25 March 2010

Choices of the heart

Many people tell me they couldn't do what I did... Leave their family, their country, their lives and move across the Earth forever. When I met Mark, after a failed marriage, I felt like I had won the relationship lottery... I fell so hard in love I would have followed this man anywhere... And I did. I left my apartment, my work as an investment banker, my large family and my friends and moved to Irvine, California, where my prince charming had been reassigned to his former F-18 fighter plane squadron.

It wasn't easy. I spoke english fluently, but I struggled with the cultural differences. I remember Mark taking me out to a comedy show shortly after arriving in the US, and how absolutely awkward and out of place I felt when I couldn't understand the jokes... Only 3 months after moving here, my hubby was deployed to Japan for six months. I was left alone, with no family or friends to comfort me, support me, look after me. Food became my comfort and I gained 10 pounds in one month... Thank goodness for the military wives who took me under their wings... I would have been lost without them!! I would get a call at least once a week checking up on me, and was encouraged to attend socials and getting to know other wives.

I tried to find a job, fired up dozens of resumes and sent them off. I figured a degree in Economics, an MBA, some experience in banking and the fact that I spoke four languages fluently would give me a good push... I didn't even get called for an interview!! One of the few people who had the courtesy to call me back told me they preferred to hire people with at least one year of experience in the US... I couldn't help but ask him how I was supposed to get a year of experience if no one gave me the chance to start??!!

 Just about a month into Mark's deployment, I  received a call from a dentist's office I had been to. She proceded to tell me there was a problem with my insurance coverage. I had no idea how to solve the situation, and this woman, frustrated with my inability to understand what she was saying,  became so verbally abusive towards me I was left sobbing...

I remember one time, after I finally started doing some temporary work, I invited some new aquaintances for a little get together at my house. The day finally came, and I was absolutely crushed when no one showed up! When I later inquired about it, I was told that since I had not confirmed the event, they weren't sure it was on... I had no idea you had to confirm an invitation!! I thought once was enough!!

Our nomadic military lives made it hard to set up roots... In the first eight years of marriage alone we lived in eight different homes and three different countries... I have always made an effort to make a home of where we were, and create a well adjusted, happy life for my children... But it was hard making friends and saying goodbye to them over and over again...

A few years ago I met a fellow European ex-pat... I asked if she liked living here. She sad she did, but I was struck but what she said next: she told me that even after eleven years she did not feel completely at home... I suddenly realized I could relate... Don't get me wrong, I love the live I have created, my family is my heart and I am surrounded by friends and I do feel feel at home.... Most of the time!! But there is an aching part of my heart that never lets go of my roots... There is a part of me that misses my family, my friends, my language, my country... When I think of the word home, I see a fork in the road, a split path...  But do I  really have two homes or am I stuck in between the two paths...?Am I  "too late" for one but "too early" for the other, no longer part of one but not quite a part of the other yet...?  Still, to this day, there are times when I feel like an alien who was just beamed down from a space ship, like some teenager left out of a high school clique,  like someone floating in a bubble looking in to the world... These are the times when I feel the need to nest, when I would rather stay in, when my friends probably don't hear from me as often as they normally would, when I find myself dwelling on nostalgic memories and life's paradoxes...

There are times when I still stare at my kids while they speak a language that is not mine and think "how utterly strange..."  I still feel, in many aspects, very different than most other moms, I don't wear makeup, I let my teenagers watch rated R rated movies, I still don't yet know what I want to be when I grow up....

There are times when I think of my aging parents and feel sad that I am not around... I cannot tell you how jealous I am of anyone who lives within a driving distance to their moms!!! I wonder about my growing nephews and nieces, my friends and their children... Part of me wonders what my life would have been if I had never left.... What job I would have, who I would have married, what my children would have looked like... I am reminded of one of my favorite books, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", by Milan Kundera. In this novel, Tomas is agonizing over the decision to whether be with a girl he barely knows or not... Here is one of my favorite excerpts:

"He remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural. We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come. Was it better to be with Tereza or to remain alone?

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes , without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, "sketch" is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.

Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all."

I only have this one life to live, this one shot... I have absolutely no regrets about the choices I have made, I am still madly in love with the man who changed my life forever... It was all so worth it... Just look at my beautiful children!! I have learned, throughout the years, to turn my aching nostalgia into a force, a burning commitment to make this life the best life possible...  I strive daily to love life fully, and to make those around me feel that love too... I choose to be happy, to be at peace!! I have always been a "half cup full" kind of gal, and I will always be... I give thanks for all my blessings, I may not have riches of the material kind, but my heart is full of riches of the important kind... I would choose nothing more... 


