When Words Feel too Small

Would you surrender to the unspeakable?

Every cell in my body comes alive to the sound of the safety announcement.

Although I used to travel for a living at one point, there’s a special kind of magic inherent to a safety briefing in Portuguese. At least that’s how it feels seven years after I last was on a plane from what may well be my favorite place in the world. I’m not sure yet, or maybe I’m not sure anymore. It was home once, and it will soon be again, at least until the end of 2019.

The concept of home remains very fluid to me, nebulous, based on that inexplicable mix of love and belonging and linguistic as well as cultural affinities. Although there are four walls and a roof with my name on them in the Pacific Northwest, suffice to say home isn’t Trump’s America.

During my first three years in the US, I thought I would grow roots. Add another two years and wrap the lot in major depressive disorder and America feels like an organ transplant that failed to take. Because it is a country that kept me sick. I have a blue passport now, which puzzles me somewhat: I am an American but I still haven’t figured out how I’m supposed to feel about it other than mortified.

By the time the plane takes off from Paris Orly airport, I am giddy with something that approaches delight. Only I can’t really tell because I’m exhausted after months of running on empty. As we descend toward Lisbon and get caught into furious crosswinds that have the gaggle of French folks behind me get more raucous to mask their anxiety, something shifts into place.

I can’t explain it. All I know is that I am more myself than I’ve been in a long time, more complete although not quite whole yet.

Every cell in my body relaxes as the warm breeze caresses my skin.

I left a city with snow on the runway and landed in one where springs seems to have arrived early. In the airport bathroom, I take off my jacket and stuff it into my backpack. As I stand outside arrivals leaning on the railing and breathing in sunshine and cigarette smoke, I take off my parka too and tie it around my waist.

Surveying my surroundings, I interrogate my brain about what’s going on. It’s lighting up like a Christmas tree on steroids but that’s all I’ve got.

Whether down to tiredness or elation, language escapes me. My heart is content, I am at peace and have the distinct impression that time has stopped, and I decide this is enough.

After all that’s been going on, temporary respite is more than enough, it is everything. I will myself to stay in the moment and go back inside where I spend over an hour cradling a cup of coffee and taking stock. “Pois, já estou. E então?”* goes my internal dialogue in Pessoa’s tongue. It’s a little tentative and stunted after being dormant for seven years but kicking in nonetheless.

My feet don’t even touch the ground as I finally make my way back outside arrivals to go to the little apartment where I’m staying for the week. When I get there and unlock the door, a safe haven appears.

I can’t explain it. All I know is that I am more myself than I’ve been in a long time, more complete although not quite whole yet.

Every cell in my body surrenders to the tight grip of a very long hug.

For a while, everything is pure energy and I have no idea where my body starts or ends. It seems to have become a component of something bigger than the sum of its parts and if I could freeze time, now would be good. Although words are my currency, my mind is blank.

Even now, the moment still defies description. It is pure sensation, kinship made manifest amidst chaos, a pause, respite, safety at last. The latter is so unfamiliar I’m surprised I can even identify it.

When you’ve been in free fall for a long time, a hug is a soft landing, the safety net you didn’t expect. A hug is care, concern, and tenderness holding all the parts of you that were coming undone and squishing them back together.

Until that hug happens, I haven’t realized how much I had been aching for human warmth. Or if I knew, I denied all knowledge of it, repressed all yearning. Loneliness is a poison that can obliterate you so I stuff it in a corner of my mind and surround myself with words and languages and projects. Those aren’t so much distractions as the building blocks of the life I’m re-creating from scratch.

My brain hints that loneliness has come to a temporary end since I’m not hugging myself but I choose to ignore it. Much as I’d like to think I’ve been found, that I’m no longer lost, I sense that doing so is unwise in light of my extensive history with fellow humans letting me down. But I do not fight the release of oxytocin that washes over me.

I can’t explain it. All I know is that I am more myself than I’ve been in a long time, more complete although not quite whole yet.

Every cell in my body rejects the idea of getting on a plane back to Paris.

The last time I left Portugal was so traumatic I still relive the flight on a regular basis, seven years later, as if it were permanently encoded in my DNA. I’m so nauseated I stuff down four large cookies and will myself to focus on the task at hand, namely establishing a base here for the rest of the year.

I do not woof my cookies. Instead, I take my rage out of the page and pay tribute to the place that’s making me come back to life. And may well help me heal in time.

But first, there are many hoops to jump through, so many that any outside onlooker might think I’ve taken leave of my senses altogether. And yet, my vision is so clear there’s no reason why I can’t make it happen with determination, sustained effort, hard work. And passion plus vocation, which have always carried me.

And the hug that held my humanity lingers, I revel in the memory of it, etched on my heart forever.

I can’t explain it. All I know is that I am more myself than I’ve been in a long time, more complete although not quite whole yet.

Rebirth is an ongoing process for which there’s no blueprint or instruction manual.

When you no longer speak life’s language fluently because you’ve been holding hands with darkness for so long, all you can do is surrender.

There may not always be words, but there are always emotions.

Listen to your heart for it knows that which you can’t articulate yet.

Because love is its own language, isn’t it?

[*Right, I’m here. What now?]

I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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