just right

On first-day-of-school-eve, I can’t sleep.

I suffer the tossing and turning and butterflies at the end of every single summer. This past summer was no different, except that the back-to-school jitters were coupled with new-to-India jitters and took over around noon instead of right as I lay down to sleep. I was at school twirling in the last minute craziness swirl and decided that an outing having nothing to do with school might be just the antidote I needed.  A new friend agreed to come along.

As we were leaving school to head into the maelstrom of traffic, we made a quick plan to head to one of Chennai’s largest and oldest temples. We cruised through the windy, dusty streets of Chennai in an auto-rickshaw, loudly sharing stories over the roar of the engine and the tireless honking.  We passed fruit stands, idli shops, storefronts with saris flowing in the breeze.  We dodged street dogs and motorcycles, large buses and lazy cows. And we arrived, in one piece, in Mylapore, at the Kapaleeswarar Temple.

The temple sits majestically in the middle of an old, bustling part of Chennai and dates back to the 7th Century. The entry way to the temple is a tall, intricately carved and painted tribute to one of the legends of Shiva.  Inside, we wandered by shrines to Karpagambal, Ganesha, Krishna. We ran into a local friend from school who circumambulated with us, whispering about each of the gods and goddesses and their relationships to each other. Together, we held our hands over the flame at Ganesha’s altar and were blessed in the pooja; ashes smeared on our foreheads, bells and horns, chanting and our reverent silence.

That August day seems like just yesterday and a lifetime ago.  It was a beautiful way to start this journey I’m on. I didn’t know it then, but good old Ganesha has been doing his thing for me ever since; placing obstacles and removing them and smiling all the way along…

Life has been kind of nuts. My back-to-school-new-to-India jitters have subsided and been replaced with LIFE. In all of the newness and excitement of change, it has been easy to get swept up and away in work and travel and visitors and friends and INDIA!  Since the moment I launched to be here, I have been flying.

And now it’s April and I can feel my body begging me to land.

I’m taking some time to just be still. To listen to the birds calling and the wind whistling through the palms. I am closing my eyes and spending time talking with my mom and remembering where I came from. I am conjuring up the feeling in my stomach I had when I was a shy, little curly-haired girl afraid to jump with the rope swing out into the water. I am remembering days when I was too reserved to say what I really needed, to say how I truly felt.

In this stillness, I am honoring those pieces of me; those pieces that remind me of how incredible it feels now to take the leap, to speak up, to show up just as I am. I have been holding on tightly to some old ideas for a long time. Now, in this new space, I open my hands and let those ideas drift off with love and compassion; they served me so well when I needed them.  They drift away from me, into the air, like ashes.

I’m thinking back to August when I stepped over the threshold into the temple. I remember the questions swirling through my head, the uncertainty, the newness of this chapter. I felt grateful that day to be in such a sacred space with someone who I knew, even then, saw me clearly.  I can smell the incense, taste the sweet pongal handed to me with love by Raji, feel the heat and dust of the ancient stones on the bottom of my bare feet.

That moment and all those before and since have led me to right now. And in this moment, as I slow down enough to just be still, I know everything is just right.

Flying is good. Landing is amazing.

kapaleeswarar

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trainspotting

There are no windows on the unreserved cars of Indian trains. I mean, there are windows, but no glass. No screens. No barriers. There aren’t doors, either. Just openness. Windows you can stick your hands out of and feel the breeze as the train blasts through the palm-treed countryside. Doorless door frames open to the elements, wide enough for me to sit comfortably and dangle my legs off the side of the train car while Dad stands beside me looking out over the South Indian splendor.

We pass an old man with knobby legs and hardened bare feet herding goats in his dusty yard. A teenaged boy in bright red tee shirt talking on his cellphone leaning against a rusty train trellis. An open-air school house noisy with uniformed school children playing in the yard. We fly by an evening market selling Christmas ornaments, large paper stars and Santa masks. By shacks with thatched palm roofs and track-side tin roofed homes. A solitary old woman sitting on her step watching the train go by. A glowing girl walking home on the dirt path in a turquoise kurta and bright purple dupatta. The smell of rubber trees blows in, jasmine, incense, pee, bananas. We pass a man standing next to tracks with a beedi tucked in his mouth, wearing only a lungi, carrying a giant bag of rice on his head. A father lifting his baby daughter into her mother’s arms, fresh from bathing in the river.

