Notes on the Journey

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Finding a Sense of Comfort

I'm finding my adjustment to my new life and new language in Uzes, France to be interesting and challenging in ways that were/are unexpected.  Why anything should be expected in this transition, since so much is an unknown, is a mystery.  But, the mind loves to create expectations based on past experience.  So, I just keep crashing through expectation after expectation.  And, my mind, relentless tool that it is, just keeps setting them up over and over again.

I've only been here a month, but time is such a relative thing.  This month feels like forever and no time at all.  I have to keep reminding myself that I've only been here a month when I'm not able to understand what's said to me in French, and when I'm not able to say what I want to say without struggling.  I've done pretty well for only a month.  I've also had an amazing amount of help from one kind and generous person after another, without any of whom life would have been so much more difficult.

Moving to a foreign country and immersing oneself in a new culture, language and way of life is a challenge any way you look at it.  Things are encountered that one can't possibly have prepared for or known about.  And, even in a first-world, Western-culture country such as France, the differences are many and basic and require an inordinate amount of adjustment.  But, I'm finding my way.  I'm making new friends.  I'm getting done what needs to get done.  I'm starting to feel comfortable.

When I first got here, just walking out my door to do the most basic of functions carried a certain amount of anxiety.  There was, and still is, so much to figure out.  But, bit by bit, things become familiar.  Ways of doing things are shown or figured out.  The processes of daily life reveal themselves.  Little things, like going to the Post Office, become less and less mysterious.  People speaking to me in French are starting to make sense, at least partially, with every word I hear.  Repetition is a wonderful teacher.

The telephone is still a major challenge, but I'm getting better at it.  Sometimes, I have to call a number many times and listen to the voice prompts over and over and over before they start to make sense and I can choose the right prompts to get where I need to get and do what I need to do.  I have to ask people to speak slowly and simply to help me understand.  I still need help translating things.  I am a child in this language and this culture, and I must be comfortable with that.

I am starting French conversation classes at the local Universite Populaire on March 11, after the ski holiday is over.  And, I'm hoping to find another French class so that I have at least two a week.  The focus and support of regular classes will help a lot.  Along with hearing and using French every day, plus reading it in endless instances out of utter necessity, will all push me forward to greater fluency and comfort in my new language.

I have not bought a car and am not driving yet, but that will come in its own time.  I find that my life is much slower and more simple without a car, and I get a lot more exercise because I do a lot of walking.  Endless thanks go out to my friend, Geoffrey, who drives me if I need to go somewhere farther afield; and, endless thanks also go out to my friend, Debby, who allows Geoffrey to drive her car--which we call The Tardis--while she is not here.  We call the car The Tardis--a reference to the Dr. Who TV series--for its ability to hold so much more than one might expect it to.  We've gotten amazing amounts of things into the back of the car.

This is a quiet place and I sleep much better here than I did in the U.S.  I sleep deeply and have started dreaming in a way that I wasn't previously.  I am more calm and am constantly nurtured by the beauty that surrounds me at all times.  I'm starting to feel a rhythm and a balance to life here that is very reassuring and supportive.  I am opening more and more to this place as it opens more and more to me, and I'm feeling a sense of deep peace as the days go by.

This move hasn't been easy by any stretch of the imagination, and I know I have challenges to overcome that are yet to be revealed, but it's been worth everything it took to get here.  I have no regrets for leaving and only gratitude for where I am and the life that is unfolding around me.  No matter what Life calls you to, or what the challenges that might be required to get there, know that it will be worth it.  Say "yes" and jump in.  Answer the call.    

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ode to Geoffrey, and the Basis of Trust

A friend of mine posted a quote on Facebook last week that struck me to my core.  I will repeat it here, because it deserves repeating.

"We cannot train our babies not to need us.  Whether it's the middle of the day or the middle of the night, their needs are real and valid, including the simple need for human touch.  A 'trained' baby may give up on his needs being met, but the need is still there, just not the trust."  --L.R. Knost,

Wow...  Such understanding and compassion, at a very deep level.  And, so far-reaching in its implication in our lives.

I was born to two young high school students who, wisely, made the decision to give me up at birth and allow me to be adopted.  I spent the first seven weeks of life alone in a crib in a home for unwed mothers.  What I remember of that time--yes, babies do remember--is being cold and confused and that the light was too bright; that there were others around, but more at a distance.  Seven weeks of my needs being met in only the most basic of ways; no loving touch or caring physical contact.

