That initial feeling of ecstatic glee lasted for weeks. I couldn’t believe it; we were moving to Italy! Italy. My lifelong dream was about to be realized! I was walking on air.
Then, slowly, insidiously, something else started creeping in; a different kind of feeling entirely. It was a strange feeling; not anxiety or stress; not quite fear, but oddly similar to, maybe, almost, fear.
It wasn’t fear of the actual move or of our new home. It wasn’t fear of leaving friends and family. It wasn’t fear of having to re-establish ourselves in a new country, or of COVID, or fallout from Russia’s Ukrainian invasion. This strangely disembodied yet piercing feeling was the fear of loss; or more specifically, of losing what I had just gained.
There I was, with this incredible miracle, and suddenly it took all the strength I possessed just to try to enjoy it rather than sink deeper into the ever-present fear quagmire; the ever hovering dread that what I had yearned for so long, and come so close to achieving, might disappear.
Logically, it was such a stupid thing. Logically, I knew that even if I did lose this opportunity, I’d be right back where I started, which was a pretty great place; great family, great home; great community; great job. But my heart (and likely no small part of my base reptilian brain) couldn’t see any of that. Inside, I was like Gollum from Lord of the Rings clinging desperately to my precious.
People would ask, “Are you so excited?” and I would say “Yes! It’s unbelievable!” But inside, I was a bubbling cauldron of anxiety.
Every hurdle, which in international transfers are plentiful, felt like a new threat. There were hours upon hours of paperwork, background checks, physicals, passports that arrived too quickly, visas that arrived too late, selling the house, selling the car, selling the truck, buying a car, shipping said car, navigating finances, booking flights (which seems like an easy task, but was not), arranging school transfers, shipping Unaccompanied Baggage, then Household Goods, then Non-Temporary Storage, and don’t even get me started on all the hurdles that arose from bringing our cat and dog. There was delay after delay after delay – and there were other hurdles along the way too. With each one, my heart would seize and my ruminating brain would think, “Oh no. Is this it? Is it all over?”
When it comes to transfers like this, people often say, “Nothing is final, until it’s final,” which is a very accurate phrase meaning that right up until the last second, any opportunity can end. In other words, any of the hurdles could have been fatal; as could no hurdle at all – just a simple bureaucratic re-direct. For a natural worrier like me, this was fertile ground for neurosis.
And because we’d started sharing our big news with our workplaces, friends, and family, there was also the potential for a very public failure. Losing a lifelong goal always hurts; doing it in front of everyone you know and love often feels worse.
I’d like to say I coped well during this five-month resilience-building exercise; that I spent this time meditating, doing yoga, reading good books, and spending time with friends. In reality, I was far too busy Golluming. However – around month three, I did discover something that helped, actually quite a lot.
It was so simple – a basic two-part phrase that I started repeating to myself whenever my heart and mind were locked in yet another downward death spiral. Each time my heart would seize and I’d wonder, “Is this it? Is it all over?” I’d simply say:
“I’m told we’re moving to Italy. And I’m hopeful that is true.”
It was amazing the peace that this simple phrase wrought in me. I was told we were moving to Italy; in the form of various paperwork, meetings, conversations, and more. And I was, with all my heart, hopeful that this was true.
This simple phrase was also powerful because of what it didn’t explicitly state – I was hopeful it was true, but I wasn’t actually in control of it – of any of it – aside from checking my little boxes and getting things turned in on time. I wasn’t in control of the American or Italian governments. I wasn’t in control of Russia or Ukriane, or the European Union. I wasn’t in control of COVID or its 18 billionth variant. I wasn’t in control of almost anything. This meant I could tear myself apart trying to force the powers that be with nothing more than my sheer mental and emotional will. Or, I could simply accept and have hope. Or, in other words, faith.
I am not a religious person and have always been turned off by the concept of faith. Too many times, I’ve seen this idea used to control others, often to their own detriment. I’ve heard blind faith applauded as a virtue and then manifest as willful ignorance, with extremely harmful consequences. I’ve seen religious leaders tell their congregants to rely not on their own wisdom but to put all faith (and often money) in the religion and, by proxy, the leader. In other words, do what I say, even if it doesn’t make sense. This is why I’m not a big fan of faith, as a concept.
But what I learned in the five months of hard work and long waiting it took to get from that bridge in Costa Rica to our new home in Italy, is that faith is not just a misused and abused concept. It’s a survival tool.
At the end of the day, it’s an acceptance of perhaps the most profound reality – that we are not in control. Not really. So we can pull ourselves apart at the seams trying to be – or we can accept that we’re not, do our best, nurture hope, and have faith.
I still don’t know if faith can move mountains – but it definitely helped me stop burying myself under one.