From my makeshift seat I look out onto the homes of proud families, over rice paddies, fields of banana trees and think about the year that has flown by me…

A year of change and letting go. Of shedding layers of myself that I once needed that no longer serve me. A year of planning and realizing that no amount of time and energy and planning could have prepared me for what is unfolding. A year of long hugs. Of understanding, deep in my core, just how much love I have in my life. A year of laying myself bare to a new place, new people, new ideas, new challenges.

I feel a momentary fear of falling from the open train; the same feeling I had in my stomach this year when I signed my contract and when I said goodbye to my Classical community. I feel that same crazy, reckless feeling that I had when I sat eating bagels that last day with Carla and Bethany, when I hugged my family before leaving for the airport, when I let go of Reg’s hand.

This year of crazy, reckless, wonderful life.

I breathe deeply and know I am grounded right where I need to be right now. I feel a rush of gratitude. I feel free; no barriers, just openness.

This year of great gifts: Of new, amazing friends. Of wonderful, old friends who have made me feel close to home all the way over here. Of incredible, loving family. Of visitors! Of new experiences…

The train car is gritty from the wear and tear of years of passengers making their way from one place to another. WJ is tucked tightly in between four other passengers, the sun begins to set over the backwaters and Dad’s marigolds blow in the wind as our train makes it’s way forward.

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stepping away

I’m wearing close-toed shoes for the first time since I moved.

It’s still sandal weather here but I’m flying out tonight and it will be cold where I land. There’s sure to be a lot less traffic there and no cows lazing about in the street; possibly drivers who stop at lights and signal when they turn. I’m sure there will be lines at the cashier in shops and lots less garbage on the side of the road. I think there will be cafes galore, delicious wine from this region and that, croissants and more cheese than I can possibly dream of.

I will walk those streets and explore with a new set of eyes.

I’m pretty sure where I am going I won’t see crowds of schoolgirls on the street corner in the morning all dressed in plaid with looped braids and strings of jasmine in their hair. I won’t walk by beautiful, intricate kolams carefully drawn in chalk on the sidewalks lit with candles and adorned with marigolds and rose petals. Or women walking down the road in bright, beautiful saris, chattering in Tamil, on their way to buy bananas. There probably won’t be firecrackers blasting every night in celebration of a festival and surely there won’t be a tiny lit-up shrine to Ganesha at the end of the road smelling of freshly burned incense.

It feels weird to be leaving (even for just a few days) a place that, not so long ago, felt so weird to arrive in.

The last time I was out of India, I’d never been in India before.

Shoes and wine and cheese and orderly lines and things that made sense were my normal. I had never seen a man ride down the street on an elephant or cows lying in the middle of the highway or a woman with an incisor reaching down to her chin. I had never seen colors so bright or flowers so fresh, used with such purpose and sentiment. Before I came to India, I had never been this far away from home for so long. I hadn’t a clue about Hinduism or Jainism or Sikhism or how many religions and languages and cultures and traditions thrive in this country. I had never seen such extreme poverty and inequity. I had never been in a place where complete ugliness and pure beauty were so obviously enmeshed. I had no idea that I would have so many questions…

What was once my normal doesn’t feel so normal now. I am walking on new ground.

Some of the things that I thought I needed are no longer things that I need.  There are things that I thought that I knew that I just don’t know anymore. I have been cracked open and all of my insides are exposed and I can’t imagine what it would be like to put that all back in and tuck it away. I am, all at once, amazed and terrified.

Stepping away lends itself to seeing from a new perspective…

My desert-worn toes clad with Rajasthani rings wiggle inside of my shoes.

Change is complicated.

(Cheese is good.)

