Today was an auspicious day: the first time I turned down an invitation since I got to Los Angeles. Why is that auspicious? Because I am in a new city, a place where I have had to start over making friends. I’ve been in this situation before, several times; it is a challenging and also fulfilling place to be. It can be lonely, but it can also be fantastic, because I get to approach each new person with fresh eyes, and hopefully an open heart. Little by little, one makes a few connections, then comes an outing, a dinner, perhaps. And then one day, before you even know it, you have actual plans with a lovely person when another lovely person invites you to a cookout and you have to decline. That feels auspicious to me.
I have had some good training in all of this, as a kid. While not an “army brat,” one might call me an academic brat. My father, whose specialty was international politics, regularly took summers and sabbaticals in foreign countries. And the family went with. From nursery-school on, I lived in neighborhoods and attended schools where I not only knew no one, but often did not understand the language, nor have any familiarity with the customs. You never pay as much attention to the world around you as when everything is unfamiliar. It’s why so many of us love traveling.
What you wear, how you express yourself, the foods you eat, they all stand out when you are from somewhere else. At times you may seem exotic and interesting to people, but other times you are seen as simply alien. In nursery school in Oslo Norway, I may have been too young to know whether I was being ostracized or not. But let me tell you that first grade in Geneva, Switzerland made up for any past blissful ignorance. No, I did not speak French, but my parents chose to enroll me in a French-speaking school all the same. No, I had never used a fountain pen and inkwell to write with, but that was the only option and I made a mess of things. No, I did not get a new dress for the Parade L’Escalade that all the students marched in, while the most popular girl looked at me as though I were dressed in burlap. Yes, I got really used to eating chocolate bars sandwiched between bread for lunch. And yes, there was a really cute boy who carried my books as we walked home from school each day (Those French men start young)! So many stories, a lot of them difficult. And I would not change a thing.
There were many summers abroad of loneliness, alienation, and the overcoming thereof. Then I grew up (somewhat) and went to college, and mid-way through decided I needed to get out of Dodge. And perhaps, because it was more the norm for me than some, I moved to a city where I knew no one again (except my father’s ex-girlfriend who put me up for one night and drove me to the grocery store the next day to buy food for my new apartment I had found that morning). Tucson, Arizona. Capistrano Apartments. I wasn’t back in school yet (another story) so I was an oddball at this complex filled with students. I was very lonely at first, though I remember telling my dad on the phone that everything was great. And it was in a way. I was in a beautiful place, where mountains encircled me. (And I have finally gotten back to that landscape again)! I was far away from my origin story, which was a goal of mine. Plus there was a pool! Little by little I met some folks, even made a few close friends. I loved being just me, not my father’s daughter, nor my high school’s tennis player, nor even my road’s resident. No one knew anything about me, and that helped me re-see me.
I moved to Manhattan next. Lived with my sister. A whole new place. I mean really brand new. Then New Jersey. Made a new set of friends with whom I shared so very many things. What a gift to meet women at a time where we are all newly married and/ or new mothers, wondering what we are doing, and what we will do in the future. I am still close with a number of those women today. In fact, the reason I cannot accept the gracious invitation of my new acquaintance from church to attend his family’s cookout is because my dear New Jersey friend is coming to visit me. I am so excited to share my new world with her; she loves new worlds herself, and seeks them out quite often. We are going to explore my new city, get comfortable in my digs, and talk about things old and new. I even get to take her to church where I will introduce her to my new church family, a most beautiful group of saints that I am blessed to be a part of.
Yesterday I texted my daughter that my newest tennis date — it’s really like a blind date, trying to gather a few good tennis partners! — was a real fail. He was not a very good player, but more importantly to me he was an unpleasant person: a know-it-all, a mansplainer. (After I answered that African-American history was my specialty, he then proceeded to explain to me that African-American history began in the 1600s when the first enslaved Africans were brought over). Anyway, my daughter can’t stand when her mother spends time with anyone unworthy, one of the many things I love about both my children! But I reminded her that one has to kiss some frogs along the way.
I have met — and even kissed — a lot of frogs. That is necessary when you are the new kid in the pond so often. And it is worth the effort. Because what eventually is revealed to me is an intimate community of beautiful humans to share life with, and to love. And when I’ve gotten to the point in my new place where I have to turn down an invitation — a thing I long for so much at the start of each new adventure — I know I am in the right place, building that community slowly and intentionally. For that I am ever so willing to wait. And before I know it, I will have more invitations than time — instead of the other way around.