When people ask us why we moved to Seattle, my husband (Clay) and I always respond with “‘because we wanted a change of pace,” which is the boring, neutered, version. But if I had just the right amount of caffeine and sass that day I might respond with “how much time do you have?”
Then I’d dish out all the juicy details to anyone within earshot. Only stopping for the occasional ‘smile & nod’ from the peanut gallery. (I think that’s why writing is my jam. Because that’s what writing is in a sense: me talking at you, dishing out heart to heart vibes with a lil’ caffeine buzz.)
Speaking of, now that I have you here I have to ask: how much time do you have? Because I have a story that I think is worth sharing, and I’d like to try to tell it. Currently this story is unoriginally named “Why we moved to Seattle; a memoir (a heart to heart). I take full responsibility for the terrible title, as there is so much more to the story than that.
First, some backstory: the whole moving process–– from conception all the way to “holy crap we live in Seattle now”–– happened quite quickly. In a short time we sold our house, a car, and only took what would fit in our VW Tiguan. We said “see you later” to bewildered family and friends, knowing that on paper we didn’t have concrete evidence to prove to anyone that this would work out. Essentially, we intuitively put all our eggs in one basket and then we moved that basket to Seattle as fast as we could.
But the story behind that story is tied up in our misadventures with grief, our deep-as-the-sea depression, and how we handled it.
All of that stems from the greatest obstacles and setbacks of my life, which occurred a few years ago when Clay and I weathered our first catastrophic grief tsunami. I still remember the mournful ache I felt upon realizing that my funeral outfit never had a chance to work its way to the back of the closet. Those days were accompanied by 800lb. darkness that weighed us down, on an off; for over a year, almost two. In an effort to find the silver lining among the black mascara tears I began calling myself a “grief expert,” (as if anyone could be or would even want to be the reigning champ of such a grim title).
Luckily time has tamed that boast, and I know better now.
I’ve learned that grief is a mighty, paradoxical force. It took so much away from me, but it also gave me everything. My faith and hope in God, for instance, cowered from the whiplash of grief, but eventually expanded into a healthier, more mature, more resilient theology. Grief also took my zest, my mojo, my hobbies, my energy, my smile, and my ability to notice any virtuous thing; but it taught me how to see in the dark. I’m not a die hard Lord of the Rings fangirl, but to borrow a line from J.R.R. Tolkien: grief taught me to find ‘the light when all other lights went out.’ It took away my happiness and enjoyment of life, but also reminded me to fight for them.
The contradictory nature of it all is confusing. Which is why, in convoluted matters such as grief, I think the wisest thing anyone can do is throw up their hands in surrender and graciously admit that they know nothing.
[Throws hands up in the air] Let the record show–– I know nothing.
I am not a grief expert. However, I do think I could write a book on my speculations and observations. The world might not be ready for that though, so instead of a book this wee little blog-memoir shall serve as the abridged version. The bulk of this story revolves around the few wisdoms that Clay and I somehow managed to pick up amidst our season of wreckage. And woven into that are deeper answers that flesh out why we disrupted our comfortable midwest life to move to a city that we’d only visited once, for a few days.
The following memoir is mere speculation, though. Which is to say, I’m not even an expert in up-close-and-personal matters such as my own life. This is just my interpretation of my own testimony and path. So let the record show that I don’t really know why we moved.
…Sometimes the wisest thing we can do when we find ourselves ‘not knowing’, is return to reverence and let the mystery speak for itself.
But still, one can speculate:
– CHAPTER 1 –
Awkward pauses and lulls in the dinner conversation were to be expected. After all, we spoke different languages. This was different though. I fully understood what she was asking, I just didn’t have an answer. My mind was blank.
I sat there so long that Fernanda, our AirBnB host, must’ve thought I couldn’t comprehend her broken english, so she repeated the question with different vocabulary.
“What is special at home? What do you love about your area?”
Cat got my tongue.
This dinner was one of our last in Lisbon before flying back home to Michigan. Clay and I had just spent the entire month living our own spin off version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love set in Portugal. More of a Sabbatical than a vacation. It was therapy; our time was mostly spent working through weighty grief and re-learning the basics of happiness (like how to smile and laugh without forcing it).
Don’t feel bad for us though, we did have fun. We stayed in Lisbon mostly, but also thru-hiked the stunning Rota Vicentina trail along the coast for 4 days, and traveled up to Porto for a long weekend. We stayed in remote fishing villages, explored ornate castles, slept in, sipped on vinho verde and port wine, ate plate after plate of amazing food, and took naps on the beach.
By the end of our 30 day therapy trip, our mental state had improved leaps and bounds. And without offending anyone, I’d like to add that we weren’t homesick. Aside from friends and family, we did not miss much about Grand Rapids. Everything that I thought made West Michigan so unique was one up’ed by our head over heels love for Portugal.
“The Great Lakes are incredible, especially in the summer,” my husband interjected. “And have you ever seen the colors on the trees in the fall? All the leaves turn bright orange and red…”
He continued to share a few more highlights and details, and the conversation quickly moved on from there. No problemo. That was that. But my inability to boast about the Great Lakes, lush trees, or the 4 seasons sat with me for months after. Every time I’d think about that night I got embarrassed and confused all over again.
Because my love for Grand Rapids has always been incredibly spirited and specific. Much like the closing scene of Lady Bird, which beautifully captures the detailed intimacy of what ‘home’ is:
One YouTube commenter wrote “This ending is the purest distillation of what home sickness feels like. I bawl every time.”
I have to agree. As a homebody I fully relate to this scene; it’s easily one of my favorite movie endings.
Although I love to debate which Mexican joint has the best tacos (Taqueria San Jose, no contest) and which road has the worst potholes (Michigan St, just west of the East Beltline), I’m more infatuated with the way the 9am sun saturates my favorite running route around Wilcox Park. Or the sight of the giant circular fan that sits in the back doorway of Rinaldi’s on hot days. And catching that glimpse of the skyline by Lake Michigan Drive exit on 196-E gives me a jolt of hometown comfort every single time.
When I was 26 (which was 6 years ago) I even set up a blog called The Lake Effect, which was going to be my outlet to gush about all things West Michigan. I only got around to writing a few articles but the introduction sentence said it all: “My vision for this blog is inspired heavily by the lifestyle of those of us lucky enough to live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
Yep. I was one of the lucky ones. Grand Rapids the Beautiful.
So why couldn’t I answer Fernanda’s 2 cent question?
What the heck, Hometown Pride? Where’d you go?