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settling in

Last night I spotted a woman in a doorway on a crowded street. I was on my way to dinner with a few new friends; it was dark outside and the hustle and bustle of the crowded street made for a challenging walk. Dodging motorbikes and stray dogs, abandoned shoes, last week’s garbage and a man selling bangles on a blanket, I finally looked up as the lit-up doorway caught my eye.  The woman stood with her hands on her hips, glowing in a perfectly wrapped, bright orange sari.

She took my breath away.

Her stance, her sari, her serene presence shook me, and for the first time since I landed on July 24th, it hit me.  I am not just visiting India for a few weeks.

I live here.

I am buying food containers and setting up a spice cabinet. I am investing in pots and pans and garbage cans. I am in the beginning stages of friendships of all sorts. I am getting up early and heading in to work. I am starting to know which way to turn to get to a particular shop and how to get back to my house in the dark.

This weekend I visited friends who are stuck in the hospital with Dengue Fever. I had cocktails at the home of the U.S. Consulate General. I danced into the wee hours of the morning to 80s music and stood in the rain laughing with friends. I went to a school picnic and had a hot oil hair massage and walked the tree-lined streets of Besant Nagar. I ate paneer tikka masala and dal mahkni and checked out a handmade cane swing for my porch.

I wake up to the sound of waves crashing outside of my window. Crows cawing to each other and the street guards chatting away. I know it takes 17 minutes for the water to heat for my shower; I adjust my snoozer accordingly.  I know the morning guard wants to speak in English so he quickly says, “good morning!” before I can greet him in Tamil. I jump in a banged-up, bright yellow auto-rickshaw and watch with wonder as my driver weaves his way through the onslaught of cars and bikes and motorbikes, tuk-tuks and trucks. I pass the young guy with the two pugs and the smiling maid. I pass the ironing-wallah and the old man with a rose filled basket on his bike. I arrive at my new school, pour myself a cup of tea and dig into my work. I am starting to learn the names of my co-workers children. Sunita’s birthday is September 20th, Priya’s mother-in-law is staying with her for a month. I know if I don’t leave school by 4:30, I will be stuck in a cluster of traffic that will turn my 5 minute commute into a 50 minute commute. When I get home the guys will be on the beach playing cricket. The couples will be sitting in the sand watching the waves come in.

My calendar is filled with new student meetings, yoga begins tomorrow and I have dinner plans on Tuesday.

I am living.

wheels

listen.trust.grow.fly.

I ask my kids at school a big question when they are at a crossroads.  It’s not anything major. It’s not even original.  Some of them roll their eyes. Some of them spout out some ideas about what that might look like. Some of them go inside themselves and really think on it.

Last Spring I asked an 8th grader the question.

“This is your one life, what do you want it to be?” and while he sat there wrinkling his nose and rubbing his buzzcut, I thought to myself, “My one life.  my one LIFE. My ONE life. MY one life. MY ONE LIFE!!!!!!!”

My life? It’s kind of amazing. It doesn’t fit into a box, but it’s kind of amazing and I want it to continue to be amazing and I want to continue to grow and change and be excited and feel grounded and laugh my head off and love deeply and be moved by encounters with strangers and have adventures in places that rock me right to my core.

And, then, I remembered that the kid sitting across from me in my office was still there.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted his life to be yet but he knew that there were things he wants to do and that someday he’d like to have his own car and go to a real NFL game. And that made me remember that there are things that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t done yet and I’d better get to it.

Last Summer I felt my heart beating faster when I started thinking about a new adventure.  In Autumn I felt myself light up inside when I’d look at the world map that hangs above my desk at work.  This Winter I took the plunge and accepted a job offer at an international school in Chennai, India.

And today it’s snowing and I have never seen anything quite so beautiful.

That’s what happens when I do what is real and right for me. Everything becomes more beautiful.

I walked in the snow just now thinking about how this might be the last blizzard I see for awhile. About how my life in Hartford is so rich. I thought about my dad’s kitchen table that he made out of the tiles from the kitchen in our old house on Annawan St. and how much I love to sit at that table with him.  I have love and comfort and stability and the waitstaff at the coffee shop hug me when I come in. Hartford is my home; my people are here.

