Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…life of an expat in Italy (thank you, David Bowie)

A dear friend of mine died about a week ago. She was only fifty-three and had been battling cancer. We had been chatting on Facebook and she was encouraged because the chemotherapy seemed to have worked because she was cancer-free. I was going to see her while visiting Vancouver, British Columbia. She had grown up with my brother.

We would have gotten caught up. She would have shared her passion for art, which I had never known and I would have shared photos, stories and videos of my past year in Europe. We would have reminisced about our college days that still seem like only yesterday.

My beloved aunt also died–back in April. She was my mom’s sister. (When I say “Mom”, I mean the mom who raised me, not my biological mother. I only have one “Mom”).

Anyway, we were always closest to her because she and my mom were so close. She was the matriarch of the family, firm in her convictions, devout in her faith, effusive with her love.

I knew she wouldn’t be in Oregon when I returned. When I saw her the last time, she was weak. Her strong appetite had vanished and she just seemed to slump in her chair. In my mind I figured she was a candidate for a stroke. And that is exactly what happened.

Why am I being morbid? It is not my intention. It serves to remind me that life goes on. Even though I’ve only been gone from America a year, I know there will be changes when I get back. My friends will not have forgotten me. Oregon will still be green and gorgeous. The craft beer in Portland will still be good.

But absence does a number on a person. When you go away for an extended period, some things do change. It’s a truism.

When I returned after eight years in Southern California, I foolishly expected to pick up where I left off with my relationships. Didn’t happen. In discussing the issue with a good friend, he told me that, after such a long time being away, I was no longer on the short list of invitations to do things. People had become accustomed to the fact that I was gone. Some wondered if I would return. Things never were the same.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. Despite the pain of change, I still maintain that it’s a good thing. One thing that drive me nuts is monotony. Sometimes I think that, in the back of my mind, this relocation to Italy was a response to monotony. I needed to shake things up.

I think it’s helped. I’m more motivated and exhilarated by the possibilities facing me than I have been in a long time. Of course, that can change in a snap if I return to Oregon and no one is remotely interested in me. Fear can set in. Still, in a strangely perverse way, I think I’d rather function with that fear factor than settle into complacency.

And I don’t know how I’ve changed. I’m sure I’ll hear plenty from people when I return. Some of the changes might be real, some might be perceived–what someone superimposes over me because they “expect” a specific difference.

I’m still trying to figure out how I’ve changed, or if I have. Rather than try hard to find changes, I suppose I should just wait until I return and determine what is different about me, my views, my values, my observations. I’m sure some in some ways I will settle into old patterns and other ways I won’t. It will be the latter that reflects any change.

There’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t left, if for no other reason than to have seen my aunt a few more times. Or to visit my dear friend and be blessed by her positive outlook in the face of death.

But my faith reminds me that we will be reunited once again. And, really, how could I have put my life on hold? There will always be a crisis somewhere, someone will always be in need. Not to sound boorish, but when would I ever step out if I were waiting for the perfect time?

No, the “perfect time” never really comes. You just have to decide for yourself and make the best of what comes from your decision. I could stay a bit longer in Europe, take a bigger risk. But it’s time to return home.

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