13 October 2008

the everyday

This is an essay that I wrote at the beginning of the summer--back when I knew that I was leaving Slovenia, but didn't know when I'd be leaving. It's long and it's true and it's how I really feel. I am rich. If you do take the time to read it (I know it's loooong), I would love to know your thoughts.

I’ve lived in a foreign country, in a strange city, in a far away apartment. Ljubljana, Slovenija. Can you even say that? Yep. Neither can I. My tongue still can’t quite roll out that l-j sound.

In Slovene, the word for ‘foreigner’ is tujec. Translated literally, that means stranger…yes. The day that changed my life has been the everyday of the last four years. I’ve been a stranger for nearly four years. That’ll do something to a person, there’s no question about it. It’s one long day. Since I’m still here and haven’t quite woken up, I don’t know if I can quantify the experience yet. But I’m about to leave and I’m ready to do some reflecting.

I remember the confusion early on. As soon as my curtains were hung and I found the milk in the market, the honeymoon was over. What is a železniška postaja? How come I can’t figure out how to close these windows? Why is this woman lecturing me for my flip-flops? My wet hair? My bad grammar? My ice cream choice? Did I do something wrong? Always.
what a strange
solitary morning
snow shifting sound
lonely feathers drift drift
into white coverlets
that are completely foreign

I don’t understand how
everyone around me

dumb. (12Dec4)
I think symbolically
about every solitary thing
like a clear blue hour
after days of fog
and a pane of glass
separating foreign me
from them
like grace fully crashing down
from a worshipful rest
or missing dinner last Tuesday
more than five Thanksgivings
ordinary bread and oil
and wine
and water
sacred minutes. (20Dec4)

I remember huddling on my bed. Sitting too tall, turning my neck and wedging my head against the sloped roof. A view of the castle didn’t quite comfort me when the water was freezing. Or when Christina’s hair was in the kitchen sink. It didn’t quite comfort me when I broke my ankle on the uneven stairs. Or when the neighbors cut off our power because of a feud with the landlord. Especially when the freezer defrosted, the hall flooded and the meat stunk. That was lame. It didn’t comfort me when my brother got engaged to a girl I hardly knew. It didn’t comfort me when I heard that my grandma was sick. I was too far away.

During lonely seasons, I took lengthy walks, wrote slow poems and fought with my roommate. If we didn’t fight, I was thinking mean thoughts about Christina. Fighting in my head.

You think I’d be glad to get out of here. But it’s a melancholy feeling that I have when I brush through the city. Because, while a stunning view of the castle didn’t help me when my brother and his wife had their beautiful, little Nina Joy, getting that text message as I waited to pay a speeding ticket at the Slovak border was incredibly rich.

Because, while sledding in the Alps wasn’t enough when my grandma went on hospice, hearing prayers in Slovene was a greater treasure than I could ever have asked for. I know they weren’t praying for my benefit. Heck, I could hardly understand ‘em. I knew they were praying for her. Because I love her. And they love me. All I wanted was to be with family; and I was. They are my family.

Because, while I still get mad at people for elbowing in front of me at the post office, I can’t believe that I have a friend who would figure out how to ask our other friends to scrounge money to buy a ticket for a guy-that-I’m-not-quite-yet-dating to come visit. Who has friends like that? She just wants to meet him. She wants him to see our everyday. And secretly, I think she wants to convert him to Ljubljana life.

In the absence of home, I gained home. With the removal of security, I earned a deeper trust. At the cost of familiarity, I grew a sense of presence. I grew this love for life (not just mine) and an ability to—like good old Thoreau said, “live deliberately…live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” To tell the truth, I’m not a big fan of marrow. I’ll gnaw on a bone every now and then (particularly when I’m eating with a waste-conscious Slovene), but I see it.

I see life now. I see it in clearer, more poignant ways. I see that money isn’t most important, and that before too long I get sickened by consumption. I don’t want to get on the train towards a better apartment, a hotter guy, a nicer car or even that green, fitted corduroy jacket. I would rather walk to get groceries, listen to the birds, wonder about the eggplant on the pizza and those drunk boys outside.

I want to see. I see that giving brings greater joy than…almost anything. And I see that even more influential and beautiful than giving, may be (just maybe!) the ability to receive well. To receive with grace and trust. I see that family is commitment; that love is commitment. That a friendship is loyal, it can’t appear/disappear depending on my mood. I see that means I can’t sit around thinking mean thoughts about Christina.

Christina is my friend not because it’s easy, not because we both like The Office, not because she’ll clean out the drain. She’s my friend because we’ve fought about stuff and forgiven each other. She’s my friend because we know each other and we make sure to like each other. She’s my friend because she gave me a big hug before she left for vacation and then handed me her phone bill to pay while she’s gone. She’s my friend because we decided to be friends. We’ve laughed together and we’ve cried together. We just are.

I see that, more than anything, I don’t want to be foreign anymore. And, actually, when I take a deep breath, I believe that I’m not foreign anymore. But sometimes the best way to show up is to be in the wilderness—think Rosa Parks, Jesus, Odysseus or Harry Potter. They came by going. The best way to not be foreign is first to be foreign.

I’ve lived in a foreign country, a strange city, in a far away apartment. But now it is a beautiful country, a familiar city and an apartment that is home. In English, the name Ljubljana is close to our word ‘Beloved’…yes. For four years, I’ve been loved in this city; today I’ve been loved by this city. I’ve learned living and love here. Far away, but more present than I’ve ever been. Present with my God, present with my family, present with myself. I am rich.


christinastanton said...


Anonymous said...

Dear Rich Girl, thanks for making me richer today! Aunt Ann

boutry said...

i enjoyed reading that. thanks

Meta said...

This made me cry..thanks for posting that. Miss you alot!!

beccafredo said...

Anna-friend, you inspire me! Was so great to read thoughts that sounded so much like you...thanks for posting this! Very thought provoking...like our long conversations hidden away somewhere sneaky at malenovice! I LOVE the "lonely feathers drift into white coverlets that are completely foreign! I think I might have to quote that in a book someday. =)

Anna Beth said...

:) you can!

and, christina, i was hoping you'd read this :)

Živa said...

You sent it right?
You honestly should have. Reading it again, makes it clearer and better. Especially with you gone.
I might understand it better now. :)

Mišo said...

I like this post.
Wish you could be here to see me perform for New hope..

Nina* said...

Anna Bee.. you are so beautiful and having you gone has changed a lot of things. The feel of .. things just isn't quite the same. I love your esey. You are so gifted and truly rich. You keep reminding me that we ARE family. Thank you*

Nina* said...

PS: pogrešam te v množini je Pogrešam vas :)

Lori Jackson said...

Yes, you did, and we loved being a part of those years and all the Lord did in your life. You have deep wells and your thoughts are very rich. Thanks for allowing me to be one of those people who gets to see those deep places.

Matt & Sharon Mormance said...

Anna - you have always had a beautiful way with words! I loved hearing about your friendship with Christina, and I had to laugh at your description of getting elbowed out of the way at the post office! :-)

Keep writing my friend!


cassie long said...

anna, this piece is beautiful... and i can identify, which made my heart jump a little as i read :) thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful thing to read this morning. I agree with everything except the part about the fitted corduroy green jacket...I'm sure your entire life would be better off with you wearing that ! ha!

Loving you from afar today
Andrea Pitcher

Just Us - The Carlsons said...

Anna thanks for sharing your soul. I too feel many of those things but don't know how to express them with words. But I do have these tears streaming down my face.