My family and I will move to India in about six months. If you had asked me six months ago if I was ever moving to India, I would've slapped you and said, "That's crazy talk." Then you would've justifiably stomped away mad, then I would've critically analyzed my behavior, then I would've found you crying behind your dresser and I would've said sorry and we would've made up, but without kissing, because of marriage vows and communicable diseases.
But, over the summer as I examined my options for my next assignment after El Salvador, I started to rethink India a little. There was a solid job at my rank at the embassy in New Delhi, the school there is top-notch, and I've always wanted to ask a real Indian why you pronounce "caste" as "cast." And if I did, and if the real Indian were to slap me and say, "That's crazy talk," I would chuckle at the irony, from behind my dresser, while crying.
So, strange as it seems, India became one of my top choices for my follow-on assignment. We're all super excited to experience it all, the color and the motion and smells and the air and the dysentery. Bring it on!
And that's one of the things I love most about my job: it's always pushing me outside my comfort zone, forcing me to revisit my assumptions, twisting my brain to ensure that I'm seeing the world more fairly -- and myself more honestly.
I'm not a person who naturally likes change. I wasn't born an explorer. To get to my childhood neighborhood you took Mt. Hood Street up the hill, away from town. The square little post-World War II houses gradually thinned out, then you took a right at Mrs. Goodwin's house, the one painted red and white like a candy cane.
If you didn't turn right, Mt. Hood Street just kept on going, winding into the hills. I didn't know where it went, and I never really wondered. I was pretty content in my little neighborhood. Four streets nestled in a crook in the hills. Our clump of houses was called Erickson's Addition. I still don't know who Erickson is, or what we were an addition to. It just didn't matter to me very much. I had my bike and the creek and Curtis and Greg and Jeff and Jimmy, and Stacy too, who was kind of cute, and that was enough.
Maybe I changed as I realized that time flows like a river and we're swept along. And everything is fleeting. The towering tree I'd watch as a kid from our living room window, the way it waved and glittered and scattered golden summer sunshine like dust. They cut it down one day, maybe for the gold, I don't know. And Curtis and Greg and Jeff and Jimmy and Stacy, I don't know where they went, but I know they're gone, or at least the way I remember them is gone. And my own children, tiny voices and teeth and hair that's always soft, the river is taking them away too.
But it's okay. You can't dam the river to stop the erosion of youth. But somewhere along the line I figured out you get to decide where you're swept to, what you see and what you learn along the way. And that changes everything. The shame isn't that we're slowly dying, but that there's too much life out there to taste it all. I decided that the more Curtises and Gregs and Jeffs and Jimmys I met, the better. More neighborhoods and neighbors were better than fewer, even if they only come and go. Even if all the people and words and faces and friendships are all fleeting; just because it's fleeting doesn't mean it never happened. And I decided I wanted it all to happen to me, the wonder and the aging and the sun and the smog and the beauty and despair and confusion and clarity. I still have to remind myself sometimes that I decided all that. I ache to stay at the same time I ache to go.
I dream of Mt. Hood Street all the time. I'm moving up the hill, the houses are thinning out. Mrs. Goodwin's candy cane house is on the right, a little side street leads into my neighborhood where the single towering tree tilts to and fro in golden slow motion. I slow down and the streets are just how I remember them, my house is brown and perfect. My mother is in the window and she's perfect too, young and straight, clear-eyed, like she used to be. A part of me wants to take the little side street back home, and stay and stay and stay.
But Mt. Hood Street keeps on going, winding into the hills. I don't know where it goes. If I stay I'll never know. So in my dream I go, and every time I do I feel a little more alive, and every time I die a little too. The road streaks away and I follow and there's nothing and everything on the horizon, and I don't know for sure where I'm going, because I haven't got there yet.