Ein Jahr.

I’ve tried to write this post multiple times and have deleted them all. The menial words I have on my tongue could never fully explicate my thoughts and emotions. Incredible growth has sprouted from my roots – like it’s always been there, a seed within, waiting for the sunlight of experience for the little leaves to breech the surface. It’s been terrifying, exhilarating, surreal – I wouldn’t change a thing.

The year has flown by so fast. It makes me a little sad to think the following years will probably progress the same. I want to do everything now, now, now because what if I’m face to face with the end of my contract and I’ve not done everything? I’ve begun to list things by the most desired experiences – triaging countries, and cities, and “have to do’s” like I’m leaving in a year. I’m uncertain if it’s time, or just COVID that makes me feel this way.

And to COVID – when we arrived in December 2020, much of Europe was still in lockdown. As we sat in quarantine, we gazed longingly at the grocery store seen from our balcony, and Nanstein Castle on the hill. Eventually, we swapped out our cloth masks for medical-grade masks, took leisurely strolls through the local Edeka and Globus, and hunted castles with alacrity. We planned for loved ones to visit us in the hope that restrictions would loosen, and they did. Tristan and I began to travel the world around us; slowly at first, visiting those countries we were familiar with: Germany and France; then venturing out into the unknowns of Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium. We’ve excitedly scheduled trips, then woefully cancelled them as the numbers in one country or another increased.

We live in a village that has both a castle and Roman ruins. We can drive 30 minutes to the west and end up in France; an hour and a half northwest and end up in Luxembourg, and 4 hours south before crossing into Switzerland. I tell Tristan almost every day that we live in such a cool and beautiful place. Sometimes he shrugs his bony shoulders at me, and other times he agrees in wide-eyed amazement.

a line allow progress; a circle does not

– Bright Eyes

Quoting Bright Eyes in the midst of happiness seems counterintuitive – cringy even – yet the song title could not be truer. Virginia felt like the doom wheel – spinning and spinning, a never ending ferris wheel – up and down, around. Up and down, around. It was a place of stagnation – muddled in mediocrity – boxed in without air holes to breathe. I felt suffocated and threaded to the ground; tied to the hamster wheel of doom. Constantly, I wondered how I would evolve… grow and change… progress as a human. I wasn’t living in a straight line – I was clearly living in a circle – a circle that I hated. I felt trapped in my views and opinions, unable to see clearly ahead of me. I needed out.

So I broke the loop with a little help and encouragement from the right people. I pushed away the negativity in my choice with as much alacrity as I now hunt for castles. I ignored the “you’re not going to do that”‘s and “you can’t”‘s, and I did it. And I’m never going to look back. The door has been opened; the thread cut. The world is at my fingertips and dammit, it feels good. But it hasn’t been the Swiss Alps, or the Roman Forum, nor even the beggars in the streets of Paris and Rome that have been the most eye-opening.

Twenty years of mishandling, disorganization, and war boiled until it reached the edge of the pot… then in a mass wave: boiled over. One’s perspective of the world tends to change in the midst of a refugee crisis (see my post here). You hear and see things you wouldn’t normally hear and see if you were trapped inside your little comfort box. You feel emotions you never knew existed. You meet people you normally never would have met. And you care for people that need to feel safe – for people that even though you can’t communicate verbally with each other, you can calm them with a simple touch and earnest eyes.

And suddenly the world seems different in a way you’ve never seen it before. You begin to see it as a whole – an undulating mass of evolution – every single one of us entwined together some how, some way…

…and in this growth that’s bloomed… in this walk along the line of progress… in this breaking of the circle… I’ve come to realize that I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I will never be that person I was, nor would I ever hope to be that same person. I’ve learned that I’ve disconnected from those I never, in a million years, thought I would. And it’s a strange feeling to feel that disconnect. It feels strange to know you no longer see the world through the same eyes (had you ever?). That feels lonely at times, and I’ve not yet learned to navigate that emotion.

Often I’m asked similar questions when I speak with those in the States: can you speak German yet? What side of the road do you drive on? Are you ever coming home? Have you seen all the castles yet? Are you homesick? How is COVID there? Do you feel safe?

I’d say my German was better before I moved. I wrote a post on driving in Germany, here. Am I ever coming home? That’s to be determined. The castles? You mean all 25,000+ castles? We’ve barely even broken the seal. I haven’t really felt homesick, and COVID? It’s a mixed bag. I feel safer here than I ever did in the States.

At Jungfraujoch in Switzerland

I still enjoy visiting the grocery store weekly, driving through the villages even if it takes longer to reach our destination, and marvel at the fact that I live in Europe. I’ve met an exceptional group of people that have accepted me into their friend-family. I still hate the washer and dyers, the lack of air conditioning, and that nothing is open on Sundays – small inconveniences for large experiences.

Tristan has begun to adapt as well. While he doesn’t feel the same way about our move as I do, he is learning to love where he lives. We’ve begun to integrate him back into some of the things he loves: piano, climbing, bike riding… and we still struggle with the daily school routine, much like we did in Virginia. He is making friends at school, but still feels awkward to ask their phone numbers for play dates – but that will pass as he navigates through these stormy middle school years. With the past couple of trips, we’ve learned to travel together without much argument and strife. He and I both needed to learn our limits and wants while we galavant the world.

He and I are also exceptionally thankful to those that have stepped in to help us, adopted us into their families, and make us feel at home. Thank you.

As I plan for the next big trip (hopefully in March), I continue to feel pride in the fact that I was able to get myself here. From the little trouble maker, to the mom, to the nurse – I’ve come a long way. And I’ll continue to walk this line of progression into the sunsets of the journeys ahead.

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