The Guest House

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Dear Keatsway,

I want you to encourage you as if it’s the most important task I’ve been given. You’ve been brave and adventurous, hopping continents and crossing borders, forging your career trajectory and becoming the most international person I know. All of which comes with a cost: leaving friends, meaningful work, and places you love behind. Of course, you are heartbroken and unsettled. You don’t know if you should prepare yourself for the next move or learn to love Amman. I don’t have easy answers.  I can only echo your broken heart.

Recently, I returned to America after living in England for sixteen months. In York, I fell in love with the city, the people, the lifestyle. I lived inside Roman walls, traded my car for a bicycle, bought my groceries at the year-round farmer’s market and grew to love the rain and the fog. I critiqued literature, translated foreign films, and learned how to read medieval maps. I went road tripping and hiking through the Yorkshire Moors, Scottish Highlands, the Lake District and Irish countryside. I traveled by train across Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. I did daring things I had never done before: karaoke, bouldering, sensual bachata dancing, swimming in Loch Ness, clubbing until 3 am. I also wrote a thesis, fell in love, and started attending an Anglican church. I could write a book about everything I did in England but there is not enough space here yet for that.

A few months ago I unpacked my bags in a new place: a hamlet in southern Washington state. I am grateful for the hospitality of my cousins, and the chance they have given me to start anew in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless, I struggle to be fully here at times, as I imagine you are in Amman. My 16 months in England reels through my head reminding me of all the brilliant adventures and loves I have left behind. I want to return permanently, but I don’t know yet if that’s in the cards or as you say, Inshallah, if God wills it.

I agree with you Keatsway, we must write about our inner journeys. The highs and the lows. The joy of a discovering a new place and the ache that accompanies having your heart split across continents. What do you love about Amman? What do you miss about Kampala? What can you take with you from place to place to create a home regardless of where you lay your head?

I think we can choose to stay in a place and call it home. Even if we have to leave we can build our lives around returning. I don’t know yet if Amman is your city, but I do know that the last city I lived in felt like a place I wanted to stay.  I don’t know what it will take for Amman to feel like home for you. And if you are not sure about Amman, be excited about what the city has to reveal you. What the city expects of you. Maybe you will discover answers to Rilke’s questions or perhaps you will learn to carry them with grace and poise.

All that is yet unknown. As you learn to hold uncertainty with open hands, I leave you with this poem by Rumi. It offers solace for the expat whose heart is still halfway in Kampala or York.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

So much love,

xoxo Brightstar

Ancora imparo / Yet, I am learning

Birdsinthesky

Dear Keatsway,

Thank-you so much for your letter of advice. It was timely, appropriate, and most of all it made me think deeply about my perception of time and the progress I am making. Inspired in part by your letter, I have embraced a new mantra, ancora imparo, Latin for yet, I am learning.

The Urban Dictionary captures it’s spirit perfectly:

A reminder that mistakes are a learning curve, that every first, second, third….time provides opportunity for improvement, that you are always ancora imparo.

Ancora imparo frees me from the crushing sadness and shame of failing yet again, replacing it with the realization that I learned something new this time around, and that however small it may feel, it’s progress. And in the absence of required perfection, mistakes allow us to grow.

And now for a short but true story to put this mantra and last paragraph in context. Recently, Keatsway I decided to embark into the dating world again. I had never deliberately decided to leave it, but opportunity struck and thus I became an active member again. I went on a variety of creative dates with someone I will only call L: from climbing the monkey bars at a playground to climbing a ladder to a rooftop at night to watch the city skyline to playing the demo of a video game in it’s very early stages, it was an exciting few weeks. However the very act of dating brought up a lot of past hurt and fears. Fear of love, fear of betrayal, fear of rejection, fear of being hurt again. Sometimes these feelings came on so strongly that I couldn’t fully process what was happening in the present. Every step of the way I second guessed myself, my feelings, the guy, and whether I would hear from him again, fearful that I was about to be dropped at any second. This prevented me in the end from being fully present.  Now, thanks to the maddeningly socially acceptable 21st century tradition of never returning a text or an email, as far as I know what never truly was is now behind me.  Therefore today I need something new to embrace, to keep me moving forward. So I have decided to embrace ancora imparo, yet, I am learning. And I am. Learning to let go, let it be, and be fully here now.

A fortnight ago, I felt encouraged by the heartbreaking, life affirming film, Now is GoodIn the film’s last few lines, 17-year-old cancer patient Tessa says perhaps the wisest words I’ve ever heard about embracing the present, and letting go:

Our life is a series of moments. 
Let them all go. 
Moments. 
All gathering
towards this one.

–Jenny Downham & Ol Parker (screenwriters), Now is Good

To be fully here now, I have to let go of what was and what will be, freeing myself to transform through the reality of constant change, letting go and breaking forth, the life cycle of death and rebirth. Someday soon I will not let these fears control me or thwart new possibilities. I will let them go, learning to trust myself and the process. I will lose my fear of failure, rejection, and vulnerability; no longer holding back and protecting myself so much that I cannot truly give. But until then, all I can do is repeat ancora imparo, yet, I am learning. The ground is tilled, a new bud is opening, and I can’t wait to see where this new knowledge will take me.

With love,

xo Brightstar