What this is about.

This was going to be a post about how, after nearly four years living abroad, my husband and I made the decision to return to the United States. That was in October.

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Ok, so we got a little bit of sun…

Then, in November, this was going to be about our last European adventure: our holiday to Spain and our unsuccessful search for the sun on the famed Costa del Sol.

In December, this was going to be a post about the start of our transition, of spending the Christmas holidays in Boston and getting used to the idea of our return.

By January, this was going to be about farewells, and packing, and reflecting on what we would miss. Oh, and checking things off our Amsterdam Bucket List.

Come February, I could have written about unpacking, readjusting to our house and neighborhood, reconnecting with friends, and rediscovering Boston.

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First time at the Massachusetts State House

March would have brought some variety and excitement. In the middle of our job searches, we took a vacation from this “vacation” and made a quick trip to London and Amsterdam.

And here it is, suddenly, unbelievably, April, and I haven’t told you about any of those things, really.

In the throes of so much change, thinking about this transition–to say nothing of writing about it–has felt like a luxury. Or maybe it’s just hard to reflect on something while you’re still in it. I’ll just say that there is much that is good about being back in Boston. But there is also much I miss about Amsterdam and the life we built there. To borrow a metaphor, I’m in the hallway. We closed one door behind us (for now), and the next door hasn’t opened yet. So I’m hanging out in the hallway, looking for the door, turning knobs, and trying not to let the search distract me from whatever fun and beauty might be lurking in this liminal space.

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Seeking new landscapes AND having new eyes.

(With apologies to Marcel Proust for both stealing and butchering his quote.)

One of the remarkable things about the south of France is how effortlessly beautiful everything seems to be. When I left my apartment in the morning and walked to the Institut, I was greeted with a clear sky over Villefranche, the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean, the smell of jasmine.

Another beautiful day in Villefranche...

Another beautiful day in Villefranche…

You didn’t have to look hard to find something spectacular.  And, to our credit, I don’t think any of us took that for granted.  Not a day went by without someone commenting on the view, the weather, or the easy beauty of our temporary home.

Needless to say, it’s a bit more challenging to find that kind of beauty once you’re back in your everyday surroundings. Familiarity may not necessarily breed contempt in this case, but neither does it lend itself to breathtaking moments.

I have to look a little harder, and be more creative, and make an effort to uncover and encounter what is beautiful here at home.  I know, it’s not like I live in the middle of nowhere.  I’m fortunate to be in a major city (at least by some standards) that is lovely and historic and hosts over 12 million visitors a year.  Those people are coming here for a reason, right?

So for the past week, I’ve been doing my best to put myself in proximity to the beautiful things around me. I’ve done this in two ways. First, I’m opting to do everyday activities in nicer settings. Instead of my usual run on the paved streets of my suburban neighborhood, I’ve hit the trails in the Middlesex Fells.  I’ve taken long walks in Breakheart Reservation and around Lake Quannapowit. I’ve strolled around Boston and explored the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Later this week I’ll go biking in Concord and get to Walden Pond for a much-needed swim. Some of these places are a bit out of the way, but I’m well-rewarded for the effort.

The other, harder, part of the equation is to try to find the beauty right in front of me, in the seemingly ordinary things that I see everyday.  Harder because it requires me to take off my rose (rosé?) colored glasses and stop comparing everything to France. Harder because it calls for a mindfulness and attentiveness that is difficult to muster, and more difficult to maintain.

So that’s the challenge before me, as I try to transplant the wonder I felt in France to the lovely things in my own backyard.

Welcome home

This is the actual conversation I had with the Very Serious Border Control Agent at Logan Airport on Sunday night:

VSBCA: Where are you coming from?

Me: I just arrived on a flight from London but I’ve been in France for a month.

VSBCA: What were you doing in France?

Me: I was completing an intensive language immersion program.

VSBCA: The French language?

And…with that, I was back in the USA!  I didn’t want to spend my night in a windowless interrogation room, so I thought it best NOT to offer a snarky response about how I was actually learning Mandarin but I just couldn’t resist the lure of the south of France in the summer.

It's not Nice, but it's not without its charms...

It’s not Nice, but it’s not without its charms…

The past few days have been a bit of a whirlwind – some dear friends are staying with us and they arrived in Boston only a few hours before I did.  I unpacked quickly and still have a lot of little things to clean up.  Laundry has been done, photos organized and shared.  I’m keeping my tourist mentality and putting it to use closer to home, enjoying some relaxing time in downtown Boston.

The challenge for me now is the same one I’ve faced many times before: how do I integrate what I’ve learned and what I experienced into my “normal” life?  If past performance is any indicator, this is not something at which I excel.  I have a tendency to hold on to the memory of an experience, and to attempt to relive it, or memorialize it.

As I wrote that, I heard the voice of a high school theology teacher, reminding us that, “If something doesn’t grow, it dies”.  That’s the trick here; twofold, in this case.  First, there is the very practical challenge of continuing to develop my French skills.  I feel like I have good plans in place, but I need to be aggressive in carrying them out, and dedicate time for studying.  (It helps that it’s Tour de France time; I’ve been listening to race updates and commentary en français thanks to the RTL Tour podcasts.)

The other challenge is to continue to build the relationships that I was so fortunate to make while in Villefranche. The intensity of the program and the shared experience lends itself to fast friendships, but I know that there were more lasting bonds created.  That said, we all know firsthand how our best intentions fall away in the face of the rush and busyness of everyday life.  So much as I’ll do with my studying, I will be intentional in continuing to grow these friendships.

I know it’s only July, but I can’t help but think of a favorite poem that I re-read at the start of each new year. “…I’m going to stay alert, reach out…I’m going to practice every day…”.  Oh, just go read the whole thing.  I promise it’s worth the click.

Boston, recovering

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The Christian Science Center, taken on the morning of Marathon Monday, 15 April 2013.

The Christian Science Center, taken on the morning of Marathon Monday, 15 April 2013.

I took this photo on my way to Fenway Park on a beautiful spring morning, just hours before bombs exploded at the Marathon finish line.  Earlier today, on Boylston Street, I saw a city coming back to life.  Nothing is forgotten – the memorial from the barricade has been moved to Copley Square, and for a public space it is surprisingly quiet and reverent.

Viewing the memorial and being on Boylston St., I kept thinking of a lovely prayer that my college chaplain used to use, and that several clergy friends have invoked in the past weeks.  It is attributed to Henri-Frederic Amiel.

“Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be quick to love and make haste to be kind.”

It would be a shame if we were only moved to act in this way in the aftermath of tragedy.