you'd like tea.

People--old people--will smile at you and give you the thumbs-up on a morning paper route, totally disregarding the fact that you are a fully-grown man who didn't have time to shave that morning.

People--little people--will hug you and show you pictures and tell you stories and the light in their eyes will look to the light in yours and will beg, beg, beg for that connection of no words but kindness, seeing, really seeing.

People--regular people--will surprise you with a knock on the door, an offer to join in a basketball or football game, a pat on the back, a phone call or a text message checking in, a sunflower seed that will grow taller than you and next to which your whole face glows yellow.

People of all shapes and sizes and colors and faiths and no-faiths and languages and cultures will look at you and will be willing to connect. If you are willing to connect. And then everything that is assumed to be accurate and aligned and just-the-way-it-is is, well, no longer is.

We learned that it's true what the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." And, man, it's fun to go far.

We learned that laughing on the couch in the living room when one's wife is Wonder Woman and one's son is Superman and oneself is Lex Luther provides two hours of fun that is free, ridiculously giggle-filled, and utterly exhausting.

We learned that watching the Queen ride through the streets of your city is a powerful experience, but just as powerful is talking with the man a few streets over who hasn't eaten in a while and of whom no one is lining the sidewalks to catch a glimpse.

We learned that having family who loves you--family that saw all your many imperfections growing up, knows you underneath the grand visions and the big dreams, loves you still, and always will. And the thought of going home to their arms is thrilling.

We learned that adventure isn't one big choice to do something wild. Adventure is a thousand small choices to lean towards things a little unlike what you always thought they would be like.

We learned that we know a lot less than we did three years ago, yet feel more full.

In two weeks, we'll board a plane (preferably the absolute cheapest plane that flies across the Atlantic) and head back to Boston's Logan Airport. And in the next two weeks, I'm going to cry a lot more. Because I'm grateful for the chance to have seen life from a different angle. And I'm grateful to the thousand teachers I have had over here in York--teachers of all ages and cultures and walks and perspectives.

Success, in its raw definition, didn't necessarily happen over here the way I'd thought it might. We're not going home wealthy and prestigious and as bestselling authors. But in that caesura that follows suggested defeat or rejection, there's a kind of success that burns inside of me deeper than anything else I have ever known or felt in my entire life.

It burns so hard and, were it to explode, I venture it'd be big enough to let the whole world in. The success being over here has taught me, in the simplest articulation possible, is this: to say thank you, and to mean it.