Identity

The Resurrection of Audrey 2

A few weeks back my teenager bought a plant and named it Audrey 2…

IMG_9597.JPG

And began documenting it’s life on snapchat to a group of friends…

And then things turned dark. Or rather the leaves turned dark. And my teenage gardner was too sad for words. And so on Snapchat there was just a circle marking what we believed to be the end of Audrey 2.

IMG_9604.JPG

Days went by. Tears were shed. I suggested we just buy another plant. But my gardener teen wasn’t ready to let go and continued tending to the plant. This last week we left for a short trip. I expected to find Audrey 2 still worse off when we returned. But we came back to a miraculous sight. Which my teenager again documented on Snapchat:

IMG_9599.JPG

Rejoice! New life sprouting and Jesus similes on Snapchat. The Easter season is truly upon us!

Last year on Easter Sunday, I visited my in-laws in Cambridge and went to their church. It was the first service of a newly merged congregation. And the minister that day spoke about what he said was one of the lessons of the Easter Story- that before there can be new life, there must be death. It seems such a simple, obvious lesson. But I tell you that day as I listened to the minister describing how the parishioners might feel grief at the loss of their individual communities even as they knew they were building something new and stronger together, I sobbed, and I honestly heard the Easter story in a whole new way. I felt the sadness of the death.

Growing up in a Methodist Church, I was very familiar with the Easter story. But when you already know the happy ending, sometimes you don’t really stop to think about the sad bits. But last year on that Easter Sunday morning, I needed to hear that lesson. That sometimes, even when you know the ending will be happy, even when you walk up the hill willingly, the death that must come before new life is still hard, still isolating. And there will be grief. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And I cried. I cried for the loss of community I felt. I cried for everything I had given up in America in order to start my new life here in England. And more importantly, I gave myself permission to do so. Prior to that morning, I felt like it would be too ungrateful, too selfish to feel bad in any way for the things I left behind. After all, I chose to come here. I disrupted my children’s lives and the lives of those closest to us. And really what did I have to feel sad about? We are building a wonderful new life here. And yet, I did feel sad. I felt loss. And that’s okay. More than okay, it’s normal.

Recently at a work training (I am a Franchise Consultant helping Franchisees with their businesses), we looked at this Transition Curve:

Transition Curve.png

The trainer was explaining that all new business owners go through this transition curve. And again, the new business owner chose the path. They know what the happy ending looks like. And yet the transition will be hard. Because before new life, there must be death. Loss of old habits. Loss of old lifestyles. Loss of identity. And a crisis of meaning will come. And sometimes things don’t work out. Because even when everything points to success being just around the corner, sometimes at the crisis of meaning point, people start to doubt their path. Sometimes it just seems too hard. And sadly, sometimes not understanding that the grief is temporary can cause a crisis in faith that leads to a crash and burn.

I hit a crisis of meaning point last year on Easter Sunday. And luckily for me, I heard the minister say that before there can be new life, there must be death. And I heard Jesus say it will be hard. “Why have you forsaken me?” And so I allowed myself to start to mourn. And luckily I’ve spent the last year on the upward curve of informed optimism.

And so dear reader, if you are in a state of transition, even if it is one you willing threw yourself into, I know how you feel. You are not alone. And my Easter prayer for you is that you allow yourself to feel the loss and the grief. Accept that before new life, there must be death. And when the leaves start to darken, don’t give up. Keep tending the plant. And like Audrey 2 watch your new life grow stronger and taller than ever.

resurrectionAudrey2.JPEG



Reflection on the Winter Solstice

In my last blog post, I mentioned one of the things I miss about America is the wide roads. Here I frequently find myself on narrow roads with little room for error on either side. One such road is on what Google Maps recommends as my shortest route home from work. Even though Manchester is a big city, this road is on the outskirts and looks like a winding country lane in the middle of nowhere. There are even cows in pastures in sight. And for a large stretch of the road, there are big trees lining both sides making it impossible to drive off the road without crashing into one.

Last winter I navigated around that road because I was afraid to travel it in the dark. Even though it added about 10-15 minutes to my journey home, I went a different way. Because every time I needed to pass a car coming the other direction, I nearly had a panic attack. The few times I did try going that way in the dark, I remember gripping the wheel and sweating the whole way. I was terrified. Hence I started going the long way home.

And then the days got longer until one day when it was no longer dark after work, I tried that route again. And even though the road was still narrow, in the light, it wasn’t as scary. And so I went that way. And I kept going that way even as the days have grown shorter. And now it is really dark again on my way home, but my panic is gone. I know that road now. Because I learned it in the light.

