The Always Evolving and Partially Unwritten Five-Year Plan

The Best Way Out

Life as an expat has some amazing highs. Seeing things that you would never see or experience in your home country is exhilarating and leaves you feeling alive down to the tip of your toes.

Life as an expat also has some depressing lows. Times that you swear the world is out to get you and your frustrations are exasperated by the unfamilar-ness that always lingers in the background of living in a country that is not your own. During these lows you constantly daydream about throwing in the towel, calling it a day, clicking your heels together and heading home.

This week was one of those lows. It was long. It was hard. It was horrible. It was death by a thousands cuts and more than a few swear words.

An injury, a job opportunity lost, an identity questioned, a health scare, work frustrations, missing family, and the next door neighbor kids that constantly scream in Portuguese have done nothing but bleed me dry this week. I know these things happen at home, but living in a foreign country without your usual support system seems to magnify problems ten fold. I physically feel like someone kicked and punched me, and the utter exhaustion in my bones has a certain heaviness that is hard to shake off.

Still, life goes on.

The injury will heal in time.

The health scare was just that, a scare.

I’ll be home soon enough.

There will be better job opportunities in the future.

As my friend’s Polish mother (and survivor of work camps during WWII) used to always say, “You no can die from this!”

And she’s right. Things will be alright. Just not alright right now.

Today is my grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration. Today I remember that my dad told me that when he was born, my grandfather was serving in Korea. My grandmother gave birth to her fourth child on an Army base by herself, which to me sounds like a tiredness that I don’t know anything about.

To compare my situation with her or to say it is better or worse than mine or yours is not the part of the story that struck me. When I was thinking about it, what struck me was that I know her toughness, her resiliency, and her faith that things will turn out okay has to run through my veins, too. These traits aren’t in my scientific DNA, and are not something that can be identified on a double helix, but are still just as much a part of me as my green eyes and bad teeth.

They are passed down not through actual blood, but through Christmas dinners and Easter egg hunts, card games and practical jokes, beach vacations and “come to Jesus meetings”, dancing at weddings, crying at funerals and the thousand slices of life in between. Families don’t just give each other blue eyes or brown hair or freckles. We give each other things that are much more valuable than that.

Things that cannot be physically seen by comparing baby pictures, but rather be called upon when needed to get us to the next water station, the next paycheck, the next season. Things that have a name, like toughness, resiliency, and faith, but are hard to measure with numbers and graphs. Things that ensure that our family continues to move forward with each generation, because how could we not?

So, today I will take a deep breath and remember the best way out is through. And that’s the way I’m going to go.

Cautiously, and with a slight limp, but knowing that I can.

Not because of what country I live in, but because of where I come from.

My grandmother threatening someone with a beer bottle at my cousin's wedding a few years ago. Yeah, that's how we roll.


8 responses

  1. Emily (McKinney) Stinson

    Wonderful post. I agree, those traits are the best to ‘inherit.’ Hope things get better for you!

    April 21, 2012 at 8:04 PM

    • jgmcrew

      Thanks Emily! Things are already looking up this week! Hope you have a good one.


      April 23, 2012 at 10:48 AM

  2. Dennis

    Yes you are!

    April 21, 2012 at 8:24 PM

  3. Peggy Reuschle

    I’m sorry you’re feeling down and are so far away, but WOW, what adventures you have had! You will remember the good times, and the bad times will fade.

    Thanks for posting your adventures, even the not so good ones. I remember having a few days down days in my two years in Germany, but the fun times outweighed the down times. We miss you at all the family gatherings,and are glad you will be back very soon.


    April 21, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    • jgmcrew

      Thanks Aunt Peggy! See you soon!

      April 23, 2012 at 10:47 AM

  4. It’s true that the bad moments will fade over time, but it doesn’t make it seem to pass any quicker at the time it’s happening. Thanks for sharing the vulnerable stuff too; looking back, it will make the good times seem even better that you’ve documented the rough patches. I love that you recalled your relationship with your grandmother as part of the strength that will see you through. My great-grandmother raised eight children through the depression and outlived four of them, and I always think of her as well when I’m hitting a rough patch. I didn’t know her for long, but I know I inherited some of her qualities through stories.

    April 24, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    • jgmcrew

      It’s nice to know we come from decent stock! And that there is no new problem under the sun right?

      April 24, 2012 at 9:28 PM

  5. Janie M.

    As others have said, Jenny, thanks for sharing and for writing so beautifully what you are experiencing. I, too, draw on strength from previous generations–especially the grace with which some of my predecessors handled difficult circumstances. My grandmother boarded a plane to London from NYC in the ’50s to with her infant daughter (my mom) to meet my grandpa at the Air Force Base where he was serving. She had written him a letter telling him to meet her, but had not received any confirmation that he’d received it…she just knew he would be at the airport to get her. She was maybe 20 years old at the time. That’s just one of the moments in which her courage amazes me.

    You are very brave. Someday, the next generations in your own family will draw strength from your tenacity, courage, and grace as you push through these tough times.

    We love you and miss you. I hate that it was a rough week for you, and I hope this one is better.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:20 AM

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