Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reflections on our journey

Graham and I had known for months that he had a business trip to Chile.  We had thrown around the idea of going as a family, but we couldn't get traction on the idea. We dodged and and put off the final decision for as long as possible.

And then one morning I woke up possessed, we were just going to do this thing, and like holding my nose and plunging into cold water, I bought five tickets from San Francisco to Chile, continuing onto Boston for a family reunion, and then back to san Francisco.  

It wasn't until the money had been spent, that I woke up to the fact that the reason I had been dodging was that I was scared, which surprised me.  

The ten hour evening flight, that mysterious gravity defying journey through the dark of night at 35,000 while my children and I slept (or tried to sleep) felt impossibly vulnerable.  The fear was magnified by the fact that we would be landing in a city and a country I had never seen, and in a combination of ignorance, and old fashioned americanism, had never thought about at all.  

I had no stories to tell myself about what Chile would be like.  My mental formation of the place was totally blank, a gray airless void of thought that I could not gussy up, no matter how hard I tried, with pleasant memories or associations of landscape or people or food or smells.  The result was a kind of forced zen.  Not the air blown, cover of Yoga Journal zen, but the disoriented, unresolved, nothing to bump up against zen where you can see yourself being skittish, neurotic, vulnerable and slightly unhinged.  

If you were someone who chatted with me before the trip, this would surprise you.  Because right up until we took our seats on the plane, I managed to cover over this fear with a glaze of excitement and and a repeated joke about the only thing I could visually imagine--our tight connection in Miami on our way to Boston the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I told way too many people that we could end up having our Thanksgiving meal at an airport Burger King in Miami.  

The fear subsided about an hour into the plane ride, and over the course of our eight different flights, we were blessed with smooth travel.  

Learning that mild resistance, in the form of procrastination, indecision and the feeling of just slightly shying away from something, is actually a version of fear for me is learning that I can put to good use.

Upon arriving, we settled into a nourishing rhythm.  Breakfast, morning adventure, lunch, and quiet school work in the afternoon before another short outing and/or dinner.  It was such a good break from driving in so many directions in Palo Alto, and fulfilled the Amanda Soule style homeschooler in me.  Despite the magnitude of the miles travelled, this trip refueled and replenished all of us I think.

Our morning adventures included a lot of walking.

One day we met a local fisherman who was tending to a two week old littler of kittens.
He shared the unbelievable cuteness with us!

One surprise was that in Chile, many restaurants serve Nescafe instead of coffee.  But the beauty of the place more than made up for the lack of robust caffination.


On our one day in Santiago, we toured with a guide named Jaime (pronounced HI-may).  And we were able to absorb a lot of social learning about some of what happened under Pinochet's dictatorship.  Jaime lived through those years.  He had not been forced to leave Chile, but followed friends who were.  He told us that many artists and intellectuals fled as soon as Pinochet came into power.

And he said one other thing that delivered a cold splash of awakeness.

He told us that Mount Aconcagua, which is north of Santiago, was the highest mountain in America.  I was disoriented when I realized that the place "America" was being dramatically reframed for me.  For my whole life I equated the United States with America.  It never occurred to me that America might actually, realistically, be thought to include BOTH North and South America.  

It was humbling to recognize this ignorance.

I spent the rest of the trip calling myself a Californian, or saying I was from the United States, because we don't even have the language yet to address this particular ignorance.

It had the effect of helping specify my place, our place, in the family of things.  We are smaller than what we think, but we belong to something much, much bigger than we allow ourselves to imagine.

At home in California, I asked Gwendolyn, what the biggest difference was between Chile and California.  And she said, "You know mom, I'm surprised.  It wasn't that different."

And, 16,000 miles later, I agree with her.  We are all Americans, after all.  

A Chilean dandelion.

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