It's official. It's happening. We're really leaving. As if all the farewells and parties and the constant lump in the back of my throat weren't enough to convince me, now I know it's true. They came yesterday to take away the boxes, others come today to pick up donations and freebies, and then on Friday morning they will take away our keys. And we will pay the taxi fare with our last bits of Hong Kong cash, we will pass through immigration with our Hong Kong identity cards for the last time, and we will board a plane.
All these "lasts" are killing me. Really now, to choke up over the last time I wash the mugs we've drunk tea out of for three years, the last time I fold Finn's bright red sheet? --(all of which are getting donated.) It's silly, I know, to get so attached to physical things, but attached I do. These items hold memories for me so profoundly that I have to remind myself over and over that letting go of the object doesn't mean letting go of the memory.
I have been a mess of mixed-up emotions for weeks now--sometimes (surprisingly) fighting panic as I think about leaving here and returning to the states. The panic stems in part, I'm sure, from all the newness, all the transitions facing our little family in the next few months. But in rereading early blog posts, I found something that explains it even more. You see, we talked a lot about this move (to Hong Kong) as a chance to step off the escalator (ironic, I know, given the blog's name.)
Despite the fast pace and direction of Hong Kong culture, it very much was a slow-down time for us. We took a sabbatical from any volunteer commitments, and simply tended to our child, ourselves, our discovery of a new city and culture, and our own thoughts. It was a chance to think and discern and figure out our life's direction, and it was wonderful. We have learned so very much about other people and other ways of doing things (parenting, teaching, living) and so very much about ourselves. And slowly, slowly, a dream has emerged for us. A sense of call--though it's scary to name it as such. A life vision.
And so going back to America? Yes, there is excitement about all the good things awaiting us--family, a yard, a new community, an oven. (An oven!) And yes, there is excitement about starting real work on our dream. But there's also that panicky anxiety about stepping back on the proverbial escalator. Will we just get so caught up in everyday life that we stop noticing the beauty around us? Will we still have the luxury of so much time together? Will we stop thinking and talking about our dream once we have to change the oil in the car and vacuum a whole house and mow the lawn?
Part of this has to do with the difference between living somewhere temporarily and living there on a long-term basis. When you are temporary, you notice more, you see all the strange and wonderful things, and when you get into a rut (as we all do)--there's always something to shake you out of it. Some new island to hike, a new restaurant to discover, a new street to explore. But while you may make friends quickly, you also don't engage on quite the same level. It was easy to not volunteer, to not seek out opportunities, knowing our time was short.
 And though I feel a pull towards the depth of knowing a place (not just noticing it) and of involving myself with people and putting effort into issues that matter to me, I'm frightened, too. I'm frightened of the time it will take, frightened by the barrage of volunteer requests that come from joining an organization. A little frightened of boredom, knowing that we hope to stay in Ohio a good long time.
So all of that is very real, yes. But mostly right now we feel confident that we are making the right move, at peace with the transitions required, so very grateful for our time and lives here, and profound sadness at leaving. This is Willa's first home, after all. And where Finn has lived most of his life. My mama friends here have helped me grow into motherhood, have prayed with me when things were tough and celebrated the little victories with me too. So I expect that little lump will be with me for a few more days yet. And that's ok. As someone once told me, feeling sad about leaving just means you lived well there. And that we have.


L. DeAne Lagerquist said...

Just as you were thinking these thoughts and writing your blog with its note about anticipating having an OVEN, I was thinking of you and ovens as we waited for our pizza at the Red Barn Pizza farm south of Northfield. The pizza is baked in a new wood-fired oven next to the barn. The pizza eaters bring the rest of their meal and sit on the lawn on Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon. Being in the midst of this brought to my mind your accounts of community ovens. DeAne

Frieda Smith said...

This has been another one of those blogs that I have had to shut my office door and wipe away my tears. Just last night I said to your Dad "I think we just don't have the same thought processes as other people." I've been saying that for the last 40 years, and I really think that it stems from having lived in another country and culture even one as western on the surface as HK is. It somehow opens your eyes, mind and maybe heart. Many times I have felt an outsider or maybe just uncomfortable with the way we live our lives. So I will tell you that this experience will most likely always leave you with that "dis-ease", even though there will be plenty of times when you will get caught up in American life as though your HK experience never happened. It doesn't really take much to bring it back so be grateful for your panic and wondering. You and Matt have always had one foot off that elevator anyway!

Meredith said...

Monte...we love your family and will keep you in our thoughts as you make this incredible transition. Mark, Mere, Jack and Max

Diana said...

Thank you for another beautiful post. For some reason, dearest wise woman, you articulate the beauty and sadness of the expat transition home more eloquently than anyone I know... and you're still in Hong Kong (or at least you were a few days ago)! I look forward to reading about your adventures in the Midwest with your beautiful family.

Monte said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind words. DeAne, we'll have to check out that pizza oven--we're in MN now. And we're hoping to build an oven eventually at Matt's new school!

L. DeAne Lagerquist said...

In my RSS reader, next your blog, is Amy Frykholm's. I don't recall if you overlapped with her, then Amy Johnson. She write for Christian Century so you may recognize her name from there. But, here is the point: you must read her latest post and then maybe be in touch with her as she and her family move from Leadville CO to Chicago.

Jacksons said...

We have loved reading your blog as we transitioned back to SE Asia (Vietnam this time) and reflected on our time in HK with little ones.

We are also touched by this post as we are wondering what our next moves are. Transitions are hard but change, through difficult, is good.

And what a wonderful time is sounds like you had in HK. Thanks for keeping this blog running. We intend to keep following you!

Mike Jackson