Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's Not Like We're Crossing the Street This Time

Moving is probably not a dramatic event for everyone. I moved across the street as a kid. Not a big deal- kind of fun and weird actually, lugging boxes and a TV across the lawn, riding your bike out of one garage, down over the driveway lip and up over the curb of the next, into what was now your new garage.

My friend is building a new house a couple neighborhoods away. She's excited and looking forward to it, counting the days almost. I know someone that is moving from China to another country (not their home country) and they seem pretty jazzed about what they will be doing.

Most of the time when I tell people we are moving and then they start to gather from the slightly pained look on my face that this many not be something I am over the moon about, they say comforting things like,
"You'll make new friends!!" or,
"It's a whole new adventure!!" and,
"It will be such a great experience!!" or my favorite,
"They have Pandas there!!!"
And absolutely none of these things make me feel even one tiny ounce better. Because I know all those things already-- and I even believe them. It's the leaving part that is hard for me.

I never moved as a kid, aside from that stint across the street. So when I live in a place, I dig deep. My roots bear down and grab hold of whatever is there and hold, hold, hold. I have found life in three places now besides the town of my childhood, and I think I have thrived in those places because I was able to drink deeply from them. Leaving each one of them was hard and left a mark on me in places that spring up every now and again. And the places I loved are the people and the people are the places. It's the people that I'm leaving and that is what feels like the breaking.

I've rooted deep into people and they into me-- and though they may roll their eyes at the things I like to talk about and how every conversation can turn a bit too serious-- they have taken me seriously and we have lived life, heart and soul and dirty laundry, together.
So this leaving is not just an adventure.
Or a switch from one group of friends to another.
It is for me an uprooting.

The beautiful, even hopefuly thing about the painful tearing up of roots is that I believe they will dig deep again. It is a common phenomenon among expatriate (which often means transient) communities that after repeated uprootings (whether by you or the friends you keep making), you start to shrivel up. You don't let yourself get down there anymore in the dark, loamy soil. You stay up near the surface and maybe spread wide, but not as deep as you used to. I don't think I've lived here long enough to speak to the temptation to hold myself back. I'm not tempted quite yet to keep to myself because I'm tired of the root ripping. I believe in the importance of people, and the Grace to be able to live fully, wherever you are.

I know I'll dig deep in this new place that looms on our horizon.
I know it will be an adventure and that there will be new friends and that the ones I say goodbye to are not really lost or anything and that the new city may one day feel like home. 
But like I said, right now it is just the leaving.

Moving is not a dramatic event for everyone, I know that.
It just really is for me.


  1. As an expat who loves her new life in Hong Kong, I am taking notes as our assignment clock only has 12 more months!

  2. i had to chuckle, whenever i talk with your brother about how difficult it was as a child to move around so much and how i think it effected the way i now hesitate to dig deep (initially) or wince at the inevitable prospect of another uprooting and just loathing the leaving, he brings up moving across the street and compares the struggle to lighten the mood. Sometimes it works.

  3. I moved often as a kid. My fifth grade year it was 3 different schools. As an adult, I continue to move. I've been thinking about what you've written here - about expat's roots shriveling. I'm not sure I ever had roots. Isn't that sad? (Being a shy introvert probably doesn't help.) I noticed this most strongly the first time I visited my husband's hometown, where he had lived continuously from birth to 17 years. (He then became a nomad like me.) He had lifelong friends! A whole gang of them! I didn't know what to think of it, but I liked it. It is true for me that I don't put down roots, but with the planning of an upcoming pregnancy, (my first), I can't help but wonder how I should go about cultivating them in what will be a very mobile child - American mother, Spanish father, most likely born in Beijing, growing up who knows where... I've been reading many "expat mother" blogs recently, looking for clues and advice. I appreciate your words here and elsewhere on your blog.

    BTW - Are you moving to Beijing? If so, I'm happy to share clues and advice of my own.