Fighters and…

This has been a drastic year for me in many ways.

1) I began it by knowing I would lose my job of 5 years.

2) I applied to school in a foreign country after already moving out of my home and divorcing my husband, leaving my son in his home because I feared dragging him through all the upheaval of my life.

3) I started a new degree, one which I never would have considered applying for except that in doing so I read about the cognitive science classes connected to music at that university, and that was a passion I had, but so very recently, discovered in myself.

4) I moved from my homeland.

5) I lost a friendship I worked patiently for five years to build.

6) I joined new choirs and watched the other choirs I was attached to through social media while I grieved missing those communities.

7) I went to other countries and made plans for my future.

8) I began a new relationship.

9) I wrote a thesis.

10) I lost my mother quite suddenly.

11) I learned a lot of new things, foreign languages and customs being quite the least of it.

This year has been a season of turmoil amidst a placid background.  I say placid because while all of these life-changes took place, the stillness of Amsterdam formed a strange and subtle counter-point to all that rearrangement.  It’s a quiet place for all its bustling population.  The stores all close at 5 except for the grocery stores, and nothing is open on Sundays.  Schools begin at 9 and end at 2.  Most of the women in the Netherlands are employed on a part-time basis.  The lifestyle is much slower than an American one, and wandering the city became a pastime of observing how people were simply happy to live their lives…

Which I’ll confess had a newness to me that I only recognized after being immersed in it for long stretches of time.

When I went to Germany I was stunned even further at the extreme quietness of the people there.  I sat for hours on a couch at a party talking to a man who was in his fifties which means he was born in the 60’s.  He spoke of growing up in Germany during that time and something he said has been resonating with me since that conversation so many months ago, “We grew up feeling like public enemy no. 1 to the world.  As if we were to blame and should pay for all the suffering in the world.”  He spoke to me of so many things, asked after my thesis, wanted to connect, and that was something else I found going to the Netherlands.  There were no false connections that I built.  Americans have learned to hold the world at arm’s length and give their entire acquaintance lip-service into the bargain in terms of intimacy, but the Dutch and the Germans (of my limited experience and acquaintance) are not like that at all.  If they build relationships with you, they really care about you, and up until this time, I had rarely received that kind of gentleness from anyone outside my family save for my dear friend, Natalie and my church choir at Emmaus (who have stunned me over and over again with their genuine love).  In a foreign land it was quite a shock to have all these people want to drive me home from rehearsal, call me to make sure I was alright when Bart left for 2 weeks to train people, or call just to see if I was doing well in this new culture.

It was so strange.  I traveled from a rather small city– Kenosha is only 100,000 people– in which I had been mugged twice and had people forget that I exist, to an international metropolis and found a group of people who not only held their arms open to me, but these relative strangers genuinely wanted to see me succeed.  I was always stunned at rehearsals when people would ask about my studies, my grades, what I wanted to do with my life, how I came into music, and how I could possibly have learned to speak Dutch so quickly.  I admit that amidst the Germans I seem outspoken, but among the Dutch I seem quiet, and I learned (very early on) that the Dutch value shy people in a way that Americans don’t.

As a child I was never shy about interacting with my teachers in terms of my academics.  My fears of people were often swept aside by my curiosity or my wishes to learn more about something (or question my profs sources), but my fears of others were quite beyond my powers to circumvent with my peers for the longest time in my life.  And so I was the quiet and very standoffish girl who rarely if ever spoke except to answer questions or ask them in class.  That kind of shyness has no place in the culture I was born to, but in the Netherlands you don’t have to be the first to speak to make friends, and being a native speaker of English I came to be valued, also, as the person to check papers against.  My new colleagues in the degree began giving me their papers to read and double-check or to ask about grammar and such.  In these ways I came to have many more friends because one-to-one I have no trouble speaking to people.  Plop me in a crowd and you’ll see me shut-up really quickly…

And, strangely enough, that’s mostly because I love listening to others so much, but that, too, is one of those invisible traits that one can only see if they know you really well.

I grew up in a land in which we get to know and even “friend” thousands of people on such a superficial level that few people if any know that my silences are from both curiosity and fear, though no longer equal parts.  It used to be that my silence in company was the greater portion of fear.  That’s hardly ever the case now, but crowds are still (very often) too much for me to be happy in for long.  And that’s okay.  I like going out with people singly or in groups like 3 or 4.  I like small get-togethers and times when we can just talk, but I grew up in a culture that believes in parties and shin-digs and where people are so busy that it’s just simpler to get together with 20 humans than it is to get together with 2.

This year was hard on me in many ways.  Having dropped off my son with his father for a short time before I take him again for our road-trip to Montana it feels so lonely not to have him around.  I’ve truly treasured the time I got to be with him this summer and I know I’ll go through a tough time going back to the Netherlands without his little voice asking me so many things and his tiny frame to snuggle with while we watch movies or read books.  But I committed to this, and I have to face a terrible truth that really came home to roost with me this summer.

My “home” is the Netherlands, Amsterdam, to be more precise, and my son, for now, doesn’t live there.  One can make all the fine plans one wants, but I know that it may never come to pass (yet another of my fears) that he won’t ever live there with me for any amount of time.

But I’ll hope and I’ll pray, and I’ll continue on this (hahaha) brave course I’ve settled on, with so much fear in my heart it nearly chokes me writing this.

I’m not a brave person, or strong.  I don’t view my actions as those things because I see my choices as serving me in the long and short-term and I’m trusting to God that they’ll serve my son as well.  But then again, that’s all a parent really hopes for in their decisions, isn’t it?  From styles of discipline to brands of diapers we can only pray that we’ve chosen what’s right both for the individual soul we care for and for ourselves as well.

I think of my mother and father a lot now that my thesis is off my shoulders and my plate.  I think of their parenting choices regarding me, and I think some of the loneliness that creeps into my heart at these times is knowing that they did understand me, and they were two people whose understanding I cannot replace as I have so few people in my life who ever made the commitment to give that.  It matters to me to be understood (though I confess to making it dashed hard to be understood given my silence and stoic tendencies) because aside from acceptance it is really one of the only things I care to have from people.

One thing I know for certain: I have it from my son, and he has it from me.  Perhaps that, our love for each other, and the magic of today’s technology will make all the difference in his life.  Those are chapters waiting to be witnessed and written in his future.  I hope an international education will serve him well, and I think that we’ll both be okay.  And I know I can always rearrange my life again if we’re not.  Perhaps that’s the best thing I learned from this year.

Change is a choice that we either make, or we don’t, but it’s always there waiting to be made if we find ourselves somewhere we don’t want to be.

I’m a lover and not a fighter.  I grab the “peacemaker” hat whenever possible in all my relationships.  People call me brave/strong, but I know my heart for one filled with a lot of fear, and my fears are not about failure.  They’re about losing the people I love or about hurting them.  But I’ve learned to face loss, too, and live with the sobering lines it paints in one’s life.  Loss has a way of teaching a person about gratefulness, about the decision to deal gently and kindly with the lives attached to ours, as well as the all-powerful hand of time to which humanity may only bow and say, “Yes.”  Watching my son deal with the loss of his Nana has taught me a lot about a child’s view of the world because I was too young to know what it looked like in my life.  I lost my father when I was 15, my god-father when I was 12, but prior to that I had no conception of these life-altering losses.  Watching my 5-year-old deal with it is something else and helping him put names to anger and frustration, to pain and that gut-wrenching suffering that adults deal with, but children can neither fathom nor explain, though they definitely experience it, is helping me learn something else that I am more than grateful to have in my life.



~ by Rebecca Erickson on August 19, 2012.

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