“I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come, a toast to my own reunion…” –Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford
Oh, to be a stranger in a strange land. My family and I sold our house, said good-bye to our jobs, our friends and family, and about 90% of our stuff and crossed the Atlantic by ship in a sort of 21st century reverse emigration from the US to Stockholm, Sweden, where my husband is from. We landed a little more than a week ago.
In earlier posts I shared how this experience has been both an adventure and a rite of passage, divided by the anthropologists into three distinct phases—a preliminal phase of ending some aspects of my old identity, a liminal phase spent in a metamorphic trans-continental boat ride, and now, this final post-liminal phase of coming out the other side a new and different person.
And new and different it has been.
We arrived in Sweden to festive pomp and circumstance after disembarking our ship in England and hopping a short flight to Stockholm. Flags, streamers, champagne, hugs, dinner in the garden, even the cherry tree blooming on cue for our arrival…it was a reception in the truest sense of the word.
Reality hit the next morning like a hammer. I was startled awake in a disorienting free fall while my mind attempted to locate my body in its mental GPS. Yes, dear, down there in that long skinny country on the top of Europe, that’s where you are. Thud.
The disorientation lingered like a hangover. Insert confusion woman montage sequence here: confused woman working the coffee maker (weak coffee being grounds for deportation in my new homeland), confused woman figuring out the dishwasher, the washing machine, the shower. Each moment left me stymied.
The pinnacle of ridiculousness–at one point I stood for several minutes, swearing under my breath, trying to open the front door by turning the deadbolt lock to a variety of positions. Finally I realized that unlike my American front door, which opens in, Swedish front doors open out. Duh.
Given that I spend several weeks here each summer and even lived here many years ago, I’m surprised to be this disoriented. I see now that on those vacations I somehow skirted around many of these domestic chores. Determined to be a thoughtful house guest, last weekend I pragmatically attacked each task head on.
The remainder of the week continued to offer a real sense of seeing life with fresh eyes and beginner’s mind–not necessarily bad, just curiously different. Can I take my daughter from the schoolyard at the end of the day or do I need to tell someone? What do I need to ride the bus? What radio station should I listen to? What brand of hot dogs should I buy? (And these are just the little things.)
The confusion fog will certainly hang around while I continue to find some sense of self, or as the rite of passage model suggests, a new embodiment. There is a definite feeling of rematerialization as I go about my new life, like vapor turning into liquid, liquid turning into solid. With each day, I feel a little less like a cloud with feet.
This afternoon someone asked how I was doing. They asked if I was overwhelmed, using a phrase in Swedish which uncannily translates into “being in a state of disintegration.” I smiled and was able to reply honestly. “No, quite the opposite.”