Years ago, my mother-law Julie, announced to my husband John and I, that she had worked very hard to get rid of any accent.
“You mean within your associates and friends, here, in New York,” John said, assuming he was stating the obvious.
“No, I mean I have no ac-cent at awl. I speak per-fect English with no accent what-so-evah,” she clarified, distinctly enunciating each syllable and letter (other than the final R in whatsoever).
I quickly decided to forgo asking how a South Carolinian or Texan might respond to her comment and reached straight for the big guns: “But what about speaking to people from England? You would certainly have an accent to them,” I said, watching for the veil to lift.
She chuckled. “You’re kidding, right? Everyone knows that the English have accents! That’s why they call it a British accent.” Julie looked at John with an amused: Wow, I think she was serious expression.
So much for any acknowledgment of The King or Queen’s English …
I must say, in all honesty, that Julie was a dichotomy: An intelligent, well-read, remarkably liberal woman (qualities that I adored in her); she was also a stubborn little Taurus that resisted change like it was the plague. The youngest child of Italian immigrants—who spoke very little English—Julie was a proud American, who refused to learn her parents’ mother tongue, communicating with them through her older siblings, instead. I am certain that she worked diligently to lose any suggestion of Italian inflections or traces of a guttural New York accent, developing instead, a beautifully refined New York accent.
But with all of her wonderful qualities, Julie’s world-views were limited to … well … to her world. And she liked it that way. Julie happily curled up in her comfort zone with her stories (soap operas) and her daily routines (perpetually cleaning and fastidiously organizing her life). Never a rampant consumer—perhaps leftover values from her immigrant parents—Julie lived very simply. I greatly admired that, in her, as well.
For years John and I joked that his mother kept a low profile hoping that Fate would overlook her and spare her any bad blows.
This was not, however, to be her destiny.
Julie buried her first husband before her 30th birthday and was left with two young boys to raise; later she buried her second husband. Her youngest son, John, passed away suddenly one day after his 51st birthday, as Julie stood by his bedside. She buried all of her siblings and nursed her older brother through a horrible death … I watched changes and tragedies occur in her life in spite of her desire to stay within her comfort zone. But I witnessed more than just challenges. I watched Julie consistently twist, turn, bend and surrender to the most difficult times—ultimately embracing and accepting what life gave her with grace and dignity. And as she did, her paradigms shifted—broadening her world-views—with each challenge that she survived.
After Julie’s youngest son, John, my husband, passed away in 1993, I entered some paradigm shifts of my own. In fact I seemed to shift on a cellular level, overnight, as did my basic values in life.
Material possessions lost all meaning to me and I became almost obsessed with traveling light. As horribly as I grieved for my lost mate, I suddenly enjoyed being alone with myself; something I’d never done before … I also began waking before dawn to watch the sun come up, after being a late sleeper all my life. But perhaps the greatest shift was ending all affiliations with churches and religion but seeing Divinity in everything.
In the same way that Julie believed that she had no accent, prior to Jon’s death I had believed: spirituality was tantamount to religion, the-larger-the-house the-happier-the-occupant, and being alone was synonymous with being lonely. Once these fundamental beliefs unraveled, I began questioning everything.
I wanted to understand more about life, but quickly came to the not-exactly-profound realization that my understandings were always going to be limited by my world-views, which were limited by my … well … by my relatively small world.
The problem is: It’s difficult to question principles that you don’t even realize you’re accepting.
How could I question the indisputable laws of the world I lived in without seeing that world from elsewhere. I hated being hurled from the world of wife to that of widow—But I loved the shifts in consciousness.
It appeared that changing my world-view probably entailed changing my world …
So I changed my world.
I chopped off my hair, got rid of almost everything I owned, then packed up what little was left and moved, with my two little girls, to Eastern Europe. I bought a bike and learned the public transportation systems. I bought a one bedroom flat where I lived happily with my daughters. I met a new life-mate who happened to be Latvian …
One absolute consistency in my life has been the continuous slamming shut of doors while others came crashing open—creating endless surprises and infinite possibilities. And I ran through those newly opened doors full speed … Sometimes to my obvious credit and sometimes … well … not so much.
The bottom line is: With every one of these changes—I became aware of new ways to perceive life and I savored and delighted in every single one of those Aha moments.
In fact, I became a paradigm shift junky.
I moved forward, forever searching for new doors leading me to new dimensions. Camping under an open sky for weeks on end in different countries was a quick fix but moving into, and setting up homes in different countries—allowing time to crawl inside of these new environments and study them from the inside out—worked even better. Choosing a life partner from an entirely different culture was a major, out-of-this-world, eye-opening … let’s just say I’m still shifting …
So here’s a premise for a sitcom: A demonstrative, romantic, American and a pragmatic, highly self-disciplined, Latvian decide to make a life together. She wears tie-dyes and goes barefoot in winter; he speaks 5 languages and reads instruction manuals to air mattresses, just in case. She lives in her heart, he in his head. Her heat captivates him; his ice keeps her from self-combusting…
Okay, so that’s my life … although there have been many times the two —my life and a sitcom—were indistinguishable from one another. At other times I’ve lived within a Dostoyevsky tragedy.
A few mornings ago I groggily listened as Egils read the morning news. I heard: “Same six couples queue to say I Do in New Zealand.”
“Wow, is it like a hobby for those same six couples? I wonder how often they queue, weekly, daily …?” I asked, while thinking What a strange pastime …
“Same-sex,” Egils dryly clarified. He stopped seeing the humor in these moments many years ago; I on the other hand still get a chuckle, especially in the wee morning hours.
