Six years ago I got off the plane in Nuremberg trying to ignore a migraine headache. It was the first time we’d ever made the overnight flight together and my beaming, sweet new father-in-law was there to pick us up. Half an hour later I walked up to the door of my new address and saw my new name on the mail box. It was surreal.
Even though I saw my name there, it felt more like my first day at summer camp abroad, or the start of an international fellowship. Those were experiences I could relate to at the time. Binding myself with another person, starting a life in a new country—these were concepts I probably did not fully understand even when I stood in front of all those people and said “I do.”
That first afternoon we went to the Schlacht Schüssel. This event marks the day before the Annafest begins each summer. (With the exception of 2020, a year so far nearly as surreal as 2014 was.)
Still wide-eyed and reeling from travel and the events of the previous weeks, we shared a table with some friends and I ate the delicacies as if they were novelties. You know, things to try once. I gave no thought as to whether I really liked the food or whether I might want to eat it for the foreseeable future. I mostly liked the novelty of the whole thing.
We had celebrated our marriage in Pennsylvania, then traveled to Virginia to celebrate again before boarding the plane to Germany. It felt like we were on a wedding tour. You know, something out of a movie–a chance for everyone to spend time with the newly minted couple before their next excursion. Obviously it hadn’t sunk in that the excursions were all leading up to the wedding. Now that I’d actually moved real life was supposed to start.
At the time our whole life was teeming with potential energy. Unfamiliar, untried, untasted. Everything was exciting and a bit irresponsible. Potential energy is one of the strongest forces in the world. A mix of curiosity and possibility that makes you do crazy things like move across the ocean even though you have no idea how to actually start your life once you get there. Somehow I was under the impression that we would make travel our livelihood. Even though we’d married and said that we wanted to start a family, I didn’t really anticipate settling down.
About two weeks later, the Annafest was wrapping up. We’d visited the fest numerous times and were on our way up the Kellerberg yet again. That evening I was already exhausted from two weeks of all the people I didn’t know, the language I didn’t understand and the customs I hadn’t mastered. Looking back, I hadn’t brought much with me when I moved, so even our apartment felt like a hotel and not like a home. That evening I wore the wrong shoes, the wrong clothes and ended up getting pushed around by the large crowds. In relatively short order, the Annafest had started to lose its shine. Then while trying to talk with some acquaintances, who towered over me in their perfect fest attire, some idiot ran up behind me and grabbed my ass, as if on a dare.
I felt like I was back in jr. high school except it wasn’t my school. It wasn’t the music I listened to. It wasn’t the language I spoke and they weren’t even my friends. I was more than ready to go home and by home I didn’t mean the apartment we walked back to that night. We tried to talk about it right away, but we couldn’t make sense of anything and so even though neither of us were really mad at the other–we had our first fight.
Suddenly I realized that this wasn’t a vacation. This wasn’t a trip. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Was this the life I’d chosen for myself? Do I actually like this place or did I just like it as a novelty? I asked myself. This fest. This town. This “fun?” The rose colored glasses had come off and I was kind of scared. While I couldn’t allow myself to question my choices, deep down I certainly was questioning my choices.
Fast forward six years and I’ve actually never missed an Annafest. In that time I figured out proper fest attire. I learned the my way around. I learned to speak German. I figured out which of the fest foods are worth eating. I made friends and I discovered the places to sit and the best times to go. This year would’ve been my 7th Annafest and while I’ve already attended enough fests to last me a lifetime, I’m sure I would’ve headed up the hill a time or two anyway.
What those first few weeks in Germany revealed was a seed of doubt that was making itself comfortable in the soil of my heart. Looking back I see that everything I understood about myself at the time came from a source outside of me. Everything I thought I was, was actually just a reflection of something or someone else. For a long time I felt like I was living in someone else’s house, in someone else’s life. Everything that was reflecting back at me was unfamiliar. Life had it’s special moments but for the most part and I was unable to live up to my own expectations. I was terrified that the new life I had chosen wasn’t gold but gold-plated, bound to turn green at the first sign of water.
Life in the past six years has been a lot about facing that fear. Sitting with it. Realizing that sometimes the fear is in you. It’s not about your surroundings. You can run away but the fear runs with you. It took cultivating the life inside of me, creating a wellspring, a source. Figuring out that home is not a place but a state of mind. It took recognizing which fears were the demons that needed to be destroyed and which ones were the growing pains that just needed to be endured.
What makes potential energy so powerful and important is that it is fueled by dreams and unknowns–Our own lives and quests nourished by them as well. But the thing with potential energy is that it’s not sustainable. It exhausts itself. It’s got to go somewhere, to develop into something. Eventually we have to find out who we become. We have to move forward so that we can look back and see that all those questions we struggled over, have been answered. And that initial energy that turned us on and made us move has finally been transformed into something else altogether.
It’s fair to say that that settling down part of settling down took a long time. It wasn’t easy or predictable. But finally I got my wits about me. Finally I got my bearings and developed into a person who could thrive being a wife and a mother. I started to be able to focus the energy– To be purposeful with it. Instead of these short breaths of unknowns every few minutes, it became deep breaths of contentment–Detailed lines and broad strokes that make up the days and months of a meaningful existence. I’m amazed to say that while I suffered my share of disappointments, the deaths of ideas and challenges to my understanding, I am more whole, more sure, more satisfied today than the day I stepped off that plane 6 years ago.
Getting through life with a feeling of love and satisfaction, with some understanding and empathy, with a sense of wonder that is intact, with a motivation to make something new– is a tall order and it’s hard. But it’s possible and it’s worth it.
Cheers to 6 years.