Gregorian monks chant in my kitchen and I tuck into a pot of fine English Breakfast tea. My electric mixer kneads a mound of pizza dough and I savor the earthy yeastiness. This is Soul Care. I had to care for her before I could tap out this post on Reentry because I’m in the fog of it.
That has surprised me. For fog to be the dominant atmosphere still ten months after the actual point of reentry into my home culture has surprised me.
Apparently it shouldn’t have. A dear friend who precedes me tells me things start to look up at the year marker. At a reentry conference my family attended, they gave us an 18-36 month window for transition tremors. You would think that information would be discouraging, but it was, in fact, liberating because it meant that I didn’t have to pull it together yesterday, today, or tomorrow. What a relief because I am failing that expectation spectacularly.
On the first day of the reentry debriefing, they asked us what we hoped to get out of the week. I said that I want to know if what we’re experiencing – the unrelenting tension, the angst, confusion, loss of confidence, anger, throbbing ache, agitation and anxiety – is par for the course or if we need to be seeking out some more help, or both.
What I experienced and discovered that week became a companion to me in the fog. On the better days, this is what I remember. On the others, this is the direction I squint:
Shepherd, my six-year-old, lost his first tooth. We whooped and hollered, hugged and congratulated. “Let’s celebrate! Shep where do you want to go for dinner tonight?” A dark cloud passed over his face and his bottom lip came out. “Uncle Robin’s Pizza.” We all sat down on the black-and-white checkered tile floor of the kitchen and cried.
Uncle Robin’s is a business we frequented from the first day it opened its doors in our city in China. There was an item on the menu named after Shepherd. It was where we did all our celebrating. Now on the other side of the world, there was a hole in Shepherd’s gum and our habits.
We didn’t stay on the floor. We had our cry and then brainstormed a list of spots we thought might make good celebration destinations. Lighter for having acknowledged and shared the loss, we went to celebrate the lost tooth.
Call it Grief
Minimizing the emotions (see list above) compounds them, and when I stuff them, they morph ugly and come out sideways. The simple act of naming “it” grief has helped enormously. That led me to a new favorite writer, Paula D’Arcy, who writes grief redemptively.
Can I go home again?
A lot of the reentry process happens internally, and that’s a big part of why I’ve found it so slippery. Grief took a toll on my intuition, which shook my confidence. I feel timid and uncertain in my home culture. When I acknowledge my shame about that, I discover this…
I can approach my home culture as I would a foreign one. I can suspend judgment, and engage the culture as a learner with an open heart, open eyes, and open ears. I can synthesize the information I gather and the experiences I have, and check my understanding with a cultural informant. A good cultural informant will help me discover why the librarian snapped at me when I thought I was standing in line, and will tell me how much to pay the babysitter.
That process develops intuition, which builds confidence. I’m on my way back home.
Practice Soul Care
My connection group (shout-out!) is made of re-enterers. Sharing pictures of the ways we care for our souls was soul care itself – flower gardening, sewing, reading, cooking, barre, and coffee dates with friends.
Notice the things that make you feel like yourself, and return to them often. And when you emerge from the reentry fog, celebrate. I’ll meet you there.
Have you reentered your home culture for a season or for good? Are you preparing to reenter? What have you experienced or discovered?
P.S. I can’t recommend attending a reentry/debriefing conference highly enough. There are a lot of things to let slide during reentry. This is not one of them. Please, go. This is the one we attended. Seven thumbs up: two from three of our family members, and one from the littlest. He didn’t care for the separation; though his teacher was so fabulous she nearly had him.
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