A Letter from the Wilderness
Hey friends— It’s been a while.
When the pandemic started over a year ago, I wrote my last post on this blog. I was unsure of what would come next. I watched my beloved city descend into momentary chaos and find its footing again, albeit marching forward with a new rhythm. My friends and I huddled closer, aware that our families were father away than ever. I watched us all contemplate what was next, hopeful about what was to come on the other side of what we were living in.
The last time I tried to write this post, I was sitting in my empty apartment in Prague, two days before I left the city, but all my thoughts were too raw to put into words. And honestly, I was embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anyone I felt like I failed at my dream, even though there wasn’t anything I could have done.
It felt as though one of the stained glass cathedral windows had shattered and shards had become lodged in my heart. With every passing moment nearing the end of the expat life I’d built, they twisted a little deeper. It still feels that way sometimes, but it's time to start talking about it, to continue the process of letting go, of venturing forward into uncharted territory and graciously welcoming in whatever comes next.
Some of the memories of those last days in Prague and first weeks home return to me like polaroid snapshots, a list of blessed lasts and renewed firsts:
Losing my job because the study abroad industry ceased to exist for a year.
A friend helping me sort through my clothes to donate.
One last visit to Vyšehrad.
Hiding at the Globe when it got to be too sad.
The final lunch at Forky’s with friends who became family.
Cleaning out my desk in my tiny office I shared with an amazing woman who is still one of my best friends.
The tearful farewell to my incredible landlord.
Slowly watching the home I’d worked so hard to make disintegrate before my eyes as I sold and donated most of my belongings.
The way the light fell in my favorite park and the little blue flowers that littered the grass.
The goodbyes that didn’t feel real. Writing letters because I wasn’t sure I’d have the words at the end.
Airports that felt like Life After People.
Hugs from my family and my mom whispering, “It’s real. It’s real. It’s real.”
Jet-lagged, falling asleep at 4 pm and waking up, surprised not to be in my tiny apartment anymore.
Accidentally greeting the local barista in Czech.
Starting a new job and being welcomed warmly from the other side of a Microsoft Teams call.
Picking a new apartment in Des Moines.
Long runs around the lake by my new apartment. Endless books. Countless movies.
Please, distract me.
Make it less bittersweet.
It all happened so fast that I didn’t realize that I had waded so deep into a Great Big In-Between until it was all I could see on either side of me. I missed my friends in Prague and was struggling to connect with new ones. I missed knowing how things worked. I even missed checking the tram schedule before I left my apartment. I forgot the English word for tomatoes at the grocery store and spent 5 minutes looking for rajčata when they were right in front of me.
I wanted to go home, but I wasn’t quite sure where that was anymore, since I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Forever too foreign for the Czech Republic. Still too like a fish out of water to feel at home in America. The Great Big In-Between stretched on and I felt like I was traipsing into the wilderness without a compass, map or even a star to guide myself. Being an expat had become such a huge part of my identity but now I had to figure out who I was when it was stripped away.
There have been moments of immense joy too. Getting to come see my family, just for a weekend, without more than six months notice. Not having to do advanced calculus to make a phone call. Finding a yoga studio that feels like a hug every time I walk through the door. Going to my favorite places I dreamed about on homesick days in Prague. Getting to laugh with childhood friends after nearly three years apart. Target. Oh, how I missed the convenience of Target and have been visiting often to make up for lost time.
Nearing the end of the pandemic has been hard. Getting to hear everyone talk about how excited they are to go back to normal set my teeth on edge at first. What about my normal? That life doesn’t exist anymore.
Time has done a strange thing for many of us this last year as our worlds have shifted, pinched and pulled in ways we hadn’t expected. I know for me, the life I left in Prague feels like a dream somedays because I know I can’t go back, making this season all the more wild, since Prague was the endgame for the last several years of my life.
I wish I could tell you I’ve made it to the other side of the Great In-Between but, nearly a year after moving home, I’m still in it, walking through it. Still finding my people here. Still trying to find that new rhythm. Still feeling a little lost in the wilderness. And that’s okay. I know I’m not the only one who has had massive life changes since last March. I know that other people have had to rebuild, re-route and re-write and even if that's not you, we’re all still works in progress.
Through this whole re-route, I am profoundly grateful. I am grateful for the opportunities I've found since coming home. I'm grateful for the challenges I've overcome in the last several months. But most of all, I'm grateful for the people who are walking with me through this season: the ones who helped me into and out of Prague and the ones who welcomed me home, encouraging, listening to stories as they bubble to the surface, and providing valuable guidance as I adjust to a new industry and new-to-me country.
So friends, I’m not sure what this corner of the internet will look like moving forward. Not sure when I’ll get my suitcase out again and explore my own backyard. But what I can say with absolute certainty is that, just like this time a year ago, I’m with you rebuilders, re-routers and re-writers, embracing this season in the wilderness and hopeful about what comes next.