Thursday, January 6, 2011

I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesterdays are buried deep - leave it any way except a slow way - leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it.
-Beryl Markham, West With The Night

Two days ago I was perched on an open slope spread with a thin layer of icy snow, gazing out at Germany's cloud-covered Black Forest, and cursing my lack of finesse on skis. Now, back in the Congo for just half a day, I feel restless already. My chin is chapped and peeling from the winds of a Vosgien winter, here in this never-cold, never-hot Equatorial land where snow is a thing of mystery and the average yearly income wouldn't buy a decent pair of skis.

I am stuck between worlds at the moment, clinging to my would-be life in France, not quite mentally ready to return to my current reality.

I have, by anybody's definition, I think, become a nomad. Since leaving home for college 13 years ago, I have lived in five foreign countries and seven US states, never staying put in any of them for more than a year. I have spread my life as thin as the snow on that French mountain, to the point that it is difficult to say where I come from or where I might logically go next.

There is a great beauty in movement, in flexibility, in the art of adapting. If I have not planted myself firmly enough to master any one skill or subject, this is perhaps my one trump - the ability to grow into the space I am placed in, foreign though it may be.

But the repeated departures are beginning to take their toll. I live and love and then find my yesterdays more and more wrenching to leave behind. I would like, for once, to plant my feet on the soil of a place and call it my own.

Northeastern France was my home, for 10 months, four years ago. I taught English and unexpectedly discovered a group of kindred spirits, alpine types who welcomed me into their circle and fortified my vocabulary, my climbing skills, and my tolerance of potent cheese, in the mountains of eastern France. After a slow and lonely first few months, I found a community in these people, one that I left behind in order to put the fortified French to use, in grad school in California, and now in Africa. And these were the people that I returned to last week, for a mere seven days, enough to understand that their life as I knew it continues, that strong homemade liqueurs still take off the chill after a day of skiing, that four hour dinners endure, that every vacation properly filled means the exploration of a new alpine destination, that houses are built and refurbished and warmed with wood fires.

I have tasted this life, but it is not mine, which seems to require some level of upset and exoticism to be sated. Exactly what level, and taken in what intervals, I am still trying to determine. The Congo is my present, and the future remains hazy, shrouded. But there is surely ground beneath those clouds, and only I can decide where to place these feet.


  1. Powerful existential post there. Good continuation in your work and soulsearch. And, "bon courage".

  2. Emily, what I want to say after reading this is personal and will be saved for Skype or an email.

    But you, and your words, touch me deeply, and I am filled with admiration and love for you.

  3. Emily, I feel every word you wrote.

    Keep that wisdom of knowing that any home we make on this earth is only temporary as you follow your heart to a place that makes you happy and keeps you warm.


  4. Thanks for all this French community you describ and from wich I below. We never forget you, and even the 7 days you stayed where realy to fast, it was great to see you again.
    I planed to see you in California goes always on! To fast! ;-)
    I always known that you will go in an other country like Congo after. It was written!
    I hope for you that you will fine THE place, and THE job, and THE friends and want for having the life you dream. I'm still looking for THE job! ;-) But don't forget that dream can't always be exactly reality...
    I hope you know that you can come in northeast of France when you want... Our house is always open for you.
    Have good time whereever you are.
    See you soon!

  5. There may be a mountain within those clouds. Don't fly too low.

  6. beautiful. you'll know when you're ready to stay. take care in your travels, emily.
    Lisa K


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