All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Is the world a stage? Perhaps, perhaps not, but we are living out the most amazing story to be told, and Shakespeare has some nice descriptions in this monologue – I don’t much like Jaques, but I do enjoy reciting this one speech of his. Lately, life here is full of exits and entrances.
The transient nature of life in a foreign land, in a community of expats, is a big part of what defines it, and especially what defines TCKs. (Third Culture Kids = children whose lives are shaped by spending at least part of their formative years in culture outside theirs or their parents’. I’m an ATCK – A for Adult, though to me it always looks like the word “attack”!) Knowing that either you will move or many of the people in your life will move, at any time and after any length of stay, and that very little is permanent – it affects your outlook on a lot of things. I know I didn’t put much into decorating my last apartment, once I got over the effort of unpacking and realized I was only going to live there for 10 or 11 months. Why spend the time, money, creativity, when I wouldn’t be able to take it with me to the new place? I have found that my personality is something of a contradiction in that way. I can procrastinate decorating, unpacking the last few boxes, etc, yet I also try to make my locale as much “home” as possible, be it apartment, dorm room, or house. I always carefully arrange the kitchen and begin cooking my own meals as early as possible, because to me, cooking is relaxing and “home.” I consciously brought several little touches with me when I first moved to China to hang on the walls, spread on the bed, or set on the kitchen counter. Some of those might even count as “sacred objects” that TCKs accumulate. (If you’re not up on Third Culture Kid lingo, please read the book! 😉 For now: a sacred object is something precious from a time/place of your life that you keep through the years, something permanent in the face of all the transiency.) Then again, knowing that life here is never completely certain or permanent, and having a home base in my passport country at which to store things, I took the most precious object back there the next summer for safe-keeping.
More than things and places, though, are the people. TCKs often struggle to make deep connections with people when they know that their friends may be torn away or they themselves uprooted. Somewhat paradoxically, they also jump right in and get to know people; there’s no time to waste on small-talk and surface issues. I’ve found both of these to be true in my life to some extent; the latter is also true, I think, of people in a small group with a shared goal, such as summer M trips, internships, the I-moved-to-China-alone-and-so-did-you-so-we-must-be-crazy-in-the-same-way connection, or now with a group that all came here to teach children and love on Chinese and fellow expats. The shared goal/experience is looser in some ways, tighter in others, but it’s definitely here.
Last year very little changed in our community. One teacher left for a sister school; several teachers stopped teaching after giving birth to their first child; a few new teachers came to take their places. I wasn’t particularly close to any who left. This year is different. Or perhaps this year is more normal, really. The contrasting feelings are hard to grasp in my mind simultaneously.
As an example of the goodbyes, two weeks ago I attended a shower for a wonderful woman here who is getting married and beginning a new life in the States. What a happy event, a gain to balance the loss. Right around then I also learned that a dear family here will be moving to a sister school in another province, far from us. I won’t get to teach their oldest boy when he’s in third grade a couple years from now, nor enjoy their comfortable hospitality and conversation, nor likely even invite them over again as the days tick down and they are busy preparing and I am busy finishing the school year. Those are just two of the goodbyes that I am processing. Yesterday kicked it into overdrive.
When I woke up, I read an update on a family in the States that just lost a little girl. They have adopted several times from China, and after a very long and difficult paper trail they were preparing to come pick up two beautiful daughters here at the same time. Then they got a call telling them that little Esther had passed away. I don’t know them in person, but have been following the mom’s blog, and it is heartbreaking.
As my day continued, I went to a party welcoming home a little boy who was adopted from Africa a month or so ago. It was my first time to interact with him, and he seems sweet and happy in his new family.
After doing my errands around town, I stopped in at a goodbye party for a couple who are leaving in three weeks, moving back to the States. While I was there, I held a precious little boy whose welcome party was last week, and watched my newly-one-year-old honorary niece toddle around.
Then I took a note of appreciation to a co-worker. She is ill and leaving sooner than expected in order to have tests done in another country and begin treatment. This time of goodbyes and closure is being short-circuited for her, right when she most needs support. I don’t know how to help her but am glad to see others who are close to her coming around to hold her and lift her up.
The grief of parting, the pain of unanswered questions – Why is she ill? Why did little Esther die? Will I ever see any of the leaving people again? And at the same time, the joy of new life and new families. Just a month ago we were mourning the loss of a boy in our own community, and welcoming another newborn boy that same week. We are created to handle these events but I really don’t know how. And how must our Creator feel, loving all, seeing all that goes on, knowing our injuries and victories and sorrows and loves and everything else that happens in our hearts and words and actions? He is All-Powerful, so he CAN experience these without shutting down, without ceasing to be involved, without turning off his heart to avoid being hurt again. He also gives me his Spirit, so that I can function as he created me to. I don’t need to dig a hole and crawl into it; I have his promises of “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Now to walk in it.