Today I Freely Choose To Be Here Now

30 Aug

We didn’t have much of a choice when we moved to the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, three years ago this month. A ridiculous immigration system was kicking my partner out of his home of 10 years, and effectively taking me and our 7 week old daughter with him. Of course I could have stayed behind, but that wasn’t an option I was interested in. So I was going, but it felt like I was forced, like we were forced, like our life was all totally out of our control. If there’s any time in life when you’re aware of your total lack of control over your life, it’s when you first become a parent. Add being uprooted from your home to the mix and it’s a recipe for personal crises (yes, crisis plural).

When we arrived we had nothing but 5 bulging suitcases, a newborn, and a whole lot of faith in our love. We were lucky enough to have a home to arrive to, going to live with Conan’s mom, but it was still not quite our own home. Lots of things have greatly improved in our lives since then. We’ve far outgrown our 5 suitcases. Our newborn has turned into a preschooler who has a baby brother to boot. We have a car. We have our very own house. We finally have electricity in our house, complete with a refrigerator and washing machine. I have a full-time job that I enjoy. We don’t live with anyone’s parents, and we don’t live in a tiny town that we both hate. If that’s not progress, what is?

So we’ve moved up in the world and everything should be perfect now. Except it’s not. This week in particular I had a personal crisis that made me totally rethink and question where I want to be. And boy, was I pissed about it. How could I think about being somewhere else when finally our life is put together here? How could things be falling apart if everything’s finally great? I have a washing machine, for cripe’s sake! What could I be unhappy about now?

The problem is, progress isn’t what actually sustains us, right? “Moving up” in life can only mean so much, since life doesn’t appear to be some vertical venture. Despite having all the things I was sure would make my life great (and our car didn’t even break down this week), I was terribly, profoundly unhappy.

Partly I was unhappy because this whole time I’ve held onto my anger and helplessness at the injustice of us being forced to move down here at that moment. I’ve spent too much time visiting if-only land. If only we hadn’t moved here, we wouldn’t have this problem. If only x, life would be better. If only y, I’d be happy. Partly it’s that this time of year, full of anniversaries (our move, our first kiss, Lucia’s conception), makes me nostalgic and frustrated. I was clinging on to some happy, joyful memories, trying to cut and paste them into the present.

Five years ago, in the steaming hot months of August and September, Conan and I converted our friendship to something more. We went out for bike rides through Louisville’s beautiful parks. We went out for beers at all the microbreweries. We posted up on the back porch of my charming, cheap Victorian apartment and talked, for hours and hours and hours. We held hands at WorldFest, the fabulous festival of world cultures. We went to the farmers’ market, and I cooked us elaborate, local, vegetarian dishes that he devoured appreciatively. We went to friends’ parties and weddings and birthday celebrations. We ate Mexican fusion sushi and drank Vietnamese avocado milkshakes and decided on our favorite Indian buffet, among other culinary delights. We sipped bourbon on the front porch. We fell in love. Those places and activities epitomize what I love about my city, about my culture, about what I left behind. They remind me of moments, too, when my love for Conan was so uncomplicated, so easy, so perfect.

Nowadays nothing ever seems to be simple or easy. In theory I know that nothing stays the same, that you can’t return to the past. That love is a lot of work to maintain. That nothing is ever perfect. That the past wasn’t as easy breezy as it seems in hindsight. That Louisville is not utopia, and we’d just have a different set of problems there. I never did and never would love everything about my city and my culture. And while in the beginning of any relationship it can seem that everything is perfect about the other person and they way that you interact, that illusion of perfect can’t last, either. I know all these things, I do. And yet it doesn’t stop me from torturing myself, wondering how our lives would be if we could just go back. If we could have stayed. If we could return.

I did just return to Louisville for a visit, and I had to face the fact that our relationship to a city evolves while we’re away. Some things disappear, like our favorite Indian buffet. Some people who were central to your life there move away or pass on. Other things remain, but they’re not what they once were to you. Like Big Rock, my favorite spot in Cherokee Park. It used to be my spot to climb around and sit by the creek to think or talk. But this trip I could barely tear Lucia away from the playground area long enough to notice the creek, and we didn’t even climb up anything. My charming beloved apartment is still there, with the same weird neighbor who plays guitar horrendously. (Yep, I even have nostalgia for that.) But I don’t actually want to live in that apartment anymore. We payed a fortune to nearly freeze to death every winter! We had recurring mice attacks! All kinds of things were wrong with it, and, more importantly, it just wouldn’t suit me anymore. It’s not part of who I am now, even though for a good while it was the “perfect” place for me. My city’s changed, but I have changed, too.