This week as I was driving home on that road, I realized this is as dark as it’s going to get. Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year, and I will be traveling the shortest route home! This got me thinking about the Winter Solstice and metaphors and realities of darkness. The contrast in the length of the days here has given me a new appreciation for the changing seasons. Not just appreciation, an understanding in my bones.

Last September I moved here to the latitude of 53.4808° N. And from the moment I arrived, the days started getting shorter. And by this time last year, (like now) there were only seven and half hours of daylight. And last year, I did find it all a bit oppressive. And cold. And endless. And the roads scary. And I forgot all my lessons about the solstice. I forgot that one day the days would get longer again. Mostly because in America, I hadn’t experienced such drastic differences in the length of the days. I knew intellectually there would be more light in summer, but I hadn’t yet physically experienced living here through the changing seasons.

Now I have. Now I know that in the summer here, the days are gloriously long. Now I know that on the Summer Solstice, there will be an extra nine and a half hours of sunlight. So I am more okay this year. I can wait out the darkness. And I know after tomorrow, we are already on our way to the long days. To the days where the sunlight motivates you to stay out late. So now I should rest. Recharge. That’s the gift of winter.

And reflecting on the physical realities of living through the dark times and light times, I am reminded of the strength of the metaphor too. That in times of darkness, we can rely on the changing seasons. This too shall pass. And if you practice the way enough times in the daylight, you can take the same route through the darkest of nights. For me, this means that when I am feeling good, I need to be my best self: eat right, exercise, be kind, be proactive, reflect and write, volunteer, reach out to people. All so those behaviors will be ingrained in me and sustained down dark lanes yet to come.

So to anyone out there who might need reminding… there is always light over the horizon. To everything there is season. May you make the most of the darkness and the light.

Dear Meghan... (Open after the honeymoon!)

I heard a reporter say recently that he was looking forward to the graciousness Meghan Markle would bring to the royal family. He said Americans use and understand the word "gracious" more than the English do. I don't know if that is true, but as an American living in England, I am enjoying the positive press an American is getting. Walking my dog on the day of the Royal Wedding, I passed a house with a photo of Harry and Meghan hanging outside. Next to Meghan was a small American flag. Proudly displayed on my neighbors' fence. 

So I would like to say thank you to Meghan Markle for representing. And I would graciously like to offer some words of advice and encouragement to the new wife of an Englishman:

Dear Meghan, 

I came to live in this beautiful country under similar circumstances to your own. Perhaps with a little less pomp and press, but the basic story is the same. Just instead of a prince, I married a professor. It's been nearly 9 months since my arrival as a new bride in a foreign land. There are a lot of things I am still getting used to here. I still find it awe inspiring when I hear the age of some of the everyday buildings I am surrounded by. Just last week I was at a work meeting in a coffee shop across the street from a Church built in the 1300s! Before 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, people were worshipping in a building that I can just casually walk into after my coffee! I can't even imagine the awe-inspiring buildings you will be able to walk into with your royal credentials! Although our lives may be really different in grandeur and scope, I thought I'd share a few observations from my own transatlantic transplant you might find helpful. 

There will be a lot of small changes to get used to in the vocabulary of everyday life. Words that didn't come up in the courtship period will start popping up all over the place. Like they call all vacuum cleaners "hoovers" and outside trash cans "wheelie bins" and spell car tire with a "y"- tyre. Shortly after I arrived my husband asked if I'd gotten a rubber for my pre-teen's pencil bag. I thought, "wow. I knew it was more secular and progressive here, but I'm surprised they need condoms for school." Of course he meant an eraser... 

And I'm not sure what the household chores will look like when married to a prince, but sometimes here I feel a little like I'm living in the Little House on the Prairie. It's a different pace of life with a smaller environmental footprint. I'm still getting used to seeing laundry hanging out on a line in my backyard. 

Ron Weasley the rabbit enjoying our "garden" last fall.

Ron Weasley the rabbit enjoying our "garden" last fall.

Which btw I should call a back garden. A yard is paved. A garden is the green behind your house. And you might grow vegetables in an allotment. Or the palace might have a vegetable patch they'll allow you to use on the grounds. But anyway. 

