I have a memory of the time period between SIL training, and our departure to the Solomons. We had been in Dallas for a year, my parents attending linguistics training in preparation to go overseas. After this sojourn, we went back to Austin for just a few months, to bide the time before we got on the plane to fly into the unknown. My dad had taught us a few songs in Pijin - 'Jesus Loves Me', and some other typical Sunday school fare.
Returning to Austin should have been returning to the familiar, but I was already learning an underscoring theme of my life, that every move means change. Even if I move to a familiar place, the people have changed, moved on, grown. It leaves an unsettled feeling, like wearing glasses of the wrong prescription. Everything is just slightly off.
We went to our 'home' church, after having been gone for a year. My parents dropped the four of us off in our respective classes, but somehow I got mixed in with the older kids. I was scared of their big bodies and loud voices. I didn't know any of the teachers. My brother Nathan was sitting towards the very front and didn't see me. I retreated to the back of the room, crawling underneath a table, and sat there hugging my knees to my chest. I could just see out across the floor at all the children participating in the flannel graph story.
I hid from the room's occupants for most of the allotted hour, sitting separated and afraid under the overhang. My feeling of isolation grew as people continued not to notice me. Perversely, as I shrank deeper into the shadows I grew angry at being overlooked and abandoned there.
The teacher began to sing, 'Jesus Loves the Little Children'. I tried to sing along, but my confused mind could not remember the English words to the song. Pijin came to my tongue, and I started to cry as my brain locked down. It scared me that I could only remember the foreign words to the familiar song, words of a language I hadn't really even learned yet.
An adult finally noticed me crying beneath the table, and kindly came to help me up. My tears increased as my brain refused to operate with my mouth. The two languages became crossed on my tongue. I was desperate to communicate, but couldn't.
Now, looking deep into my heart, I wonder if that little girl is still there, hiding with her tongue tied, unable to do anything except to cry from frustration and confusion, lost in the shuffle as life plays out around her. I have spent so much of my life suspended between cultures. Anna and I were talking today about the duplicity of growing up third culture, and she hit the nail on the head. "When somebody isn't right in front of me, they don't exist to me," she said. "It's like I just flip the switch and they're gone, and I don't have to feel anything." That's exactly how I feel, too. It is way too difficult to deal with every change, every goodbye, every loss.
I left America the first time - flip the switch, move on. I left Honiara for Luaniua - flip the switch, move on. I left Luaniua again for Honiara - flip the switch again. Every time I leave a place, even if I'm going somewhere I've been to before, it's a new loss, because the people have all changed. They don't put their lives, growth and development on hold just because Danica's leaving. So the little Danica inside of me is still hiding underneath her table, not sure really of where she is, what language to speak, who all these people are, and with each flip of the switch I shove another suitcase packed with relationships and experiences under there for her to keep with her.
All this revelation comes after a day spent in tears, the source of which I was at a loss to find. I was thinking about missing my mom today, as I folded laundry, and tears came up out of my heart like a faucet had been turned on deep inside of me. An hour later, they still hadn't abated, and all I knew was that I needed to talk to somebody. I called an older woman who I trust, but don't know well (hadn't let in), and she lovingly listened as I blubbered like a seven year old, trying to put into words what was churning in my heart. Translating my feelings into words, going from my heart's language to common English was difficult, but she stuck with me, prayed with me, and I got a few of those suitcases opened.
My biggest realization today was that there is more hidden in my heart than I had ever suspected. With every change, every flip of the switch, I have neatly packed up all my previous relationships, emotions and experiences and hidden them deep in my heart. This blog is becoming more and more difficult to write, because as I look at the events of my life, I inevitably must unpack and examine the contents of every hidden suitcase stowed in the recesses of my heart. So when I'm not writing, you will know why - I'm just trying to get brave enough to open another one up. Bear with me, please. I invite you, the reader, to come along with me on this journey into the unknown.