When Latvia collapsed into a recession extraordinaire in 2009 and we scurried west to Scotland, we lived inside of a paradigm shift for months.
Essentially a Scottish family adopted us. Jim and Thilda Syme taught us how to survive in Scotland with gentle nudges like: “You can’t call that a fanny-pack here in Scotland, at least not on the street!” And the not so gentle: “It’s called Haggis; you’re in Scotland. Who cares what’s in it. Eat it.”
They fed us, watered us, advised us, and never once asked how much longer we were going to stay, over the four years that we lived with them. And we connected in a most astonishing way. I believe, given the love that we developed between us, in spite of our incredible differences, we were and truly are soul mates.
While living with Jim and Thilda, we traveled throughout Scotland, falling in love with the country, as well: The Highlands, the lochs, the people … Returning home after each adventure to one of Jim’s hot meals, a cozy house and good friends—our new family, actually.
I am tearing up as I write this …
If there is a geographical equivalent to soul mate, Scotland is that to us: our Mother, our solace, our emotional safety net—and she came to us complete with a loving family to watch over us.
What Scotland did not offer, however—in spite of our most diligent efforts to find it—was viable, long-term financial stability. We free-lanced for years and stayed afloat—supporting ourselves and keeping our property in Latvia off the auction block—with a little left over for fuel to travel. We were blessed, well beyond our expectations. But we both knew that, with our ages, we needed more security.
I have to admit that while the first 3 years of our life in Scotland were full of new understandings and shifts in consciousness, we had, more recently, become very comfortable in every way but the financial security bit. On some level of my being I wonder if I was planning my next challenge—my next paradigm shift op …
With our precious granddaughter, Sophia’s 4th birthday in sight, near the end of July, we made our preparations to make the 5-hour drive south to Nottingham. During the week, in mid-July, that we spent getting ready, Egils received an email: Would he consider interviewing for a job in London?
After countless jobs falling through—some of which had even included interviews—neither of us felt much more than a passing sense of the fortuitousness: This interview could be set for the Monday following Sophia’s birthday. This meant a 2 1/2 hour jaunt down to London and Egils would have another interview under his belt and possibly a new company to freelance for. We wouldn’t have made a special trip down to London just for another interview but …
On July 22nd Egils drove to London and interviewed for the position. He received a call on July 23rd: Could he begin work on the following Monday, July 29th?
A job in London, aside from coming with a substantial salary, is a coup for any designer. For people, like us, who had been praying for a job that could even modestly sustain them, this job popped through the open doors of heaven.
There was only one hitch … For anyone geographically challenge, I will now explain: London is nowhere near Scotland. London is, in fact, many, many hours away from the Highlands, the lochs, Jim’s hot meals or any of the Syme family.
Culturally, London is light-years away from all of the above.
Egils relocated to London immediately. I stayed in Nottingham for two weeks while he found a bedsit in the East End of London for us to move into.
For any reader not familiar with this term, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of a bedsit, either, prior to moving into one. Apparently this is a quaint term used to describe a shithole that houses 7-10 people, with one incredibly filthy bath and one equally disgusting toilet. You have no idea how quickly a cold shower wakes you up in the morning… The stove has only one working burner but the good news is that the water leaking from the upstairs faucet into the kitchen doesn’t fall onto that one working burner. There is a broken smoke detector dangling from the ceiling, in the common hallway, that reminds us of the front door, which is kept locked, requires a key to open; I imagine finding the key and fitting it into the lock in the midst of a fire would be nearly impossible. This particular bedsit was advertised for one price but when the burley Spanish guy shows up demanding more money I fork it over.
And the paradigm shifts are almost audible.
Swoosh …There goes another one as I realize, “Wow the adrenalin rush of biking in London traffic all but obliterates the depression I feel about living in the bedsit!”
This is probably the time to say: We found a beautiful new place to move into and will leave our East End bedsit in 10 days.
But living here in the East End brought with it some great realizations:
When you’re with someone you love you can laugh at almost anything—not excluding checking each other’s heads for bugs—none found, remarkably.
Vigorous exercise can clear away almost all thoughts of revenge toward … oh let’s say, for instance … unscrupulous slumlords and their lackeys. I did say almost right?
There is always a silver lining. Always. Sometimes it’s looking back at us through the lenses of our cameras on a sunny afternoon in Hyde Park and sometimes it’s in the smile of a fellow bedsit inhabitant when she says, “I am so happy you moved in!” after we cleaned and put boxes of tea bags out for house consumption.
But maybe the greatest realization is this: Nowhere is too horrible to break us in half if we twist, turn, bend and surrendered to whatever comes our way … It’s how we refuse to be broken …
So here I am in London, awaiting my move in 10 days, writing this blog with at least some of my American sensibilities still intact and clearly doing so with my American accent.
If I had one wish, it would be that I would learn to love London with all of its energy and culture. I would wake up every morning blessing this city; its people and its culture and that would include its seedy underbelly, bedsits, slumlords, and traffic.
I don’t want to spend the next few years pining away for Scotland’s clean fresh air, sparkling water and the Syme family … I truly want to move forward, learning, appreciating and experiencing.
I’m not quite there yet but I’m shifting as I write.
I know that I create these things in my life and I know, in time, London will feel familiar if not like home … It’s who I’ve been for years now and how I’ve rolled.
I thrive on change and reinvention…
But, London? Really?
I do believe that I am entering a recovery period in my addiction—or perhaps paradigm shifts can be instigated with slightly less drama. I’m working on it. But for now the plan is, we will stay in London, save every penny possible and return home to Scotland to retire in the foreseeable future.
Signing off now from London with love~