Tag Archives: Moving

Shifting Ground

My mind is in a weird place, somewhere between finishing my time in Singapore and moving again, though with little knowledge of what will come in the month between jobs. I’m looking forward to what’s coming next, but the thought of what may or may not happen first keeps me up at night.

There’s so much I wanted to do and whether any of that is possible remains to be seen under the Covid regulations of four different countries. And it doesn’t help that every time I try to talk about it, I end up fighting back tears. There is no good solution to a problem that shifts every time I look at it.

It’s interesting to hear my students, who have been in school, clubs, and recently also the cafeteria since school resumed in August, say, “There was Covid last year so we couldn’t do X.” This was further highlighted as I read National Honor Society applications earlier today. “Because of Covid, X was cancelled. Because of Covid, we did X virtually instead.”

Life has stopped and yet goes on. Life is ruined and yet this is living.

Spending this pandemic in Singapore is fascinating and I am going to carry the lessons I have learned from here for a long time. We are very, very lucky to be able to live relatively normally but with masks. That being said, being a foreigner in Singapore has meant that we could not leave because we would not be allowed to reenter.* This has been an enormous hurdle and one that has led many of my colleagues to resign when they otherwise would not. Additionally, we have all learned that something we loved and miss about living here, the privilege of travelling frequently, was indeed a privilege. The way we used to live was not normal and it’s good to relearn this.

And so I find myself in an interesting place. I am preparing to move countries at a time when the status of international borders is tenuous. And this reminds me that my pretty blue passport is what allowed the borders to be so porous in the first place. I am again between worlds and there’s life everywhere I look.

A friend from yet a different country asked recently, “Is it normal for people from your country to be so far from home?”

No, it’s not normal.

No, it doesn’t get easier.

And what’s home? People, not places. I’ve written about this before, but mostly I’ve constructed it. Home has to be fluid for my heart to make any sense at all.

So we arrive at now. Now I’m questioning the life I’m pursuing because the premise on which it is based has changed. And this means that it will change again. And likely again. There are many more “what ifs” now, at least in my awareness though they were probably always there, and I’m grateful to have a moment to reflect on the axioms we grow up with – “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” – and that sort of thing.

But life hasn’t handed me lemons. Life is this day and the next day and the day after that. And life, as we remember every time we forget, is ours to be part of every day and never ours to control.

To live is to learn and to learn is to make choices, choices that we never thought we’d have to make. And the thing is, we never thought. This is an opportunity to do just that.

The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now. – Henry David Thoreau, Walden


*This was the case over the summer holidays and has now changed. Instead of being denied reentry, there’s a mandatory $2,000 per person 14-day hotel stay upon return, which renders travelling impossible for me and my colleagues.

Kranji Marshes, Singapore – December 2020

On Breathing

Inhale.

The point of yoga is to let the breath move the body. The idea is to move the body in whatever way feels right as long as the body is guided by the breath. You can remain with what is comfortable and easy. You can find the space between discomfort and pain. You can reach into that space as far as your breath will let you, and then you can breathe more deeply and reach farther. Find the space.

Exhale.

The latter is what I try to do when I practice yoga, which I have been doing with some regularity for over seven years. It’s very important to understand that yoga is always a practice. Much of life is always a practice. When I learned this about compassion, living became easier and slowly began to make more sense. It became easier to accept and forgive, both others and myself.

Inhale.

The lack of an expert, model, or end goal makes yoga not only a practice of watching myself breathe, but also a reminder that we live our lives mostly in beginnings and middles. There is so much that is new to explore, so many paths to wander down. There are some ends, but those ends create beginnings.

Exhale.

We live in spaces where we’re trying as hard as we can do the best that we can. In Alain de Botton’s words, we’re all fragile. I’ve quoted him many times before but it never hurts to revist his words:

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways – and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.

Inhale.

I’ve spent the last month at home in Rochester with my family and I’m getting ready to leave. Truthfully, though, I’m never ready to leave. But the time comes.

Exhale.

And I leave.

Inhale.

I’ve cried in more airports than I can remember and on more airplanes. I’ve gone through security without looking back and I’ve jumped up and down trying to catch one more glimpse. I’ve looked back to see others waving and I’ve looked back to see others walking away. I’ve watched people try to smile through tears; I’ve tried to do the same. I’ve found myself unable to cry when others do, which almost never happens in daily life, and I’ve collapsed just when I thought I had it all together.

Exhale.

I’ve since learned that there’s no such thing as having it all together.

Inhale.

I was lucky this summer to spend time in Toronto and Montreal with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and one of my cousins. We don’t see each other very often and time is on my mind. It’s stunning what changes in a year.

Exhale.

This summer has been a very happy time and breathing has been easy. Last week’s yoga class was the best one I’ve had in a long time because the breath moved the body. The breath guided the body. I felt and I also observed.

Inhale.

It’s not always so easy to breathe slowly and deliberately in the fast-paced, complex, often confusing world that we have created. But it’s so important to also create the space that allows for easy breathing.

Exhale.

Nearly a year ago I realized that I was looking for quiet. It’s amazing how much better life has been since I started learning balance and equanimity.

Inhale.

So while I will cry in an airport later this week, and maybe also on a plane, I will try to find that space between discomfort and pain. I will spend some time there between discomfort at returning to reality, which can be jarring, and pain at leaving my family. It’s okay to recognize both and choose to engage with neither.

Exhale.

And then when I’m ready, when I’m able to breathe more deeply, I can reach farther and play with the space around me. There’s much to discover and much to love and it’s open to me as long as I remain open to it.

Inhale.

And I will practice remembering to breathe.

Exhale.

Back to the Beginning

I left Singapore’s Changi Airport this morning after 32.5 hours of travel. Half an hour later, I arrived at the hotel where I’ll be staying for a couple days and took a shower in the pool locker room because my room wasn’t ready. My primary objective for the afternoon was to stay outside as much as possible in order to keep myself awake and to let natural melatonin do its thing.

Immediately upon leaving the airport, I realized a year away means a lot in terms of memory. For example, I’d forgotten that they drive on the left side of the road here, a legacy of British colonialism. I forgot that no one knows how to walk in a straight line, that people actually wait for the crosswalk light to change before crossing the street, and that escalators are for standing (strictly on the left, of course). Additionally, I forgot that you tap your subway card on the way in and on the way out to calculate the fare and I forgot the subway map altogether.

So many people smoke cigarettes, which I’d also forgotten, and it’s gross. And yet, I knew exactly where to find the closest money changer and where to get a new SIM card. I remembered the location of certain stores in a mall I used to frequent and was able to recognize new ones.

It’s weird that I was gone for a year . . . and it’s weird that I was gone for only a year.

I felt somewhat similarly in Rochester this summer. There were certain things about driving around town that I’d just forgotten. I’d forgotten how certain neighborhoods blend into each other and the names of different streets that I used to know. It’s unsettling that after spending so much of my life in that one place, a lot of it was gone, replaced by new pertinent information like all the local and express stops on the 4, 5, 6 trains in New York.

I expect that it’s going to be the same in Singapore for a little while. There’s definitely some adjusting to do, but it feels good to back.