Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Compromise of Living

Last night in America

Around February, the Man and I made a bit of a drastic decision. Aching with wanderlust, and encouraged by our professors, we decided to uproot our lives, and relocate to China for a year. Four months later, we bid goodbye to our friends and families, and hopped on a plane.


What madness. What fun!

This is not to say it was easy. We had great things going for us, in our little hometown. A (far too) large house, a well paying academic position, a blossoming new business, married friends, moving friends, aging families, babies... but it was not forever. As my grandma stated wisely a few days before I left, "A year is a long time, but a year isn't very long." Those people and things would all be waiting for us when we returned.

Our first few months in China were breathless, quick, and invigorating. The Man had never left the country before, and I was able to return to a city I loved so much. Soon the merry-go-round slowed down, and we were able to take a breath, look around, and assess the situation calmly. This is when I began to miss our life.

After a failed job, I was unemployed, with no prospects. I began to miss, keenly, the business of my own I left behind.

We watched in awe from afar as the baby girl, born shortly before I came to China the first time, began to talk and dance and grow out her hair.

My best friend got engaged, but her wedding was scheduled for before I got back.

These things are all normal. Life goes on, and sometimes it goes on quickly, especially when you are young. The lives of you and your friends change in ways you always imagined they would, but never so soon. Life seldom waits for you to be ready to move forward. Being half a world away just made the speed that much more difficult. Yes, life would be there waiting for us when we returned, but it would not be the same life we left. How could it be? We were certainly not going to come back unchanged.

For a while, the changes ached. I loved the sweet girl we left, but certainly she could stay a baby a little while longer? Surely I could somehow be two places at once, and enjoy my friend's wedding and enjoy my life abroad?

Well, no. There is nothing for it, but to send your love from afar, and live where you are. Our friends and families miss us too, they wish we were there, but they also accept that we can't be just yet, and they are carrying on with their lives too.

It takes a special kind of courage to accept that you can't do everything. You have to trust that you have chosen to have the experience that is right for you. The other things happening aren't better or worse, necessarily, just different. You miss the baby saying her first words, but the next time you can see her, she'll be able to tell you a story. You might miss the business of the Christmas season, because you can't sell things all the way from China, but next year you'll be back with two years of inventory and experience. Life will have moved on...but it will still be your life.

And sometimes, you don't have to wish you'd never decided to come. Sometimes the local government is difficult, and you can't get another visa, so you will be there when your best friend walks down the aisle after all. You'll see the baby turn two.

Living abroad has taught me that life will go on without me. More importantly, I must keep living too. Sure I'm missing those great Friday night dinners with my friends, but in exchange, I can go to the Bund and sip coffee in a cafe overlooking the river. I can go to art shows, eat authentic Xinjiang cuisine at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and pay pennies to do so. Mourning the events you have missed is okay, for a time. When you're done, though, you have to look at the life you have chosen, and congratulate yourself for being brave enough to follow through with your dreams. No one else has stopped their lives to wait for you. Don't stop your own life for missing them.

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