The Bell

My mother has started using the phrase “you can’t unring that bell.” She spouts it frequently in our monthly-or-so phone calls – always in context of something she needs to do or wants to say to someone, but fears the consequences of that action. I don’t know where she picked it up, and it annoys the shit out of me, but it has become a repetitive part of her monologues and so I have to live with it. And, let me be clear here- I am not one of those “accept the things we cannot change” yahoos. I will bulldoze those things I cannot accept, but I am also of the “pick your battles” mentality and so I do little more than roll my eyes when she blurts out this boring little phrase (you didn’t know how many cliches you were in for with this post, did you? It’s cool- I’ll note them for you with this little star ★ from here).

But, I have made it a practice to investigate those things that irritate me. Why does this saying get under my skin★? And for those of you thinking “well, also, parents just tend to get on our nerves in general”- I concede you that point. As a parent myself, I can unequivocally attest to the fact that we are obnoxious. It’s part of the job description. But I digress★.

Mom & Me, 1978. Maybe the only time we ever looked in the same direction.

So, anyway. The phrase “can’t unring the bell” means you cannot undo a thing that has been done. And that’s true. But here’s the thing: you can’t live life in fear of consequences.

Let me restate that. 
YOU CANNOT LIVE LIFE IN FEAR OF CONSEQUENCES!!!!

Every action has results. Some are good, some are not. And, sure, paralysis is an option too. You can absolutely do nothing- tiptoe around★ every bell, but that also comes with consequences. By avoiding one action, you are taking another. We’re all just ringing bells all over the place, all the time. Life is a cacophony of bells. At least ring the tune you really want to ring.

Look. I’ve been told “that’s easy for you to say★”. I know that I am naturally a risk-taker. I am accustomed to discomfort. That doesn’t mean that it’s any easier for me than anyone else. I am, at my core, a terribly anxious person. I, too, am a person that lays down at night and replays every embarrassing thing I have ever done. And it’s a LOT. I am a troubling character, full of mischief and thus many, many humiliations. Let’s put a positive spin on that and say that I have developed a practice of stress inoculation. The more you practice fear, the easier it is to overcome.
Three years ago today, I landed my family in a strange country on literally the other side of the planet from everything we knew. It was scary. It was the scariest damn thing I have ever done and I’m no slouch★ when it comes to terror. There were moments, of course there were, where I changed my mind- the fear of the unexpected★ was a lot- but I always changed it back. I threw myself off the cliff ★.

First day in Australia. Scared as hell, but happy.

Some days, I still experience what I call “the fuckits” and want to throw in the towel★. Immigration is hard. It is a gruelling and thankless task★. Going back to the States feels like it would be easier some days. But I know that really it wouldn’t be at all. It would not be returning to what we left (at the VERY least, we left in early 2016 before the whole political machine went ass-up★). The context is different, and we are different.

This post started with my mother and I will round it out by returning to her (how very Freudian). Our conversations have developed a cadence. She talks, I listen. She talks about work, about my sister, and then she finally asks me – every time – what my “plans” are. What she is really asking is when we are moving back to North Carolina. She asks me this every. single. time we talk. As though the answer will have changed if she just asks one more time. Or another. Maybe now. But no. My answer is always the same. And it disappoints her, but she’s allowed to be disappointed. Our entire relationship has been built on disappointment. It doesn’t change my feelings.

I rang the bell. And we love the sound it made.

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Building

“You don’t have to live every moment like a Hallmark card,” my oldest and dearest friend once chastised me, “just because you’re afraid you’re going to lose it all.”
That was fourteen years ago. Last week, while morphine dazed in the emergency department after my wreck, her words echoed up from the canyon in my mind. I had been trying to remember if I’d kissed my sleeping children before I left for the day, wondering what my last words to them were. I knew I wasn’t dying- but WHAT IF I WAS DYING?

zonked on morphine

Because of my injuries, I’ve had an unusual amount of downtime. This manic, hyperkinetic, overachieving bustle-booty was forced into a lot of stillness. Physical immobility is not something I am good at. I chafe at meditation (WHO CAN STAND TO BE QUIET THAT LONG?!?!) and idleness gives me shingles. But I was forced to plant my butt in a seat and just reflect for a while.