So I know. We can’t go back to before. We can’t know what would have happened if we’d stayed. And we can’t know what will happen in the future, even if we’ve got it all planned out. We don’t have control, even if we think we do. I know. But living this knowledge, breathing it, feeling it when I’m stuck in an emotional crisis, is quite a different matter.

But today, suddenly, after days of walking around in a funk, in a daze of depression, I woke up and remembered who I am. I am a badass Kentucky girl, living in Mexico, raising children, trying to make some kind of tiny positive difference in the world, trying to find laughter and love in all kinds of places, rebelling from the system like always, albeit in different ways than before. I am my brave, wild-spirited, fiercely-loving Nonna’s granddaughter. I am my mama’s daughter. I am my dad’s daughter. (Two amazing spirits). I don’t need to freak out about what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go in the future, because regardless, I’ll make it work. I don’t need to worry about what other disasters will happen, because I’ll just deal with it. There will be good things and bad things and struggles and joys, and it’ll all be okay. Repeat after me: I am a badass, and I will be okay no matter what happens.

I woke up this morning and drank my lovely Oaxaca coffee and wrote my three “gratitudes” for the day, even though and especially because I had not been feeling so blessed. I did some yoga, and actually focused on my body, and noticed how wonderful and strong my body felt. I chose not to get upset or yell when Lucia woke up grumpy and freaking out about Cheerios and everything else possible. I put on Paul Simon, a makes-me-happy-from-lots-of-good-memories CD I inherited from my dad, and danced around my kitchen while I made breakfast, singing loudly and off-key. I decided to be happy. I decided to know that I am worthy and good just because. To feel it and breathe it in. To just be here, for now.

Because I know now that I can be here and have a good life. Or I could be in Louisville and have a good life. Or I could be in Timbuktu or somewhere, and somehow I will have a good life. It’s always going be a struggle of some sort or another. No place is perfect. Getting established, in terms of getting your physical and social needs met, finding furniture and friendships, is a process. But even if we started over again somewhere else, I now have a much better idea of how to incorporate and appreciate the things- the moments- that make life so worthwhile. I know, suddenly, finally, that I always have choices.

Even if the options don’t seem plausible, even though none of the options are ideal, I do have options. Of course they’re not ideal! Life’s really hard. And it’s also really great. It’s taken me three years of this exile with my partner to come to terms with it. To finally decide that this is my choice. We weren’t just victims of a messed up system. That’s only a partial truth. We did have other (less appealing, more difficult) options, and we chose this. I chose this. I’m here, so I might as well own it as my choice. Because the alternative is to keep resisting it. The alternative is to keep feeling angry, bitter, cheated. To wistfully romanticize the alternate life we could have had theoretically. And I don’t want that anymore.

Feeling free! If freedom's just another word for accepting that I don't have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Feeling free! If freedom’s just another word for accepting that I don’t have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Today, I made the choice to be here, just for now. Today, I decided not to ponder the effects of now on my future. Today, I decided not to lament what could have been. Today, I decided to trust myself and my feelings and my choices. Three years later, this is my true “progress.” Even though I don’t have control over all kinds of things in life, that doesn’t mean I’m a victim. This is my freedom- accepting my lack of control while acknowledging my inherent, universal worth as a human and my personal power over my life perspective. I won’t be happy all the time because of it, but I sure won’t be sad all the time, either. I am a badass, and I’ll be okay no matter what happens. Today I actively choose to be here, just for today. Tomorrow I can choose all over again.

2 Responses to “Today I Freely Choose To Be Here Now”

  1. Trude Scharff August 31, 2015 at 7:28 am #

    Yes, yes, and yes and bingo thank you…..needed your words so true…

    • exiletomexico August 31, 2015 at 9:05 am #

      So glad you could relate. I needed these words, too!

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