Friday, September 28, 2012 big as the sea.

Whatever I Feel Like Friday

I had this one ready to go for the next Wordless Wednesday, but it wanted to go up today, and who am I to argue? I took this on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand last May. We were driving between Fox Glacier and Arthur's Pass, and this was one of several stops we made to just stare out at the Pacific. Well, that's what I thought we were looking at; we were actually staring out at the Tasman Sea, but whatever. It was the ocean, that's the point, that stretch of forever that ignites in me a supreme feeling of peace and home.

This photograph spoke to me today because I'm feeling the tug of the unknown right now, and what image captures the vast expanse of future possibilities more than the sea? Endlessly stretched out across the horizon, it symbolizes a beautiful but indefinable future. The sea will always remind me of home, as I've said again and again, so the irony isn't lost on me that my own personal symbol of home also stands for an overwhelming lack of...well, knowing. You see I need to know what's going on and what's on the horizon; I need time to mentally prepare myself. I used to romanticize the idea of being spontaneous, but now I know myself better. I am not a spontaneous person - it stresses me out. And not knowing what's going to happen next isn't an easy reality to face.

I used to be terrified of change. As a child, changing plans last minute called for immediate tears and lots of anxiety. When I was four years old, my family moved and I had night terrors for weeks. For those of you unfamiliar with night terrors, they are nighttime episodes of tearful screaming that render a child inconsolable. Now that I'm older and can use the powers of the Almighty Google, I understand that night terrors occur as a child moves from one sleep state to the next, and isn't so much a nightmare as an extreme fear reaction to some sort of sleep disruption during that transition. Whatever, Google, I just know I would go to sleep as usual and then wake up in my dad's arms calmly soothing me awake while my mom looked on anxiously. They said that when I finally stopped thrashing and screaming, I'd just kind of look at them like What are you guys doing here, and why are you waking me up in the middle of night?  Then I'd go back to sleep like nothing had happened while the rest of the house tried to settle their nerves enough to follow suit. Such episodes seem to be more common in children who are stressed, ill, or sleeping in a new environment, which surely fit me, and Dr. Google also says children can't recall details of their night terrors because they occur in deep sleep. I can attest to this, as well. I did have re-occurring dreams during the same time of being kidnapped in a park, but it would seem that those dreams were just another part of this big stress soup I was swimming in over moving. To a house in the same state. Two hours away. Really.

I have no idea where this abject fear of change comes from, but it's always been a companion of mine. As I got older I learned how to better control emotional outbursts when things suddenly shifted, but it was slow going. This overwhelming anxiety no doubt attributed to my being labeled oversensitive, which is always a boost for any girl's self-esteem. But I digress.

I believe my once firm definition of home stemmed from my severe discomfort with change. In my mind, home would always be the house in which I grew up, where my parents still lived, and it would always be there. Fast forward to just a few years ago, and my parents sold the house and retired to the mountains of North Carolina - the nerve of them! Going on with their lives and doing what they want while I'm off galavanting across Europe, I mean, really. But suddenly, my childhood home was gone and I had to decide on a new definition of the word. When I was younger I believed I needed to be rooted to a particular place to feel secure, and this is what home meant to me. It was a source of memories of growing up, and a tangible place to which I could always return if life ever knocked me down for a while. 

The first time moving felt exciting was when I went left for college two and a half hours away. I was ready for (false) independence and the chance to explore who I was in a liberal environment. The next time I moved was when I left Florida, altogether. That time, I felt desperate to escape a place that I felt forced me back into the mold of who I used to be, and wanted to forget about. Both of these times my desire for some form of freedom outweighed my anxiety about change, and it helped that I was never alone. 

Now that I've followed a path that has taken me not only out of Florida, but out of the US and across Europe, my idea of home has really taken on an entirely different meaning, though remains the same in some ways, too. Newly married, I left everything I knew behind and moved to Italy. For someone deeply attached to one place as home, this was an enormous move for me. Suddenly I was somebody's wife living as a foreigner across an ocean from my family. That first year was tough, but not having anywhere to run to when things got rough forced me to deal with them head-on, and I believe this made my marriage stronger. Over time, our crappy little apartment by the sea became our first home together, and that place will always have significance for us for that reason, mold, crazy landlords and all. By the time we left Italy it had become a piece of what I consider home because we really settled in there. We spoke the language, we got to know our neighbors, and we got used to the chaos that runs that country. Even now whenever someone talks about Italy, there is a little piece of my heart that sighs and thinks of it as home. 

In January we will have lived in Germany for 4 years, but again, my definition of home has evolved. I don't think I will feel about Germany like I feel about Italy, though our time here has been just as great. Germany happened during a different time in our lives, and the next place will have its place, too. 

To me, home is still the memories I made in that house on 73rd Circle with the wonderfully-climbable oaks in both the front and back yard, but no longer the house, itself. Home is no longer a physical location, but the people I loved while I was there, no matter where they live now. I will always say I'm going home when I visit the States to see friends and family, and home will refer to the country, the state of Florida, and each of the houses I'll be stopping in because that's where the people I love live. And I'll always say I'm going home when it's time to return to wherever it is I'm living, be it Germany or anywhere else, because that's where my life is happening, and that's where my partner in life is. Home is my husband and home is my family; home is where my childhood happened and home is where my future waits. Who knew this girl who used to believe she needed to root herself to the ground to feel a sense of home would turn into a woman who carries her roots with her in terracotta pot?

And so holding this terracotta pot, I look out at the expanse before me, a deep, blue sea of unknown possibility and I know I can handle it. It may not be easy when the time comes, but the currents of change are what keep us growing, and nothing lasts forever. I used to fear not knowing what came next, but now I look forward to living in other places around the world and embrace the newness it will inevitably bring. I'd still like some time to process and prepare myself, for it'll always come with its share of stress, but now the lack of control I feel with regards to my future is less debilitating and more freeing than I ever thought possible. I guess that's the freedom that comes with keeping your roots and family mobile. No matter how difficult it may be to leave a place I've grown to be a part of, I'll be okay.

And sometimes, I really need to be reminded of that.  

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