Adventure Grieving Personal Growth

The Reckoning

In my room there is a huge skylight that is right above my bed. When I first moved in, it was covered by a piece of black plastic, but the room felt so dingy and sad without the sun that I scaled two stacked dressers in order to take it down. Without that piece of plastic, this room is filled with perpetual light. During the day, the sun fills it with bright warmth. At night, the moonlight shines directly on me through it.

Wellington has been really good to me so far. Since my arrival, I’ve met a good number of interesting folks, landed in the best living situation with the kindest people, worked on a film set, and taken a burlesque class. It’s a beautiful city, perfect for people watching. If you’re into coffee, then come here. I’ve had no shortage of dates, if I wanted them. And yet…

Wellington from atop a hill

I came to New Zealand for a lot of reasons. The biggest reason was that it was the quickest, cheapest way to get out of the US (and more specifically, out of Arizona). I missed living abroad, and thought hell, I’ll go out there and give it a whirl. I came to New Zealand to prove to myself that I was still the type of person who would say they were going to do something, and actually follow through; who wouldn’t let fear hold her back. I came to New Zealand to get away.

I’m as much away as I could possibly get. I am in my warm bed, in my house, in Newtown, Wellington, on the southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand. The neighbourhood I live in is popular for refugees. It is colourful, with schools and parks, lots of coffee shops and halal stores with cheap fruit. Every morning you see old men perched on benches, having a coffee (I repeat, they really like their coffee here). The winter days are about 50 degrees, usually sunny. I appreciate the sun shining on my face, and the sensation of being alive; the magic of being as far away as I could get from everything I know, and sharing the company of amazing people. What are the chances? And yet…

I find myself with this perpetual dimness inside of me. For as much as I can appreciate the absolute serendipity of the things that have happened to me since I’ve been here, none of it seems to feel as important as I thought it would.

I came to New Zealand to get away from everything and deal with my grief. That wasn’t my original intention in coming out here, as I bought my ticket well before I had any grief, but once Chris died, I thought it would be good to come out here on my own and try to cope with that loss. I thought it would be good to get out of my life and start a new one, one where I was more honest with myself and others about everything. One where I was the kind of woman that was alone, and perfectly at peace with that.

Reckon is a really popular word here. You hear it a lot. What do you reckon? or I reckon that… It’s a word I really like. I like it in this casual context, where you ask people what they think or understand, but my understanding of to reckon is to come to terms with something, often errors or mistakes. When you reckon with yourself, you face squarely all of those things you’d otherwise like to ignore.

The reckoning that’s dawning on me now is that I already am, and always was, the kind of woman I came here to be. I’m no different than before I left. I don’t have anything to prove, not even to myself. If I look behind me from this vantage point, I’ve done nothing but forge my own path; sometimes making the simple choice, other times going ahead in spite of things. BrenĂ© Brown said in her book Rising Strong:

Curiosity led me to adopt and live by the belief that “nothing is wasted” – a belief that shapes how I see the world and my life. I can now look back at my often rough-and-tumble past and understand how dropping out of school, hitchhiking across Europe, bartending and waiting tables, working as a union steward, and taking customer service calls in Spanish on the night shift at AT&T taught me as much about empathy as my career as a social worker, teacher, and researcher. I used to look back at those far-flung dots as mistakes and wasted time, but allowing myself to be curious about who I am and how everything fits together changed that. As difficult and dark as some of those times were, they all connect to form the real me, the integrated and whole me.

Anyone who knows me would be the first to tell you that I change ideas as regularly as I change underwear. I’m probably notorious for it at this point. I’ve had so many jobs, have lived all over, just to see where they could lead. Up to now, I have yet to commit to a singular career path. Often times I feel the spectre of judgment from others about that, and for a long time it has bothered me. I think some of that has been self-inflicted as well, self-conscious that others thought less of me because I didn’t have a career or stable ground to stand on. Chris, who was one of the few people I’d say really knew me well, knew this was who I was. He knew that, and loved me anyway; in spite of it, or because of it, I can’t say. But the older I get, quite frankly, the less of a fuck I give about what people think of me or what I do. I’ve read so many stories about people on their death beds, and what their biggest regrets were. Almost always, people say they regret doing what they thought was expected of them, rather than what they wanted to do. If your life isn’t your own, by your design, then what was the point of living it?

In his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, Jungian analyst James Hollis writes, “Perhaps Jung’s most compelling contribution is the idea of individuation, that is, the lifelong project of becoming more nearly the whole person we were meant to be-what the gods intended, not the parents, or the tribe, or, especially the easily intimidated or the inflated ego. While revering the mystery of others, our individuation summons each of us to stand in the presence of our mystery, and become more fully responsible for who we are in this journey we call our life.”

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Every night I find myself looking up into that skylight, when the moon is beaming down on me. I think about Chris. I wonder where he is, and how many moons and skies separate us. I think of how many miles separate me and my friends. I think of how many lifetimes it will take for Chris and I to meet again, and how true love lasts a lifetime, but maybe it will span two or three. I wonder what he would think of the things I’m doing. That uncovered skylight acts as a portal for my thoughts, sending them out into the night sky where they float around, only to come back down to land into my mind, fully-formed.

I don’t regret anything I’ve done with this life I’ve been given. Not yet anyway. Everything has been a learning experience. I’m reckoning now with all of the expectations that have been set out for me, or rather, the ones that I’ve allowed to be set. In my short time here in New Zealand, I’ve been reckoning with an overwhelming amount of reality checks. I reckon that I will still be me, anywhere that I am, and whatever I do. I reckon that Chris’ death has violently shaken up my priorities. Up to now, my entire life has been in pursuit of my own satisfaction. That’s been great and rewarding in a lot of ways, and I’m not ashamed of that. But that came at the expense of a lot of great relationships, including my relationship with Chris at times. I reckon that traveling will always be a part of who I am and something I will always do, the destinations I dream of going to and exploring will (probably) always be there. The people I love won’t. I reckon that maybe I’m not just physically exhausted of moving around, but emotionally exhausted from it as well.

I reckon that I’m ready for something else entirely in this life. Stay tuned.

Happy trails,

Sam x

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