And because of that love and comfort and richness and that little 8th grader with the buzzcut, my wings emerge. I choose to do what moves me. What makes me feel alive. What challenges me and takes me out of my comfort zone and enables me to grow into a different space.

Being grounded is about how you stand on the earth no matter where on earth you stand.  I am moving to India. I am following my heart and my dreams and my gut. I am moving on from an amazing job that has allowed me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined. I am letting go of things that I thought that I needed that no longer serve me.  I am moving away from people that make my life amazing. I am trusting that love will transcend time and space and challenges and that the people who love me will love me through this.

My one life…I am flying with the feeling of following through on something that I have always dreamed of. The discomfort feels comfortable. Strangely, I feel grounded as I take flight.

And these wings? They look pretty good on me.

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snuggling with words

Back in the days before the internet I was a letter-writing maniac.

I wrote letters to friends like it was my side job; letters on note paper, on stationary, on napkins, on balloons. I was all about the lengthy, hard-to-read handwritten letter full of details about what I’d been up to, how I felt, all that I hoped for, and on and on. I wrote letters to friends who lived far away and friends who I saw everyday in school. I wrote because I loved connecting and it felt good to share how I felt with my friends and because maintaining friendships required keeping in touch and checking in and I wrote because I loved the feeling of getting a letter in return.

I was one of those kids that ran to the mailbox everyday.

Now I just get bills. And election flyers. And Crate and Barrel catalogs. And more Crate and Barrel catalogs. And bills.

While digging around in the attic at my dad’s house a few weeks back I found a shoebox of old letters. I found a postcard my dad had sent me at camp, a note my mom wrote in her beautiful cursive to me while I was laid up in the hospital in Russia, a card my niece drew when she was just three years old, a letter my brother wrote to me when I was in high school and missing him. I found a letter that I had written to my grandmother when I was in first grade that she had tucked into a book that I kept when she died, a card from my grandpa in his scribbly handwriting, a letter folded into a tiny square from our dear Kerwin who died too young.

Treasures.

In this digital age, those tangible handwritten treasures are few and far between. We tweet, we text, we facebook, we email. We delete.  We quickly read and quickly dash off notes but we keep in touch. We cyber-snuggle. We share. We check in. Though I no longer have a shoebox full of proof, when my phone beeps that I have a text or I see an email from an old friend in my inbox, I feel that same   feeling I would get when I’d peek into our mail basket and see familiar handwriting on an envelope back in the day.

Happiness that someone is thinking of me. Privileged that someone chose me to share their thoughts with. Joy in connecting with another.

Letter, note, card, text, tweet, inbox message…connecting is what it’s all about.

It feels good to reach out and to be reached out to.

Nothing can delete that feeling.

xoxo

 

 

waiting for sandy

So I’m sitting around waiting for a hurricane to hit.

The trees outside my window are swaying, the sky is grey. I’ve got a pile of books to read but no groceries because I went out for ice cream sundaes with friends last night instead of scrounging for batteries and stocking up on non-perishables.

It’s the calm before the storm.

Everyone is in deep speculation mode. How hard will this hit? How many will lose power? How long will we lose power? Will Halloween be cancelled? Will everyone be okay??

The questions are endless.

And as we sit and wait, no one knows the answers. No matter how much internet trolling I do, no matter how much Weather Channel I watch, no matter how many times I get out of bed to peak out of the window in the middle of the night; this is going to be what it’s going to be.

Everyone’s got a storm style. There are folks who plan and prepare and take care of business. Folks who freak out and worry and worry and worry. Folks who think everyone else is crazy for even talking about the storm. Folks who get excited.

Maybe our storm styles are a reflection of how we approach the unpredictability of life.

I can’t control what Sandy will bring, so all I can do is be. I’m the calm through the storm.

So on this blustery, weird day, I’m headed to where I feel safest and happiest during a storm: in my pjs hunkered down with a dear old friend.

(Stay safe and warm everyone. xoxo)

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