When choosing a book or movie, I ask, “Where do I want to go?” emotionally and physically. Films and travel memoirs have shaped my Bucket List, transported me back to places I love, and moved me–literally–to live abroad for three years. Two of my first posts on this blog were movie reviews–one on Slumdog Millionaire set in India, and the other on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button set in New Orleans. I’m preparing to return to NOLA, so I just watched the latter again.
Souls knowing no age, the only constant being change, and life’s demand that we constantly let go are truths that have always intrigued and often frustrated me. At year’s end we nostalgically look back on what has passed and hopefully or anxiously look forward at what’s to come. The movie’s message is that because nothing is permanent on this earth, beloved relationships that last a lifetime, the ability to be grateful and present in fleeting moments, and the freedom to change our course and start anew are precious gifts.
I couldn’t believe as I watched the movie again that the words below were spoken first by Benjamin Button–a voiceover as the character traveled the world. I’d found them on a poster somewhere online which I bought and hung in my classroom in Morocco. Two of my students, inspired, drummed and sang them to a beat. They were headed to universities in the US, Canada, and Europe, and my colleagues, international teachers, changed schools and countries every two years.
These words are what I hope for my own children, for us all in the new year.
Though I am writing this on a Dominican Republic beach a couple of hours from Santo Domingo where I’ll return to work on Tuesday, I’m reliving the mountain escape I had while home for the holidays. I’m sorry I missed the snow in Tennessee that arrived just after I flew back to the Caribbean on Wednesday, but I am glad my son and I had clear roads for a trip to the Smoky Mountains while I was there. Cole moved to Knoxville last summer and with each visit I understand more why he likes the city where he chose to work. Nashville’s growth spurt since I’ve been gone has frustrated natives and longtime transplants with the high rise apartments and traffic chaos that came with it. Knoxville feels much like Nashville did before the boom and with the bonus of Gatlinburg one hour away and The Biltmore two (which we plan to see next summer when the gardens are in bloom), it’s a great destination for more than Vols fans.
Tennessee is a hiking and wildlife lover’s paradise. My first morning there while drinking coffee and looking out my son’s sliding doors I saw the usual–a cardinal, squirrels chasing each other–and then something moving in the brush behind his apartment that looked like a bobcat but larger. Then there were two of them. I grabbed my camera to zoom in and started snapping; while focusing and scanning the second creature disappeared.
Whether they were both coyotes (a growing problem in suburban Nashville as well), coywolves or one was a deer that took off like the roadrunner I am not sure, but one of these guys stayed and stared me down. The sighting seemed another sign that 2017 will be full of surprises.
Thrilled to be home for the holidays for the first time in two years, I had wanted to rent a cabin in the Smokies for our family, but with the recent fires we weren’t sure how much of the area had been destroyed and which roads would be closed. Instead we drove to Cade’s Cove and stopped for lunch at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, a hot spot for locals and tourists. We saw no fire damage and given the line of cars, neon lights, and ticket sales the Pigeon Forge “strip” was still going strong.
The good news about southern food is the comfort. The better news is there are gorgeous opportunities to hike it off. Living two years in the desert and the last six months in the tropics, I had so missed journeys amidst farmhouses hidden in hills; cows and horses in fields; and cold, crisp air on moss-covered banks beside mountain streams. My questions about the future, usually rushing like water over rocks, are hushed and stilled by a winter forest.
Later in the week Taylor drove up and joined us for some amazing Italian food and a day in downtown Knoxville at Market Square. I highly recommend Altruda’s for an authentic, family-owned atmosphere and The French Market for a quick trip to Paris.
As we took a shortcut to our car, we happened upon an alley of street art. Again, it seems, technicolor surprises are just around the corner this year.
We saw Arrival, nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Cole had already seen it and thought I’d like it. He was right. Among other vital truths, it stresses that we can’t survive without communication and global collaboration.
As I felt when the holidays were over with my children in London and as most moms feel when the world goes back to work and “reality,” (and though I am forever grateful for the beauty and adventure of the time spent abroad), nothing brings me joy like relationship. Translated: quality time spent with my kids/family. I loved Marrakesh, but it was too far from them. The Dominican Republic, though many hours closer, is as well. They are grown and have lives of their own, but my heart longs to see them more often. We are bonded across miles by blood and years, vacation times spent together, technology and our love for one another. And we’ve learned, or at least I have, that home is what we are to each other–not one place. Good to know since Taylor is in Nashville and Cole is in Knoxville now. (Likewise, my sis is in Nashville but mom is in Kentucky.) And though I’ve learned “home” is wherever I am at peace with God, as a southerner I feel tied to place, to roots, to people–my people–my kids, family, and closest friends. And so my journey back has begun. I look forward this year to following the path God charts to my dream destination.
Age appears to be best in four things: old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read. –Francis Bacon
It began as a house swap inspired by one of my favorite Christmas films, The Holiday. My friend, Amy, would stay at my apartment in Marrakesh while I would stay in her apartment in Hamburg, Germany. I’d also travel to see Arunima in Idstein, but she convinced me I’d be spending all of my time on a train. I didn’t want to be a bother, but she said I’m family.
I met Mithu, (still Arunima to me) discussing old authors in my English class. She was my student and graduated high school in 1986– the last year I lived in Kentucky before moving to Tennessee. Though she hasn’t aged in three decades she was and is an old soul, still taking care of people she loves, still loved by many. The Super Student is now Super Mom. And a lifelong friend.
Thirty years ago she was my TA and Girl Friday (and Monday-Thursday), a pro at managing the yearbook staff, helping me with my paper load, and keeping a new teacher sane. She helped me pack up my life in Lexington and even visited me a few years after that in Nashville. In the time since we’d seen each other, she became a mom of twins in Germany who are now the age she was when I met her. Knowing I couldn’t fly home Christmas, she and her sons, Lucas and Max, graciously opened their home to me. And I am so grateful they did.
I knew reconnecting with this old friend would make my first Christmas away from my children bearable. She must have been exhausted after a weeklong business trip to Crete, and when she had time to decorate, cook, clean, and gift shop I have no idea. I do know that when she picked me up from the airport, same warm hug, same wry sense of humor, same kindness and ease, we picked up the friendship as if no time had passed. Now both adults, expats, single moms, we have even more in common.
Who knew in the ’80s two Kentucky girls would spend this Christmas together in Germany? I will never forget walking into her quiet, peaceful home, advent candles glowing before a beautiful tree.
Or wandering the quiet Sunday streets of Idstein, a town founded in the 12th century. The oldest building, the watchtower below, was built around 1170, but became the “witches’ tower” around 1676 during witch hunts similar to those in Salem.
I will never forget talking the new Star Wars movie and books with Lucas and Max who are majoring in German and English (or playing Activity which required game-challenged me to explain, pantomime, or draw the English translation of German words and phrases–like “pipe of an organ” or “beer crate” for my partner to guess).
Or walking with Ingrid, the boys’ grandmother, in green fields flanked by a German wood and a pink sunset after she and Mithu prepared dinner. We returned to a cooked goose and white linen.
Or being invited to the home of Patrik, Arunima’s boyfriend, where I had Christmas lunch with his mom and sister.
Or the night before I left, after a week of all the food, food, food (to be said in the rhythm of Dr. Zeus) Arunima served,
we relaxed, talked, and laughed over wine and a movie. Prost! (Cheers!) to her visiting me in Marrakesh soon.
As 2016 calls us to all look ahead in hope,
I love that “Auld Lang Syne” (meaning “for the sake of old times”) reminds us to first look back in gratitude, remembering one of life’s greatest gifts, old friends.