Welcome to the Story

Two years ago, I was in the too-early morning Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport, with a backpack and two black suitcases as old as I was, looking with awe at one-way tickets to Shanghai with my name on them. I finished a Starbucks coffee and pastry on a stomach not ready for anything, waved goodbye to my parents, got quickly through security, and found a gate area with plenty of seats. The sunshine through the giant windows was blinding, which was just perfect, since the sunshine in my own heart was also blinding that day. Grateful happiness was welling up inside until it was all I could see. This day had been such a long time coming.

The last 6 months had been spent wrangling visa applications, document authentications, doctor’s visits, emails, and so much waiting. My dream of living in a foreign country had been around a lot longer – 5 years at least, possibly since early childhood. Upon graduating from college, I wanted to work for a nonprofit in a developing country, but instead listened to voices of money, reasonableness, and sameness. (Back then, the idea that what I wanted most out of life could actually be mine was a foreign concept. The knowledge that we can turn possibilities into reality is dynamite; it is power itself and will make you unstoppable. Back then, I was very stoppable.) When after a series of interesting, rewarding jobs, my last company downsized, my immediate thought was “time to finally teach English in China!”. I wasn’t devastated, I was free. I had a mental image of an open road stretching into the horizon.

The night before I left, my youngest brother came in my room and helped me finish the last hectic bits of packing in the early hours of the morning. I walked back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom, trying to think what I would need for 15 months in a country with modern cities but probably not my shoe size. At the last moment, he said I should bring some washcloths. I grabbed some from the hall closet, and they’re still with me. The brown boots, bought to fit company dress code and have something to wear in the winter, are not. I walked holes into those soles over many other evenings. That night I stuffed them with tampons, since they’re hard to find in China and much of Asia. Per my request, Jordan drove me to one of the roadside overlooks there on Lookout Mountain where you can see city lights (okay, on the Georgia side, more like town lights) below and a wide scope of stars above. I pressed record in my brain, like Wall-E , and tried to remember what the night looked and smelled and felt like, in case the light pollution in the big city where I was headed would block out all the stars.

But no matter how much I looked, even hoped, for emotions in myself that would be fitting to this step, both excitement and nerves refused to hit in the weeks and days leading up to my departure. My stomach hadn’t done flip flops since I was very small. I wasn’t scared, but I was ready. So very ready. I had always been ready, but made excuses for too long. This plane had been idling on the tarmac for years, waiting for the chance to take off and soar, and today it was going to touch the sky. (And then transfer in Toronto to a really big jet.)

This blog exists because I want you to come along with me into that plane, to see what I saw, to feel the leaps and plunges of the painful, beautiful, intoxicating emotional roller coaster that I had just unwittingly set in motion. Mostly, though, I just really want you to be able to experience so much of what I’ve experienced in the last 2 years, and what I get to experience every day. It’s been interesting and difficult and satisfying and I’ve gained some great stories along the way. And a scar. And a few Chinese words. And a tattoo. And some calluses.

Welcome to the story. Thanks, really, personally, from me to you, for reading all the way to the end of this, the story’s introduction. I’ve wanted to share my story from the beginning, and now you’re here.

I won’t share, just now, what I wrote in my personal journal as I sat there, with a full heart, in the coffee-fueled Atlanta a.m., except for the last line. It’s Captain Jack Sparrow’s.

“Now…bring me that horizon.”

Published by gracexaris

Explorer, thinker, writer, teacher, woman.

6 thoughts on “Welcome to the Story

  1. Thanks for sharing, Grace! You are a great writer, and you share your insights without being preachy. I look forward to you upcoming posts.
    Sharyl Griggs

    Liked by 1 person

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