In the beginning all these small differences might start to add up to make you feel a little alien. When you have to learn 5 new things just to go the grocery store by yourself, you might start to feel overwhelmed. Or you might have servants to go shopping for you... I'm not sure how it works when you're royalty. But for me, I did find myself starting to feel frustrated with the sheer amount of small things I didn't know. Things that I might have found interesting or endearing as a tourist, made me feel foreign and incompetent as a new resident. I can't tell you how many times I've thought, "it never would have occurred to me to..." For example, I tried for days to figure out how to lock our back door before I asked my husband. You lift the handle up. Ah. It never would have occurred to me to lift the handle up! 

These might seem like small things to point out just after you've made such a large move. And they are. But these small things can contribute to real culture shock. And so when the honeymoon finishes, and your life begins here in earnest, and it sinks in that you've left your community, your career, and even your country- remember that you are not foreign to yourself. Everything around you will be slightly different, which might leave you feeling disorientated. Like you don't know who you are. In those moments, try to remember that you are the same person you were before- you just need to find a way to manifest that self in your new surroundings. 

Shortly after we moved here, my pre-teen with the rubber in her pencil case started to mourn the loss of her identity at her old school. She said everyone knew her at the old school, and here she felt like play dough that had been smushed back into the can. She'd lost her shape. Her sentiment was both heartbreaking and familiar to me. Because I knew how she felt. And hearing her put into words how I was feeling, helped me. 

Recently I had a 90 day review at work. My boss wrote under my strengths, "A genuinely strong desire to see others succeed before herself." And I started to cry. Right in the middle of the review. Because I hadn't been sure how people were seeing me here really. What shape I was presenting. When I read those words, I knew that somehow I had been displaying what was important to me all along. I might have been smushed into a slightly different shape, but I am still made of the same stuff. 

Any new life change can be hard. A new home, a new marriage, a new job. When you have all that at once and add a new country, it can be really disorientating. That's not to downplay for a minute all the wonderful things and the new opportunities and the happiness of our love stories. But I want you to know if you start to lose yourself a bit, I've been there too. And it does get better. Writing this blog today in fact is a step for me in finding my voice again. Opening back up my play dough can. Reminding me that I have always formed my best shapes through sharing with others. That's who I am.

So I wish you all the best this beautiful life can offer. And if you'd like to form an American expat wives club, I will graciously offer to host. 

Warmly, 

Angel 

 

 

 

 

Must be an American

Sitting in JFK a few hours from boarding a plane to move to England. The last few days as I've packed up all my belongings, I couldn't stop a flood of emotions and thoughts about my American identity and who I'll be (and how I'll be seen) when I'm no longer living in America.

I visited England for the first time in December of 1992. I have a vivid memory of attending a holiday service in a beautiful old church in Cambridge. A woman was walking around near the worship area with a video camera. (In 1992 those were bulky and conspicuous) A lady sitting in front of me said in a disdainful tone, “she must be an American.” I immediately slid down in the pew, lowered my head and made sure to not speak so my accent wouldn't betray me. 

I’m not sure what message was delivered from the pulpit that day. But the message my 18-year-old self received then was that being an American was something to be embarrassed about…that my people were unrefined and out of place in such a dignified setting. Who knows if the woman in the church with the camera was American. And certainly that judge-y woman was not the best representative of the English... But I did carry that insecurity about how people (especially maybe educated, fancy people) see Americans. 

Fast forward 25 years, and I now find myself moving to England and married to a British citizen. The same one I visited 25 years ago. But that’s a different story. This is the story of me leaving my homeland. And my feelings about it. 

I know sometimes Americans are a seen as a joke. I remember backpacking through Europe and meeting Americans who had put Canadian Flags on their bags so people would like them more... And truthfully, I’m not always proud of American policies and practices. And some of our history is indefensible. Sadly, I’m certain future politicians will make mistakes as well. But my story is distinctly an American one. Good, bad and ugly. I am who I am today because of my American upbringing and lifestyle. 

I am the granddaughter of Appalachian people from West Virginia and Kentucky who moved to Ohio for industrial jobs. My grandparents married in their teens. As a child, I watched my paternal grandfather struggle with his own racism when my father married an African-American woman. I watched my maternal grandmother dance to Rocky Top on top of the bar in the bowling alley lounge. I grew up in a rental community in Ohio’s most dangerous city. I played t-ball. I went to vacation bible school and church camp every summer. I was a girl scout. As a teen, my social life revolved around Youth Group and Marching Band. I took family vacations in cars to the Smokey Mountains and DisneyWorld. 

