I am in between. No, really, I am in between two places – Oslo and Stavanger – and I feel uneasy.
Yesterday we sold our apartment. That last string tying us to Oslo has been – poof! – cut, and I feel it. When we bought the house in Stavanger, it was a big deal because it meant the move was happening. But we still had our real house – our place in Oslo – our beautiful, high ceilinged, central, old apartment in Oslo. Now we don’t. Someone else owns it now (or they will soon enough).
It makes me want to cry.
There, I am crying.
At the same time as all of this is happening, I am reading more about Buddhism. I am reading a fantastic book by Stephen Batchelor called Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, which talks about how he went from becoming a Tibetan Buddhist monk at age 21 to renouncing his vows ten years later and finding a way to live from Buddhist principles without all the religion (rebirth and karma and prayers and chanting and stuff). So in a word, it is perfect for me. He is talking about how the Buddha created the Four Noble Truths not for monks, but for lay people – real people out engaging in the world – working and living in it, not just thinking about it. What is relevant about that now? Well, Batchelor talks about the second Truth, which is letting go of craving. He writes that we cannot remain constantly unchanged, whether that means being happy or suffering, for the duration of our life. When we really understand this for ourselves, craving – for one place, for things, for fame, for money, for food, and even for stability for example – falls away and we can more easily live in the moment. (Plus a lot more, but this post isn’t a summary of Batchelor´s book.)
So I feel like my craving for stability and friendships and the happiness I have had in Oslo isn’t bad, but it also isn’t based on reality. My great group of friends there started falling away mere months after I found them. I found more, and others fell away. This is life in general, but especially life as an expat whose friends consist of 99% other expats. After I am gone, others will in turn begin to leave. It is a good metaphor for this idea of a fleeting, contingent world that the Buddha taught about. And it helps pull me out of my mopey funk at “being pulled away from my friends” and “starting off into the unknown”. The latter happens every day, no matter where I am in the world.
There are some concrete things that make me feel better. First of all, the friends I have who are not moving anytime soon will only be a 50-minute plane ride away. I technically can still be a part of the book club I am in in Oslo, although I am not sure I am so excited about that anymore since the turnover has been so high. My sister in law lives in Oslo with her boyfriend and they have a guest room, so we can always crash there, although it would be wisest to get a hotel if we start doing that often – from experience I can say that couch surfing is not a good way to keep familial relationships strong in my family.
Finally, there is a lot to be excited about in Stavanger. We have access to our in-laws for that family feeling, for babysitting, and for advice/connections. We have access to the winter cabin and a fishing place that are too far from Oslo to use. There is a great organic farm here with two outlets for buying all our crazy ingredients, including our lots of organic fruit and veg, our favorite tofu, alternative grains, alternative baking supplies, organic snacks and organic meat, eggs, and cheese. It is a great place to meet people, too. People put up signs there about activities and there is even one from a women who is possibly even more alternative than I am, with her phone and email (although I tried to text her and got no response – meh!). There is a Friday playgroup not far from our temporary apartment. There is a new organic bakery and café within a short drive or long walk from our temporary place.
I guess I am actually looking forward to exploring and finding things here. What I will miss is running into my friends, or getting a text from someone I feel really knows me, saying, “wanna grab coffee?” or even asking how I am. That is the part that makes my heart hurt the most.
But there is hope. Yesterday, I decided to get out of the house a little bit, so I went to a shopping center to find some hand weights and check out a sale at a baby store, and I ran into the one person I actually personally know in Stavanger, with her baby, at the baby store! On the one hand that means: shit, what a freaking small town. I get a text from this store that there is a sale, and so does she, and we both are there at the same time. And my MIL said she saw her earlier yesterday too! What the… On the other hand, that means maybe it isn’t so scary. Maybe it won’t be too hard to find people here.
Lastly, I have been fantasizing about meeting my people – like those people, male, female, don’t care, whom I really click with. People who get me. People who question. People who think deeply. People who make me a better and more thoughtful person.
You know what, though? That is hard to find ANYWHERE. Childhood friends drift apart, college friends move away and get different jobs and do different things, work friends disperse, get promoted, and find new jobs, and people are all basically over the place. People are changing all the time. I have moved so much in my life and changed so much in my life that it is a wonder I have any friends left from the earlier stages of my life, sometimes. (Actually I only have a couple, but let´s not dwell on that!) I try not to label, but my current description of expat, stay at home mom, super-crunchy, extended-breastfeeding, co-sleeping, non-deodorant wearing, non-shampoo using, part-time vegan, business class loving, fancy car driving American makes me wary of finding people who aren´t put off by some or all of these things that make up my current persona. They aren´t me, though, and as reassuring as it is to find people who have similar interests to me, I don´t need to put myself out there as THAT type of person. I just have to be “me” as I feel each day and hope that people connect with that person. Equally important, I have to not judge people by their current actions – just as I try not to judge my friends and community and enemies and basically everyone, where ever they are in the world. If they parent differently and live differently, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some things in common.
So another part of letting go of Oslo is letting go of an idea that I am one certain kind of person and I only will get along with one specific other type of person, and that my eternal happiness depends on finding that type of person, in a couple of specimens, in Stavanger, within a few months, thankyouverymuch. That just isn’t reality.
I have to be open to the city and all its people and places and spaces.
Which leads me to close this post by mentioning another Buddhist aphorism. We live only in the present, but that doesn’t completely diminish the fact that the past set the foundation for it and the present sets the foundation for the future. The past and the future are important, in other words, but there isn´t anything we can do about them today!