That Sinking Feeling

I have been waking up pretty early these days. One morning I even slept in all the way to 7.

It's like the saying: We're neither here nor there. Actually, we are here, but it just doesn't quite feel like it yet. My kids have started school, we have done plenty of shopping, we are trying to get cellphones (ugh! It's all so darn confusing!!!). And we really look the part, I mean, we fit in here much more than there.

But the problem comes with the inevitable question: “So, where are you from?”

While on vacation we just answered “Brasil!” and waited for the next round of questions, if they came. I had the best time giving that answer while we were at DisneyWorld–there people would often look with surprise and then say something like “Wow! You speak English so well!”

The food here sure is good!

But it's good to be home, even if it doesn't feel so much home-y yet. (Full disclosure: I was on vacation for the better part of a month…so, no, you shouldn't feel too sorry for me. I did yell and scream a lot on this vacation–roller coasters are the best for that.) And I'm looking forward to discovering America again, this time from a small town perspective. Who knows? Maybe all those years of Brasil telling me to slow down, slow down, will finally sink in.

I really am trying to slow down. Really.

 

What I’m Looking For

The best part of saying “this is the LAST time” is changing your mind.

That said, I have found the perfect thing to do on my last morning here in beautiful Belo Horizonte. Ok, so it really isn't all that ground breaking that I would be reading the New York Times, but the article (or group of stories, really) that I found could not be a more fitting close. “The Lives They Loved” is a collection of short obituaries written by family members or loved ones and accompanied by a photo. No, I'm not dying, and no, I'm not overly morbid, but as I was reading, I was overwhelmed by two things: One, my life is not nearly over yet (I hope!), and two, I could not be making a better decision–now is definitely the right time to return.

I know that people often say nicer things in obituaries than were the reality, but as I was reading folks saying things like: “I never heard him say a mean thing about another person,” and “she saw potential in everyone she met” I realized that some goals are just not within my reach. I'm just being honest with myself–I am far from perfect, and I'm okay with that, most of the time. But I have no regrets either, and I look back on much of my life, including these last four years here in Brasil with joy and thankfulness.

And if there is one thing I have learned from the culture here in Minas, it is the importance of family. Yes, there have been many occaisions where the blind devotion I have observed in many Brazilian families has seemed absurd, crazy, time-consuming and burdensome. But there is beauty in extremity, and in the end, don't we all want to be able to tell unforgettable stories about those that we loved? Well, that's what I want, and just like any good story, this next one will require proximity, patience, and sacrifice before it can be well-told.

So, this morning as I was reading and drinking my coffee, my son came into the room, and with my emotions running high I grabbed him from reading the Guiness Book of World Records to hug him tightly. “Are you ready, buddy?” I asked, with the full weight of what is to come. I waited. “Well, I really have to go to the bathroom now.” Sigh. I guess we aren't all looking for the same thing.

Thanks so much, Brasil, it was worth every sacrifice. Now we are off to learn some new stories. Grande Abraço!

Foi inesquecível pra todos nós.

 

I’m Telling You This for the Last Time

I don't know what to say, except that it's close to the end here in Brazil, and it has been a whirlwind of emotions, and things to do, and anxiety, and parties with friends, and alcohol, and emotions, and wait…I already said that.

Update: until last week, I was excercising every day, just like I said I would try. But this last week I didn't make it…unless you include frantic sprints or angry gesticulations towards bus drivers. But I'm sure anxiety burns it's share of calories, so maybe I'm ok. Except no, I'm not.

Uma cesta de Natal: cheio de coisas que você não quer :)

Another update of sorts: after I blogged about that special graffiti in my old neighborhood (notice I said “old neighborhood”–that is because I did succeed in moving out of my apartment. Juuuuuuuust barely. Money and tears can do wonders. And money. Did I mention money?) there were some folks that reminded me that it's not true that “no one cares.” You are right. Sometimes my language tends towards the realm of extremes. Well, maybe all the time. But here is what I meant: there are some who care, yes, but there is such an overwhelming majority that are indifferent or ignorant or apathetic or lazy that it brings all the rest who care down. In fact, it wears us out so much that sometimes we even forget that we care, and we start making excuses for the majority that don't care, saying that the situation is complicated, and we try to offer excuses for them. But here is the reality: it is not complicated. Life is ugly. Cultures are not perfect. We all have improvements to make, and those improvements require LOTS of work. I am worried about Brazil, but I have not yet given up hope.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve…doesn't matter your tradition, your religion, your culture: now is a season of hope. And it's also a season of mistakes. Of reality. Of shitty decisions. Of grace. I wish you all the best, but you must understand, MY best includes things that you may not want: truth, tears, chocolate, suffering, good music, hoppy beer, loud voices, perfect cookies, children laughing and complaining, difficult questions, beach vacations, forever covenants. If you don't want my best, ok, don't take it. But this is all I have to offer. Beijos! Até a próxima!

