A gorgeous back patio in Brighton watching the sunset with a sleepy cat, this is where I am now. I’ve spent the entire day at the beach, and I’m in that pleasant moment of I’ve been in the sun but now I’m showered and lotioned and relaxed. One of my favourite kinds of moments. I don’t understand it, though, because I’m here, and my friends are elsewhere, several of them struggling with health or money or grief, and the ones who aren’t struggling are just not here, so I miss them. This weekend is a gift to myself, but I keep wanting to give it away, trying to invite others to come in. It can be hard to just be alone with so much, so much sunshine and seaside and good food. I met up with a friend recently in Oxford who hadn’t seen me in two years, and she said the change in me was amazing. I told her my life is nearly unrecognizable compared to what it was two years ago, and every day I’m in the UK is another day to be thankful for.
When I tell British people how much I love it here, they are surprised. What about the rain? What about Brexit? What about your family? And I do miss my family. My daughter came to visit in May, five weeks of spending much-needed time together hanging out in London and in my flat, doing girl stuff, our late-night talks long overdue. Then a cousin and her friends came for two weeks of playtime, then my dad and his partner came for three weeks and treated me to a whirlwind trip of a lifetime to Paris, Sweden, and Norway. Now they’re all back home, and I miss them and I miss the rest of my family, those who haven’t made it over yet… but… I also realize how much I’m changing and growing, and how much of that needs to happen away from the people who used to know me.
It’s not a new thing, the idea that people can pick up and reinvent themselves, but it falls into that category of something I’ve had to experience to understand. Sort of like when I find my way through a new city–I don’t get how it’s laid out until I walk it myself. Or when people say folks from a certain culture are this way or that, it doesn’t quite make sense to me until I meet someone from that culture and talk to them myself. Unless I read about these things in a novel, of course. And then if feels like déjà vu, as in, when I went to Norway recently and felt like I’d stepped into a worn copy of Lord of the Rings. The downside of all this is that I generally need to go through something myself in order to get it. I can’t really take someone else’s word for it, I’ve got to go through stuff, good and bad, and then I understand.
This thing of needing to experience the world is strange, though, because I also have a vivid imagination. Sometimes too vivid, I’ve begun to realize. After a challenging winter of very little sunshine and lots of rain (it is England, after all!), I started listening to meditations by Louise Hay, the positive affirmation goddess. Her take is that essentially, if you think differently, your life will become different. Of course, you have to work within practical limitations, but it’s amazing how, after repeating for three months this affirmation, ‘All my relationships are loving’, my relationships have actually changed. The ones that are loving have become more so, and the ones that aren’t have dropped away. And I immediately recognize any newcomers who are less than loving, so they don’t even get in the door, or at least, not very far and not for long.
I let go of a lot of relationships when I left the States, not because they weren’t loving or kind, but more because I wasn’t being my authentic self. At work, I had to hide my anxiety within a toxic, competitive environment. In my personal life, I had to stuff away my curiosity, my desire to see the world, to meet people and understand them in an intimate way, as an individual, not as a part of a couple or a family. Back in the States, I was someone’s wife or mother or daughter or colleague or neighbor, and instead of feeling supported, I felt stifled, trapped. Which is a terrible place to be if you actually love and care about all the people you feel you need to leave behind. I didn’t mean for it to be that way, but I had to strike out on my own to see who I am when I’m not someone’s this or that, when I’m just me for myself.
Two years ago, I had major surgery. It took weeks to recover. In fact, I left for my first long jaunt in the UK before I was fully recovered. I realized in a visceral way that my body had an expiration date, that no matter how well I cared for it, I wouldn’t always be able to walk five miles on a Saturday afternoon. Just last week, I walked five miles along the Cotswold Way, but today, I could barely do the two miles it took to get me down to the beach. My lower back ached, an old issue with my spine that may need surgery some day, but I told myself if I could walk at all, I was going to make it to the beach. And I did. And I’m so fucking grateful to have a body that will walk when I ask it to. For now. But I don’t want to live with fear. Or rather, I want to acknowledge the fear, and then let it go. Which is exactly what Louise Hay suggests every night when I fall asleep to her sweet voice. Maybe you’d like to take a listen some evening when you’re having trouble sliding into that lovely space where our dreams come to us…