I’ve been postponing writing this. I kept myself busy. I go have coffee at Starbucks. I fire up my laptop and plot my winning strategies on Google Maps. I write lists of things to buy to decorate and furnish my brand new big bright future. ‘Future’ – antonym of ‘past’, the past I left behind.
We swapped Belgium for Canada almost a month ago. Just like that. Pulled our roots out, set them on ice and replanted them on fresh new soil. When people ask why, my husband boldly declares “adventure”. Yes, you are free to picture him with wind in his hair at this point, just like J Lo. Me, I usually just stare blankly, searching for a solid reason somewhere on the horizon. Then I mumble something like I wanted to come back home, or people are nicer here (which really gets everybody fired up!), or I want my kids to know what true integration feels like… All very legitimate reasons that don’t go to the heart of the matter.
The real reason is tied to nothing less than the key to happiness itself. Many believe that it’s in comfort and freedom from all worries that happiness is to be found. I’ve tried that. The ultimate reward in this state of exemption from human toil is intense boredom, and, worst of all, absolute stagnation. Death before death. Most of us, whether we realize it or not, find this unbearable. When you seem to have it all, when every day is exactly the same as the last, when comfort is guaranteed, when you feel entitled to all of life’s privileges, that’s when the bug of change creeps into your lethargic brain with the constant insidious question ‘Is this it… Is this it… Is this it…‘
The ultimate goal of human existence, as I have come to experience it, is transformation.
“What it all comes down to is that we are the sum of our efforts to change who we are. Identity is no museum piece sitting stock-still in a display case, but rather the endlessly astonishing synthesis of the contradictions of everyday life.” Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces.
The more contradictions, the deeper the transformation. Personal alchemy at all costs. Even at the cost of the comfort that the closeness of family and friends brings. Sure, it gets lonely sometimes. When we were buying our car the other day, my husband said to the (hot-female-and-younger-than-me) dealer “You are our first friend.” Everyone laughed. The joke captured perfectly the all too common bittersweet reality of new immigrants everywhere: the initial void of inception. But it’s exactly this void that we seek out when we embark onto our next adventure. The void that signifies both an end and a beginning, the golden promise of transformation.
Before I left, I went to visit Tante Simonne, my husband’s aunt, in the monastery where she lives for one last time. We spoke of many things in the sacred stillness of her room and the sunshine that graced us with its presence that day. One of the things that came up, with the imminent journey ahead, was my fear of flying. So she volunteered to tape a little meditation I could play on the plane to calm my nerves down. While the recording didn’t go exactly as planned, it left me with something even more meaningful: the sincere sorrow of a loved one. Thank you, Tante Simonne.
“Hi, Alicia. Say, this is Auntie Simonne. We are here together on the airplane. You have my angel with you. You surrender yourself to the pilot and the co-pilot… we try to take a deep breath… and we go together to Canada… you… Joris… Anton… and Norah.”
I still carry her angel from Israel everywhere I go. Not because I believe in God’s dubious protective powers, but because I believe in her. There is nothing more real than the love she gives us, day in and day out. And, although I leave her behind, she will never really leave me. She, as all the others from all my previous chapters, have shaped my identity, and are tattooed deep under my skin, weaving the tapestry of my being from the past and into the future.