 

Getting older

Some days just turn out different than you thought.

And then some days are just chock full of life, so full in fact that things are bursting apart.

But then again, maybe the trouble is the wineskin. Maybe this one is getting a bit old. Doesn't take much new wine to burst an old wineskin, or so I've heard.

In any case, I have two images that I don't think I'll forget from today. One is Caravaggio; there is something about seeing a masterpiece right in front of you. For me it usually brings a certain amount of tears, and I'm not altogether sure of the reason every time. I remember Rembrandt's portrait of his fiance: his love for her was still so obviously oozing out of the canvas. And today? I don't know, maybe there's just something so truthful about beautiful images. Capturing the essence of humanity, of life, of reality.

And the other? Well let's just say it involves children playing games, blood all over the floor, a trip to the emergency room, four stitches, and McDonald's for dinner. Oh yes, and might as well splatter a few yelling bouts in the mix as well, just for flavor. Sigh. All's well that ends well?

And this old wineskin? Feeling stretched, leaking, a bit worse for wear…I suppose its time to decide to leave some things behind. And maybe that's right at the turning of a new year, time to grow older, hopefully wiser, and continue to leave the things of youth (but not the youthfulness) behind. I'll try. To trust more, worry less, love completely.

 

 

Happy Birthday to me.

 

I really hope this isn’t catching…

As I have said here before, living in any foreign country is no easy task, and usually there are many moments of each day that I am reminded of the difficulty.

I regularly have the opportunity to explain Brazilian laws to other Brazilians: they always appreciate this, and while they usually respond with a raised voice and claim that I am wrong to think that a crosswalk would be for pedestrians, I usually find I can yell louder.

This tendency to find ways around the law can be “cute” sometimes, other times frustrating, and other times horrifying. Last night, a large truck carrying steel rods overturned on a road near where I live, killing at least three people, possibly more. By law, that truck was not allowed to be driving on that road. Not such a “cute” cultural tendency when it turns out this way.

There are a number of things that happen in daily life here that cause me to pause, to reflect, to pray, to yell my head off. And then there are the things that happen that make me think: My God, we have GOT to get out of here!!!!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!! well. I can be a bit dramatic sometimes.

A good friend of mine visited recently (he is Brazilian) and we had some time to just sit and chat. We talked much of the things we love here, of life, of faith, and some, yes, of our concerns for this growing giant, Brazil. He too has noticed many of the things that concern me (he lived outside of Brazil for 5 years from which he gained a certain amount of perspective), and for me it was enlightening and confirming to share my thoughts with a native. I believe that cultures (just as people) have fantastic, wonderful, and one could even say, “holy” elements–characteristics that enable them to rise above pain, to create beauty, to foster love, to harmonize people. The opposite is also true: cultures have sins, diseases that fester and threaten to break them down, to limit their ability to grow economically, spiritually, creatively. I realized many of these cultural truths while living in the US, and they are becoming clearer and clearer to me here in Brazil as well (some I have already shared here). But recently I have considered some of these malodorous elements of Brazilian culture and I have wondered, or worried: are they catching? contagious? I do not remember much envy in my thoughts before living here (judgement, yes, but not so much envy), but now I find it creeping into my thoughts, my decisions, my desires. I would never before have considered the possibility of just “parking wherever I want” no matter the consequences for others or the law, and yet many times I find myself making choices while driving that show no regard for my fellow citizens or for the law.

And maybe that’s why some days I find that I’m so tired. It’s like my mind and spirit and soul are fighting off a cancer, and that can be hard work. Constantly sifting through the elements of my day, searching for what can be kept, discarding what may be harmful, adapting my character, my ideas. Gruelling work, revealing my ugliness, my holiness–yes, sometimes I yell, but I’m finding other things surfacing under that rage, pushing their way to the surface for air: sorrow, and hope.

A good friend just returned, and I’m so happy to have him back in town. I picked him up last night, and he remarked about how much my driving had changed. “Dude, you drive like a Brazilian now! Hahahaha!” Yes, I said, BUT I do one thing different. I stop for pedestrians.