I've been in Thailand for about seven months now and when people ask how I like it, my go-to response is something along the lines of, "It's really challenging, but I'm learning a lot."
Most people are content with my pithy response and follow up with a remark about how the food must be amazing or how beautiful the beaches are. I like the smoothies and haven't been to the beach yet, so I just smile and nod, aware that not everyone who asks about my time cares to hear the longer version of what it's like to pick up your life and move across the world to a developing country as a 23 year-old fresh out of college.
Two years ago, I wrote a post titled, "Knees." I had just gotten back from a week at camp and my heart ached because camp felt more like home than the city I grew up in did.
I remember being angry when people asked me about my home, because I didn't feel like I had one. Home to me was synonymous with feeling safe and loved and known...and I felt none of those things in that place.
The reality at the time was that city held real, deep pain. My feet had pounded the same sidewalks for 22 years. I could drive through all of the side-streets with my eyes closed and baristas at every coffee shop in the north end of town knew me by name. There wasn't a single area that didn't have a memory attached...many were good, but the ones that stuck out the most during that season were the ones that hurt.
It's hard for me to read some of my writing from that season. There were days that I woke up in excruciating pain and others when I just felt numb, but always with an overwhelming feeling that I didn't belong and had no one to turn to.
For so long, I felt isolated and alone because I had chosen to be. From a distance, I could fool anyone into thinking that I was happy and healthy, but I knew that if I let someone get too close, they'd notice the cracks and uncover the brokenness inside. So I kept people at an arm's length, dreaming of the day I'd leave that city and find a place to really call home.
But circumstances didn't allow for that. I transferred schools and started new jobs and experienced all sorts of change, but I stayed in the same city...and somewhere along the way, decided I was tired of doing things on my own. Honestly, I think I realized I couldn't do things on my own.
So I started investing in the people right in front of me- the ones I'd been putting on a show for for so long. I showed up with all my baggage and brokenness- terrified, but ready to give up the charade of having it all together all the time- and they didn't walk away. They showed up with their own baggage and brokenness and made me feel less alone.
Here's what I've learned over the past four years; people will follow you into the truth.
The pretense of perfection only exists as a path to hollowness and exhaustion. The reality is that at the end of the day, people don't want the airbrushed version of you, they just want you.
So I started doing life with the people around me- real life. We shared meals and secrets and tears, and over time- though I didn't realize it- it all started to weave healing into the story of a city that had once been marked by pain.
In January, I left that city. Though I was sad to leave behind my friends and family, I thought moving would mean a fresh start. A new place without any of the heartache that had marked my past. Maybe even a place to call home.
Turns out, when you pack a suitcase and move across the world, your brokenness packs a bag too.
The longer version of my response when people ask me how my time in Thailand has been includes stories of battling feelings of self-doubt, wrestling with significant cultural differences, and...homesickness.
This place is a lonely place. Developing deep and meaningful relationships in ten months while navigating cultural and language barriers is hard. Really hard.
Even so, in the midst of the difficulty, I am recognizing the beauty of my relationships in the city that used to be marked by pain.
The beauty of feeling safe and loved and known.
The beauty of a place to call home.