I was the first in my family to graduate from college. My dad retired from the Air Force. My first husband was a Marine. I taught high school near Yorktown, Virginia. I taught English to international students in LA. I opened my own business in Alabama. I was a PTA President and a Business Coach of the Year. I shuttled kids to play dates and after school activities. I started a somewhat self indulgent blog… 

I love country music. And Bon Jovi and Madonna. My favorite holidays are the 4th of July and Halloween. I believe you can make your dreams come true. I was taught to stand up for what you believe in and to fight injustice anywhere. And like my American idol, Dolly Parton, I know it’s okay to have a big, flashy personality if you have a big heart and generous spirit to go with it. 

So after reflection, my 43-year-old self has internalized a new message. I'm not leaving my identity behind at all. I'm taking my Appalachian ancestors and their dreams with me. I'm representing my people and forging a new future for myself. I'm engaging with the world the way I was brought up to- with curiosity and hope. And if I overhear someone in a my new hometown of Manchester referring to me with a, “she must be an American”, I am going to hold my head up high and say proudly, “she is…” 

IMG_2792.jpg

My We the People

I became an American in Nagasaki, Japan. Well, not literally. I was literally born an American in 1974. But 23 years later, teaching English in Nagasaki, Japan, I found my American identity. I felt connected for the first time to the larger collective. The We the People. 

Prior to living in Nagasaki, my identity was tied to more local groups. Schools and church and family and friends. I do think I was proud to be from Ohio (Go Bucks!), but as a recent college grad who enjoyed feeling righteously indignant, when I thought or talked about "America" at all, it was most often to go on about what was wrong with it. And then I moved to a city our country had destroyed with an atomic bomb. 

Everyone there has a story about August 9, 1945. I will never forget the one the man in the picture below shared with me. He was a student in one of my classes. After he retired, he had decided to learn English. Because he loved America. And he had scars all over his back from flying glass blown out of windows in the blast radius outside of where everything had been obliterated. And he told me how after the bomb, his family hid in the mountains fearing the American troops coming into the city. Expecting the brutal treatment they knew conquering Japanese troops to inflict on their enemies. Instead, they were met with kindness (and chocolate!) by the American soldiers. In those first days after the bombing and in the rebuilding. I could hear his genuine affection for those American soldiers. And I was proud. The arguments about what my government had done and why fell away. In that moment, those soldiers from 52 years earlier became my we the people. I was proud on behalf of their actions. My American identity was born. 

And I've carried that with me for the last 20 years. That sense that I belong to a nation of good people with kind soldiers. And I've tried to be that kind of American. A kind one. 

After this election, listening to our new President's hateful rhetoric, I felt despondent. Untethered in a way that was surprising to me. It wasn't just that my candidate lost. That has happened before. This was not about policy disagreement. I felt like my American identity was being challenged. Because he did not represent me. Or the good people I thought made up our country.

 Apparently there are many, many people in America who have felt for years "forgotten." Like the government didn't represent them. Well now I know that to be a horrible feeling. To feel like you don't belong to our We the People. To feel unrepresented. It is disheartening. Luckily for me, the feeling didn't last long... 

me with two of the kindest Americans I know. At the Women's March in Birmingham, Alabama 

me with two of the kindest Americans I know. At the Women's March in Birmingham, Alabama 

There have been a lot of "Why I Marched" posts this last week. I honestly don't know exactly why I marched. I wasn't going to. I had a lot of things to do that day. But that morning I felt called to go. I asked my Dad to cover driving and picking up my girls to their events that day, and I set off on an hour and half journey to Birmingham about an hour and a half before the rally was set to start. So I don't know exactly Why I marched. But I do know why I am glad I marched. I found again my We the People.

The park outside of the Civil Rights Museum was packed with the biggest, most diverse crowd I've ever seen in Alabama. Apparently there were 5,000 marchers. They had been expecting a couple hundred. And it was a joyous day. I overheard someone say, "we're just preaching to the choir." Yes. Yes, we were. But sometimes you need to do that. Sometimes you need to see how big and beautiful your choir is. And how diverse. That day in Birmingham, and in photos from marches all over the world, I found again that I am part of a bigger collective. I do belong, and I am represented. But not by politicians. Because politicians and governments should reflect our We the People (and we should fight to make sure they do!), but they are not our We the People. I am represented by all the good people and each action they take to make our world a better place. 

I no longer feel untethered and unrepresented. My We the People are the Woman Marchers all over the world. My We the People are those who believe Black Lives Matter. My We the People are those who speak up for the rights of our LGBTQ friends. My We the People care about immigrants and refugees. My We the People want to take care of our planet. My We the People believe in science and in facts. My We the People value diversity. My We the People respect all religious beliefs. My We the People bring chocolate. My We the People are kind. And My We the People are a mighty number...