I was adopted by parents who were desperate for a child, and who wanted to raise their child "correctly."  I was their first child, and they turned to the advice and information given by Benjamin Spock in a book called "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care."  It was a very popular book in the 1950's, and there might be some very good advice in that book, I don't know.  But, there was some advice that my parents followed that was detrimental, especially for a child such as myself, who had developed trust issues from birth.

For the first three years of my life, my mother would put me to bed and then sit with me and stroke my head until I fell asleep.  But, at three, it was decided that I had to learn to fall asleep on my own and the bedtime communion with my mother would stop...cold turkey.  So, she would put me to bed and then walk away and leave me alone to find sleep on my own.  This is what Benjamin Spock supposedly said to do in his book, according to my mother, who told me about it later.

This sudden abandonment at bedtime created confusion and anger.  I would scream for hours before tiring myself and finally falling asleep.  According to my mother, Benjamin Spock also said to leave the child alone and let them cry and that they'd get over it.  So, my parents would sit in the living room, listening to me scream, and will themselves to ignore me.  After a certain amount of days, I became trained to the new normal of being left alone at bed time.  The screaming stopped.  But, the sense of abandonment and confusion did not.  I was simply trained to realize that my needs at that time, and in that situation, were not going to be met.

We are trained from a young age to accept that many of our needs will not be met.  We're ignored and pushed aside in our own needs in order to fulfill the needs of our parents and other caretakers.  It ends up being more about what the caretaker wants than what the child wants and is trying to communicate in order to have their needs met.  And, it happens throughout our lives.  We do this to each other all the time.  We might state that we want a certain thing, or need a certain thing, and our partner or friend will say back to us, "You don't need that.  Here, have this instead."  Or, "You don't really want that, what you want is this."  Or, the actions of others often very clearly state that our needs or wants are unimportant to them.  They are so clearly focused on meeting their own needs or wants, that ours are pushed to the side, and we are forced to abandon them or to compromise them.

I have spent a large portion of my life listening to other people tell me what I want or don't want, what I need or don't need.  Sometimes I would listen or compromise, sometimes I would walk away.  But, it's difficult to ignore those with whom one is in relationship.  And, it would often take me many years to realize the depth to which I had compromised myself, my wants and my needs.  Most of our patterns are set when we are very young, and this pattern for me has perpetuated itself for long enough.

My friend, Geoffrey, who has been driving me around and helping me because I do not yet have a car of my own in my new home of Uzes, France, is outside this pattern.  I realize that one of the reasons my whole process of going through what needs to be accomplished to establish myself here and meet my needs in this new place, is that Geoffrey has never superseded my needs with his own.  He has never tried to talk me out of anything I've needed to do or to buy, or to convince me that something other than what I want would be better.  He has consistently done what he said he would do in a completely supportive and accepting manner.  He has gone out of his way to help me meet my needs.  This is a rare occurrence in my life.  His gift of selflessness in this first week of my birth into a new place and culture has helped me to feel more at home here than I normally feel anywhere.  He has made me feel accepted and respected in a way that touches me deeply.  And, I now see that a pattern of distrust and unmet needs is finally able to be dismantled and set aside.

Our lives are filled with angels, some we recognize and some we don't.  Some receive our gratitude and some we take for granted.  Some help us in ways we can see and understand, and others help us in ways that are impossible to comprehend.  But, they are there.  Geoffrey is one of my angels.  He is lifting me up in simple yet profound ways, for which I shall forever be grateful.  He is helping me into awareness and assisting me in transforming a destructive pattern that I have carried from birth.  Because of his friendship, I am forever changed for the better.  And, he is simply being who he is.  I don't think he has any conscious idea of how impactful his presence and friendship with me has been and continues to be.

We often don't realize how important it is to really show up for each other; to listen to each other, respect each other, and accept each other.  The gift of really seeing each other and supporting each other in our journeys, instead of trying to affect or overrun each other's journeys, is a gift beyond measure.  Being able to see, accept and support another in their journey and their choices, even when that journey and those choices differ from ones we would make for ourselves, is a deep lesson that is ongoing day by day.  Life has sent me an angel and teacher in this very important lesson, in my friend, Geoffrey.  And so, I find myself yet again, on my knees in gratitude.