Continuing my monthly series in 2020 as a slow farewell to AoS, today I’m sharing a letter to myself in 2010, ten years ago. Each letter focuses on one of the different categories we write about here: relationships, home, work, travel, self-care, and in the case of this month’s installment, community.
Though these are to myself, my hope is that you find a smidge of truth, beauty, and goodness you can apply to your own life — and perhaps this exercise will inspire you to write your own letters to yourself, ten years younger.
Dear Me in 2010,
Seeing as you just left Turkey and returned unexpectedly to the U.S., and basically into the unknown, I remember well your feeling of upended-ness. You feel both dizzy and weightless, and also stuck in a beige-colored waiting room chair, as though you’re in between one phase and the next in a land of blah.
Though it’s not your preference, for the next few years you’re going to move around a bit — first in a temporary rental in Austin, only because that’s the most obvious place to land while you figure out what’s next for your life (while also delivering your youngest baby and releasing your first published book to the world). But then, you move to Bend, Oregon, where you know absolutely no one.
In-laws are only a few hours away, but Bend is still a new town; picturesque but foreign to you. You’re used to this, of course, seeing as you just lived in a secular Muslim culture on the Mediterranean for three years, and before that, you lived in a war and poverty-stricken Balkan village. But that doesn’t mean central Oregon still doesn’t feel like a new culture — because it is.
As you settle into life there, raising your tiny children and starting new work, you’ll make friends. Slowly, because that’s how it is in the Pacific Northwest, and guarded. People will be hard to get to know for a while, and in a small town with deep roots, even though folks are nice they’re reluctant to let someone new in their fold of friendships. It feels at first like an inconvenience to them.
Eventually, some people become actual friends, and over the next few years, this is what ultimately defines life in central Oregon to you. Friends, bonded over common work, parenting, marital, cultural, emotional, and spiritual experiences, shared through storytelling over pushes on the swing sets during play dates and wine during dinner dates.
And then you’ll leave again, this time to circumnavigate the planet for a year, then to resettle yet again back in central Texas, starting over nearly from scratch. You know people there already, of course, but it feels like a new town because it’s been a decade since you lived there with a permanent mindset. The entire city is different than your childhood home, so familiar faces become the thing you cling to as a semblance of a familiar home.
This shouldn’t surprise you, because it’s true in every place: from your childhood home to college, to Kosovo, to Turkey, to Oregon, back to Texas, to stops in 30 countries, and back to Texas again. It’s always the people that make a place what it is. The community of humans breathing similar air, in and out, day after day, over laundry folds and local elections and new stores opening and beloved ones closing.
Community makes a place a home. As solace for not moving back to Oregon when you and Kyle took the kids around the world, you’d repeat to each other your mantra: people over trees. It was your reminder that, even though central Oregon is infinitely more geographically beautiful than central Texas (sorry, but it is), you weren’t moving back because of visual splendor. You were moving back because of certain people; a community.
Community makes a place a home, and yet it’s the hardest thing there is in life to build. It is so hard to make friends; much harder for adults than for kids. It’s hard to wish you were wanted, it’s hard to be the first to do the asking, it’s hard to be okay with partial solutions. It’s never perfectly ideal, and it’s always hard work.
But it’s worth it. It’s worth the work of making friends and being a friend, every time. You’ve yet to regret doing the messy work involved.
Ten years later, and it’s still not easy for you. You’ve been living in the same house for three and a half years now — the longest you’ve ever lived anywhere save your childhood home. This place technically is more home for your family of five than anywhere else, since your children have kept pushpinned posters into their walls here the longest of anywhere so far. But in many ways, you still feel like the new kid on the block, and you wonder if that feeling will ever go away.
You still love change, and you still dream about moving back overseas again. You hope it will happen. But if there’s any one thing that will make that a hard decision, it’s the community — the relationships you’ve allowed into your life, the people you’ve let get to know you, and you, them.
You may always prefer change, and find that itch for wander bubbling to the surface whenever things get hard, or boring, and I’m guessing you’ll remain an introvert the rest of your life. I’ll do my best to remember the previous ten years, when I was you, and chose to lean into the sacred discipline of making friends — not because it was easy, or because I felt like it, but because it was worth it. It’s still worth it today.
You in 2020