Put It On the List

A line of strong storms moved through the region yesterday afternoon, drenching the landscape and stripping out the humidity. It was a beautiful, warm rain, and if my presence hadn’t been required at the office, I would have stood outside and let the raindrops strike me with impotent blows, cleansing me from the dust of the past few weeks. Today the late summer blue of the skies is crowded with large clouds in varying shades of grey. It’s one of those perfect afternoons and I feel content.

This has not been an easy few months, although I know that by comparison to many I have a charmed life. My disappointments and struggles, while very real to me, pale in the face of true suffering. And I feel like I’m being so melodramatic when things don’t work out the way I’d hoped.

My plan to teach English abroad is now fully on the back burner. The school in Russia that offered me a job had to rescind it because of budget shortfalls. I worked for months to screw up my courage enough to take a job in Russia, and to see it fall apart in an instant was heartbreaking. It hit me harder than I realized it would, which meant it wasn’t just about teaching in Russia.

It was going to be my chance to have a different life. To be an ex-pat writer, living and working abroad with a group of international friends. I wanted the world to seem smaller, confident that I could pick up and go where I felt. With the loss of this opportunity, I feel the edges of the world expanding beyond my grasp again. I feel the familiar and the status quo settling back around me. See? Melodramatic! At least I have grad school and the magazine and an office job that provides benefits.

When things don’t go my way, I console myself by making lists – lists of new opportunities, lists weighing costs and benefits, lists of ways to improve my situation or behavior. It feels good to plan for something, to create forward momentum, to chart physically my life. It’s a nailing down of the moment with concrete words like wash, buy, pack, call, write, apply, read. Making lists calms my anxiety about the larger ambiguities in my life.

Perhaps I don’t know what job I’ll have after my master’s degree, but at least I know I need to rsvp for student orientation, buy a parking pass, get a student ID and meet the foreign language requirement. Maybe I don’t know if I will find a home of my own someday, but at the moment I know I need to buy an orchid, put up a clothes bar in my closet and help my parents paint.

I have more lists than I know what to do with, but I’m steadily working through them. And with each checkmark next to a task, I feel order and purpose being restored. Happiness and satisfaction come when I cross something off. As I was outside today, smiling back at the sun, I felt contentment with my lot in life. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but it’s on my list.

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