Wanting What You Have

I am sitting in a coffee shop in a lakeside town in Michigan, trying to focus on work but feeling very strongly that I need to write a blog post. I just finished my favorite breakfast: a tortilla wrapped around fluffy eggs (which I watched the barista crack, cook and scramble herself), cream cheese, taco seasoning, and gooey cheddar–and served with a side of fresh blueberries. Now I’m enjoying my iced coffee and free wireless internet and trying hard not to cry, because life is just so good right now.

I used to worry about all kinds of little things. All the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still anxious–especially about the kids. It seems there is always more to worry about. Every day brings new challenges when you have kids. But in general, I don’t feel worried about my career, or whether we will ever be able to afford a house, or whether it’s better to move back to the US or stay overseas. Sure, I think about those things, but my overall feeling is that everything will turn out just fine.

When we were in Washington a couple of weeks ago, my best friend said something like, “I like this new you.” She said my changed perspective was refreshing and even made her rethink a lot of what she took for granted. Rather than be offended (“what do you mean–you didn’t like me before?”) I completely agree with her. I was kind of messed up before. I simply didn’t appreciate any of the things I was lucky enough to have: my talents, my education, my family. I think we are all selfish, deep-down. But I was especially so. I whined about student loans, my job, our small Virginia apartment.

I still want things. The biggest thing I want is a summer house on Lakeshore Drive in this small town, with private beach access. Is that so much to ask? (Not if you have $2 million or so. Which I do not.) We drove past those big houses yesterday, Lake Michigan shimmering on a gorgeous summer day, children playing in front yards or down on the beach, and I asked Dan, “Do you think these people know how good they have it?” But then I quickly realized that wasn’t a fair question. Besides the fact that money doesn’t buy happiness or health, most of us don’t appreciate this wonderful life until we are faced with something that forces us to see it. For me, it was moving to Ethiopia. I don’t just mean the “hardship” (the bugs? lack of basic cooking ingredients in stores?) I’ve personally experienced there, or the poverty I see right in my neighborhood (homeless moms with their babies on the corner… mentally disturbed, naked men tapping on my daughter’s car window)–it’s also about the misconceptions I had about the country, and the bewilderment of living in a place I don’t understand and can’t navigate. Before Ethiopia, I viewed myself as a savvy traveler, a Third Country Kid able to adapt to any situation. But in Ethiopia I feel like a child again, learning my alphabet, asking obvious questions and still not understanding the answers, tripping over my own two feet, getting confused about the seasons and the year and how to tell time, longing for the day when I might get a driver’s license but afraid of the responsibility that comes with it. At the same time, perhaps because I suddenly feel I have nothing to lose, I’ve tackled things I always dreamed of doing but never had the courage to do: starting my consulting business, becoming a real photographer. Humbled, but braver.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to this place. No matter what challenges lie ahead, and even though it will be hard to get on a plane next week and go back after this amazing trip home, I will always have Ethiopia to thank for making me a better person.

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