I bought new toothpaste today. It’s a small thing.
This post is about small things, which are big things in this murky water of change.
Slowly and all at once – I’m making/finding/feeling out a home here. I’ve been meaning to buy toothpaste. I had bought some when my travel sized toothpaste ran out in the first few weeks of being here. And now this week, the anniversary of living here for 6 months, I needed to buy more. A lovely serendipitous coincidence. And a small marker of that amorphous slippery being that is change (s/o to all the Octavia Butler I’ve been reading this year).
It is a small thing – but it’s the small things I’ve been noticing. Small things that were foreign and now feel (more) familiar.
I’ve noticed how uni and flat roll comfortably off my tongue — words that have never been part of my lexicon. ’Ich hätte gern’ isn’t usually so daunting to say. It used to make my heart race. Still, I give myself a mental high-five when I complete any simple interaction all auf Deutsch. I can order hummus and almost joke back when it’s clear to the guy my German isn’t so good but hey the attempted joking is all auf Deutsch. I knocked on the table at the end of my German class, while everyone else clapped. Knocking on tables is how it goes for the end of class in German Universities — maybe others too but certainly not U.S. universities and very alarming the first few times.
And these little things and a million more small things that are going from unknown to everyday have added up to 6 months. Not a long time but still enough time to feel a little less lost, a little more grounded.
I had the realization the other day that it is going to (I can already tell) feel weird to be back in the US. Cultural adjustment in all its glory is what I’m moving through. I know this intellectually & that I’m far from the only person who’s experienced this process. Every step of it here for me though is mine. I’m savoring it. Or I’m at a point where I can – so I am.
the cycle continues
Last week I had a few days in a row where I just felt full of joy. It was, perhaps, the happiest I’ve felt since moving. On my way home from Aquafitness (auf Deutsch) dancing down the street to music (auf Deutsch) I’m slowly starting to actually understand — I thought to myself, hell yeah, I’m doing this. Figuring it out. Schritt fur Schritt. Looking toward my 6-month mark – I thought I’m in a new phase of this transition/cultural adjust process. One that’s a little more grounded. Where I feel a little less lost.
Then a small actually insignificant comment sparked renewed insecurity about speaking German and wedged itself in my psyche the rest of the weekend.
This comment and actually making it to 6 months sparked some renewed sorrow. This cycle of ever intertwined joy & sorrow & peace & longing continues. And now every time I feel the ‘downward’ part of ‘it’ happening, I can see the signs and understand what’s coming a bit better. Each time is a little different. Not just a circle repeating, it comes in waves, each a bit different from the last. Crest and fall. And I have had a little more practice now in pulling myself back up from this particular kind of fall. And allowing myself to be moved by the current of friends, community, & grounding practices who lift me up, renew me when I can’t alone. Thank god for German learning pep talks from fellow-learners and some really kind folks who are German and willing to be patient with my learning. Thank god for remembering I’m never in this alone, though sometimes I feel lonely.
Over the weekend I was in contact with my advisor from undergrad. I had a question about the research I’m doing and also wanted to update her on things. Her response to my ramblings was “that’s the intrepid Mary I know!”
I’ve never seen myself as intrepid. Yet I’m seeing in my behavior that I am. A small tattoo on my inner right ankle is a permanent reminder to never stop taking risks (among other things). Through to this point in my life, I sure haven’t stopped. And this is the plan ever more.
Every time I do something that scares me, I remember I can move through fear and discomfort and not-knowing. I build this muscle of acknowledging ‘yes, I’m afraid and no it’s not going to stop me.’ Even if it does temporarily. Even if the first time I’m babbling like a baby and messing everything all the way up. Reflect. Try again. The cycle continues. Buy more toothpaste.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
by Wendell Berry