For the most part, Walt Whitman knew exactly what he was talking about.
When I was a junior in college a crazy friend who was always hanging around our apartment introduced me to Whitman’s Song of the Open Road. I loved the first lines.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune, Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, Strong and content I travel the open road.
Except for the part about being done with libraries (who could ever be done with libraries?) I loved these thoughts. Fast forward years (of kids and grad school degrees and working and scrimping and saving and trying to be adults). Mark and I were talking one night about actually making our dream of living with our kids in Latin America a reality.
And all of the sudden I remembered Whitman. Immediately I looked up the poem and started reading it to Mark. He was not the least bit impressed with the first lines. Always the realist.
Undeterred, I read the rest of the poem to myself and thought about what it really meant to decide that the long brown path of life could lead where we chose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good fortune.
Now that we are here, Mark still reminds me that we can choose the life we want, as long as we are willing to work toward it. We aren’t sure what we are going to do when our “year” is up in May. But I often ask Mark, “What do you think will happen?” And he responds “Well, nothing is going to just happen. We are going decide what we want to do, and then we are going to do it.” Now, obviously, we don’t get to choose everything. Hard and seemingly unfair things happen in life all the time. There is a lot we don’t have control over. But there is so much we can control.
Postpone no more, need nothing.
All of this hoping and planning happened before Mark’s job (that we thought would allow us live for years in our beloved St. Joseph, Michigan) decided to move their corporate office to LA, California. It was before Mark found out the lump in his throat was a statistically large cancerous tumor.
But it was not before we had already decided to start saving for the day that we would be able to, healthy and free, take to the open road.
When the moment came – when money was saved, and work options became clear, and cancer quieted down, and our house sold, and all the things were ready, we still had to decide if we were ready. Did we have the courage to leave. Everything we knew. All that was comfortable and known.
Allons! we must not stop here, However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here, However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here, However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.
The day we walked out of our beautiful, spotlessly clean (for once!), freshly painted, sold house, I almost could not bring myself to walk out the door. I loved our home. I loved the fireplace where we sat with hot chocolate. I loved the beautiful large front room that held my violin studio. I loved the shelves for books, the basement for fun, and our master bedroom where our last little baby Gwen was born. I loved the beautiful backyard where we worked to make a place for our kids and their friends to play. I loved our friends, our church, our neighbors, our Michigan trees! But twice I had been surprised by the gentle but sure nudge “get the house ready to sell.” And so I cried. And we left.
Listen! I will be honest with you, I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes.
The first few weeks after arriving in Nicaragua were exciting! But also hard. What were we doing??? The convenience of our old life was calling my name. Instead we were alone in a foreign country, with a chance to learn a new culture, a new language. I didn’t realize these new prizes would be so rough.
Allons! yet take warning! He traveling with me needs the best blood, thews, endurance, None may come to the trial till he or she bring courage.
I knew Mark and I would have to have courage. We felt ready for the change. But I didn’t realize how much courage it would require from our kids. That they would be so lost in a new language and culture. Everyone says kids soak up the language like a sponge. But in reality it’s a slow soaking sponge (is that a thing?). It takes time and often is accompanied by confusion and boredom.
Do you know what it is as you pass to be loved by strangers?
Thanks goodness for the people we met. For our church family, who looked at us suspiciously the first week, wondering who we were and what we were doing. But then began to open up and welcome us into their lives. They answered questions, helped me know where to go shopping, encouraged their kids to play with ours.
We’ve been invited to birthdays, baptisms, graduations, weddings. They have asked us for help with English, music, and business planning. And they’ve celebrated our life events with us as well. Surprisingly and not surprisingly, talk about the same things we do in the states: house plans and raising kids.
Thank goodness also for our group of expat families. Most expat families in our area are long-term missionaries. Even though they are from different religions they welcomed us in. They helped me recover when I realized living in Nicaragua meant a closer relationship with cockroaches, rats, and scorpions than I had previously been comfortable with. They set me up with a quick game plan to get medical help for a particularly bad illness in the family. Welcomed us to their weekly faith family dinner (otherwise known as “Teddy’s party” by our children) where we eat, socialize, read the bible, and pray together. We would be lost without them!!!
Do you know what it is as you pass to be loved by strangers?
Yes, we do.
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like.
One thing I have learned about myself going through this adventure as a family is that I do not like change. I guess I should have realized this before. I only like watching movies I’ve already seen, and going to restaurants I’ve already been to. I prefer the known over the new every time.
And then we moved to Nicaragua. I am beginning to learn how to quiet the doubts that I feel deep inside when I must deal with change. I am starting to realize that if I just continue forward, I will meet things on new roads that I will appreciate and even enjoy.
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first, Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d, I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
We were staying in a very hot, very uncomfortable, and somewhat unsafe Airbnb (perhaps not the best choice, but it was cheap) during the second week we got here when I thought to myself, “I want to go home right now.”
I am so glad we stayed! We have been here for almost 8 months now. I love speaking Spanish, watching our kids learn Spanish in their Nicaraguan bilingual school, exploring the volcanoes, walking down the historic Spanish-style streets from 300 years ago. I appreciate learning from the other women I meet here, watching how they raise their kids, work to support their families, and live their faith.
And beyond what I already know, I also realize we cannot always “behold with our natural eyes” the changes that are happening, or the way God is taking the roads we choose and blessing our lives for our good and for the good of others.
Coming to Nicaragua was a dream that Mark and I wrote down in the early months of our marriage. Between then and now, we have traveled many roads, some wonderful, others really hard. But choosing to walk this particular path together has been very satisfying.
Camerado, I give you my hand! I give you my love more precious than money, I give you myself before preaching or law; Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?