Leaving On A Jet Plane

by Lisa McKay on February 1, 2013

Way back in June of last year, the same weekend that I published my latest book, Love At The Speed Of Email, Mike and I learned that we would be leaving Luang Prabang in April 2013.

Mike’s position is being handed over to a Lao national staff member, which is good. Working yourself out of a job is exactly what you want to do in international development, and Mike’s good at that sort of capacity building.

So this move is a good thing, and we always knew we wouldn’t be here long term.

And, yet.

There’s a difference between knowing you won’t be somewhere long term – that you might be moving in “oh, a year, maybe two” – and suddenly knowing that the clock is ticking.

When we first received the news we had ten months. Now we have less than three.

We’ve spent that seven months alternately thrashing out possible next steps and avoiding discussing the topic because it had gotten all too exhausting. We’ve tried on one possible future after another – holding them up to us mentally and looking them up and down to see how they fit.

The possibilities, and the questions, seem endless. Where will be we most useful? Doing what? Where do we want to be? Doing what?

Australia? The US? Stay in Laos? Move somewhere in Africa? East Timor? How important is it to have access to decent medical care during this season? How much permanent damage am I risking by continuing to live in the tropics with a health condition that’s aggravated by heat? How important is it to my sanity to be able to keep doing some work myself while also being our children’s primary caregiver? Where am I going to have this new baby that’s due to join us in six months? How important is it to Mike’s well-being and the health of the whole family system for him to be doing work he enjoys and believes makes a difference? Does that work have to be in the humanitarian sector? If not, what else is out there? Where do we start looking? Do we want to put down some roots – we who don’t even own a car at the moment, much less a house? Where?

And so it goes. It’s been a long, hard discussion with no easy answers. Mike and I have been forced to acknowledge that as well matched as we are, we are still different people, who want some different things in and from life. We’ve come to realize that some of what first drew us together five years ago has shifted and changed. We’ve had to confront, again, some of the constraints that my health condition and parenthood place upon us. We’ve repeatedly collided with the myth – the hope – that there is an option out there that will be a perfect fit for everyone. That neither of us will really have to forgo some things that we really want.

Ironically, during the six months when people all around the world have been reading the memoir that details the fairytale of our early romance, Mike and have been getting dirty in the trenches of our marriage. We’ve been battling depression, injuries, and some growing and unacknowledged resentments. Failing to communicate well. Trying to come to grips, still, with the earthquake that parenthood has been in our lives. Getting up in the middle of the night again and again and again. Praying for that perfect option (or, failing that, clear guidance) and having neither materialize. Replaying conversations about the future that we’ve already had dozens of times in an exhausting, maddening, spiral of thoughtful decision-making. Waiting.

We’ve been struggling to figure out how to love each other well when it doesn’t come nearly as easily. 

I have moved countries almost a dozen times so far, and these sort of limbo seasons that herald drastic change are my least favourite part of living overseas. There is some excitement at the thought of a brand new adventure, but there is also sadness and a numb sort of exhaustion. Especially when you’re leaving something familiar for the unknown, it’s easy to identify the good in what you’ll be leaving behind and impossible to fully visualize the good that might be lurking just around the next bend in your path. Do this too many times and you risk never really sinking deeply into places or people, never really tasting the good of the present, because part of you is always aware of a looming horizon. Of more coming change. Of yet another inevitable departure.

I don’t know how many more of these transitions my life will hold, but this one, at least, is inevitable. We have fewer than 100 days left in this little town we’ve grown to love and then we’ll be leaving on a jet plane. It’s just … we still don’t know where that plane will be going.

What’s a tough decision you’ve had to make in your own relationship – one where all the pieces didn’t seem to fit neatly? What did you decide to do?

And, what is your least favourite season of living overseas?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

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About Lisa McKay

Lisa McKay is a psychologist and the award-winning author of the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email, the novel My Hands Came Away Red, and several books on long distance relationships. She lives in Laos with her husband and their two sons.

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