The Other Side

An Asian American woman standing in front of the Garonne river with the Pont de Pierre behind her

A blurry picture of me in Bordeaux at night

Last week, I went to France.

France is a strange home where I have never been a permanent resident. But it is my heart’s home. It is the place where I am able to most be myself and to be the self that I most want to be. It is the place where the rhythms of life match the rhythms of my spirit. It is the place where my voice finds clarity, and where my full self finds acceptance. It is the place where I feel most free. It is the place where I have experienced the most joy and acceptance in my life.

I had not been to France in 15 years, since my son was just an infant.

I almost did not go last week.

We are still in a pandemic and I’ve had many friends who I love deeply that have been affected by breakthrough COVID who have warned against unnecessary travel. I have all the responsibilities of all the roles that I fill and all of the things that I do, personally and professionally: mother, sister, wife, friend, mentor, professor, church leader, PTSA executive board member. I did not think I could step away from these responsibilities for such a long period of time (even though I’m on sabbatical, recorded videos for my family each day, and planned my schedules around this trip).

I did not want to be irresponsible in my choices, as if I had not considered these things. Taking 8 days to travel to France in the midst of these contexts felt incredibly selfish and impossible.

But I did it.

(Note: I hope that those who love me won’t judge me for it, because honestly, judgment is still a huge fear for me that I’ve only been able to overcome by making peace with the choices that I’ve individually made and the thoughtfulness I’ve tried to put into safety and connections throughout this trip, and by the fact that I have to understand and accept responsibility for my own choices but can’t control the judgment of others.)

The act of choosing to take this trip in and of itself was extraordinary in what it required from me.

It was also an incredible gift of time to reflect, wander, and breathe.

I spent 8 days in museums in Paris, walking for hours in the city, returning to Bordeaux, which is truly the city of my heart, seeing old friends, returning to places that I’ve loved only to find they’ve completely changed, or that they’re still the same. I spent 8 days contemplating what it means to truly be able to love with one’s whole heart, what it means to choose oneself and to choose for oneself, what equilibrium looks like, how unhealthy my life has been for so much of the last 16 years, what it means to be free of obligation and full of choice. I spent 8 days not responding to (many) e-mails, telling people no, actively choosing not to work, and not worrying about what I was running late for (except for the train I almost missed, but that was yesterday’s post). I spent 8 days eating beautiful food, with amazing people who I love with my whole heart (chosen family), being present to the gift of my life.

It was probably the most extraordinary single week of my life.

I realized at multiple points in the week that I had lost touch with some of the best parts of myself, that I had sacrificed them to the gods of overwork in order to prove my worth.

My friend, Carmen, who has been a big sister to me for nearly 25 years, said to me before I left that it’s good to have these realizations while we’re away from our lives, that sometimes we have to get away in order to see what our lives have become, but if we return to our lives as they were then perhaps this respite hasn’t served its greatest purpose.

She’s right, but this means many changes for me.

They are changes that many people who I love who are close to me have urged me to make FOR YEARS: learning to pace myself; reminding myself that just because I can doesn’t mean that I should; not always doing everything at 150%; taking time for myself; not working all the time; learning to say no; guarding my energy.

These are things that I have known for years, that people who love me have been telling me constantly, even more loudly in the last year.

My refusal to choose myself, to listen to these people in my life, has not been intentional.

At first, it was a matter of survival.

Later, it became a matter of habit.

Until, gradually, I forgot who I was, in the process of taking on so many roles that required parts of myself, but that didn’t have room for my full self.

I am beginning to come back to myself.

Because I am who I am, I want to come back to myself all at once, to bring the equilibrium and joy that I found on my trip home with me and to make all the changes tomorrow.

My life is not set up to make these changes all at once though. They are hard changes. They will require time and pacing, grace and growth. They will require the community, locally and globally, that knows my heart and holds space for the parts that are best and worst.

Already, I am changing. I am learning to listen to what I want most in my heart versus what I think I should do. I am learning to honor stability, to choose my boundaries, but not limit myself in ways that come from insecurity. I am learning that sometimes when I want to watch junk television or rest, that these things are not just okay, that they are great. I am learning that if I want to be most present for the people I love, I have to be present to my own desires and my own needs.

I’m learning to choose myself.

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