And what I found was that it was those Hallmark moments that came up. I started looking back through this blog. Things I had forgotten about made me laugh and, a few times, cry. We have been in Australia for three years now. That’s a quarter of O’s life, and 1/5th of X’s. This is significant. But much of it has not made the pages here.

The first year was strong- at least bi-weekly posts. The second year there were only four. Last year, there were three- each several months apart.
I re-read every one. And I realised that, though I started the blog so that loved ones in the States could keep up with our adventure, I ended up really only writing for me. I was chronicling my life in this new, strange place and trying to make sense of what it means for me and my family. And I sputtered out because I got a little lost in the shuffle of it all. I was so busy DOING life that I neglected the reflection part, and that’s the necessary part for UNDERSTANDING life.
Damn. That hit me hard.

And I also realised that writing is my form of meditation. It’s my time to harness all the rattling thought marbles into an organised space. It’s also the only time I ever shut up for a minute.

*sidebar- I LOVE to talk. I talk all the time. I talk to anyone, about anything, all the time. Also to myself. And the radio, and inanimate objects. I will talk through a whole damn movie- unless it’s in the theatre, in which case (as everyone who has ever taken me to a theatre movie knows), I sleep through it. I apologise to everyone who has wasted their money on paying for a movie ticket for me. If any of y’all ever want to talk- hit me up- I’m also a great listener!

 

Looking back through these past three years of writing, I noted that a theme emerged for each year:

Year One – 2016 – Adjustment. We fell onto this continent with a few pieces of luggage and the knowledge that we had no idea what was going on, how to find out, and that we would have to re-organise ourselves as individuals and a family in this strange land. It was a confusing year.

Our first-ever photo in Australia

 

Year Two – 2017 – Establishment. With Bambi-legged determination, we made the hard decisions to make it work to stay in Australia. We sold our house in the States and threw everything we had into this project. It was a difficult year.

On top of the Story Bridge, planting our flag in this place

 

Year Three – 2018 – Nesting. Things started to fall into place. I turned in more to the home life. Bringing beloved items and our dog from the States, moving furniture around, forging bonds with neighbours. It was a tender year.

Our nest is built, so we take to the air

 

Now we are entering Year Four – 2019 – Building. Since my accident on the 7th of January, I have taken the time to think very intentionally about what it is that I want to get out of this year. Now that my nest is padded, it’s time to get out of it. The accident reminded me of how fleeting our time is here. So, it is time to build.

I read this book while healing, and was totally inspired. Say YES.

I am focused on building my career. Things are taking off with that this year and I am so excited for my upcoming assignment. I love travel, and I love a challenge. This work is going to have both in spades.

I am focused on building my relationships. I am spending time doing things with my husband and kids that they love, even if I don’t care for it, because I love them. I am going out with friends and agreeing to meet up with strangers at events, even when I am feeling very home-ish, because it’s important for me to be with people besides my family (I’ve mentioned I talk constantly, right? They deserve a break).

I am focused on building my relationship with myself. I have had both a breast cancer scare and a traumatic accident within a nine-month period. I have lived 41 years on this Earth and have no guarantee for another. I often put my own needs behind those of others because it gives me joy. But I also like being nice to myself. I fucking deserve it.

I am focused on my writing. It is at once a part of my Self, but also a thing in itself. Something that I love and have neglected too often over the past year. So I’m making a commitment to just sit down and write. Some will make the public blog, but I am also going to return to my work on the memoir. It will be available in the private “Members Only” section. If you are interested in keeping up with that, and ONLY if I know you personally, contact me directly and I will give you the password.

So, yeah, my friend was right. I don’t have to live life like a greeting card. But my accident reminded me that life is delicate, and I could lose it. I want the Hallmark moments, damn it.