  1. Isabel, this was such an honest and open post, I loved it, this helped me know the wonderful person that is you. I am so proud of you for making this life what you want, even though your heart might ache for what you dont have...I think you have found your calling in "junk" and of course you have found the love of your amazing is that?? thanks for sharing!

  2. I am so moved by your honesty and the love you have for your husband and family. How hard it must have been and still is for you living so far from family. I admire you tremendously! You continue to make a happy life.

  3. WOW! I'm touched by your words. Thanks. Sally

  4. I am very touched also. I understand your feeling, because we lived in South America for 10 years and while it was our choice and we had friends, it still wasn't home. I was so happy to return to the USA and never want to leave it again! Even when we returned we have lived far from our families and now our children moved away and we are here with no family around at all. While I am very happy and satisfied with my life, I really miss having family near.

  5. What a wonderful post. I too had a failed marriage and a precious girl to boot. I found my Prince Charming and married him one year later. We then moved to the island of Crete where even the alphabet was literally "Greek to me".
    From then on it was Germany and several other states. We are currently in Phoenix which is not the best place to live but it is where my husband is and so that will always be home. :)

  6. Isabel, you are so sweet and completely honest, i really respect that. It is so hard to move away and start over, even if it is for the love of your life. I moved away from all my friends and family, from my home of thirty years, to start over and I still don't have any friends here (and I don't have the language barrier), I just have my new husband and my work. Yet I feel so blessed, I have this wonderful world called Blog Land..... the most amazing people are there. I would never had met you if it wasn't for blogging, and I am a much richer person for knowing you!!!
    Your story has blessed me and touched my heart. Not an everyday thing, right!!
    Thank you for your post today!!
    Margaret B

  7. Loving you even more... thanks for such an amazing heartfelt post :)


  8. This is beautiful in such a *real* way...thank you for sharing your heart with we *know* you just a tad bit better:)

  9. A very touching story of life.... Our loves and struggles...

  10. Each day comes without promise that there will be a tomorrow. Take today and hold it close and if there is a tomorrow, hold it even closer. I believe you are doing exactly that.

  11. Isabel, what a touching and honest post...i admire you for your honesty...and for the decisions you have made to make your life what you want and need it to be...thanks for sharing:)

  12. Very i9nteresting reading this post. I , too, left my home and moved to another country where I have lived for many years and still have the "ache" for home despite loving many things about where I live now. Everything you said I could really relate too. Always nice to know we are not alone in these thoughts!

  13. Such a moving post Isabel. "Saudade" for our home country is in all of us. There is something about Portugal that just keeps pulling us back...

  14. Isabel, thank you for sharing such and honest and intimate story of your life and feelings. I so admire you for your ability to lay it all out there, and not withholding anything! I can only imagine how your feel. I spent a couple of years doing mission work in Ukraine, and was always so blessed to "come home". Now I live in another state from where I grew up and lived for 40+ years, leaving behind friends and family. Like you, I am blessed to have a wonderful husband, but still miss living close to my children and grandchildren. My youngest son and family lives in Hawaii; I have only seen him once in 10 years. My faith and a relationship with a loving husband has kept me. I so appreciate your blog, and all the wonderful talents you share with all of us who frequent here. God bless you.

  15. I loved this post - it really gave me a sense of who you really are. It also made me so very excited to see you this weekend!!!
    Much love,

  16. Hi Isabel,
    I have often marveled at your ability to live so far from your first home and family. I am always amazed at your abilities and willingness to embrace life.
    I guess there is a part in all of us that wonders what might have been, if only... but like you said there is no dress rehearsal for life, this is the real thing.
    I for one am glad for the choices you made, otherwise how would I have come to know and love you?

  17. Your post is simply lovely. Although only across the USA, I too followed my heart - I now live in Washington State with my hearts' desire and, although I can't imagine living anywhere else, I do find my heart sometimes missing my family, friends and life on Long Island - all that I left behind to follow my heart. I too gave up my job, my house and all that was familiar 'back home' but I won't change a thing about the life I now share with 'oh wow, it's him" ! Patti

  18. Isabel, I enjoyed your post so much. I love it when people are transparent, even though there is a part of us that says "don't be vulnerable". I usually remember that about 3 minutes, then I'm just "out there" being my vulnerable self, who at times has been crushed just like you have. We are all on such different journeys, it's amazing. Sometimes I wonder, why do I live 5 houses down the street from the only house I lived in as a child? My parents only live a couple acres from me! Our choices bring us such good things, such hard things at times, but, we all seem to connect like dot to dots! I'm glad you came to our country! Karen

  19. I love hearing people's stories and the leap of faith that guides them through their lives.

    I have lived next door to my parents and my Grandparents lived across the street and two blocks down. I have lived off my block only 9 years of my 52 years. I have had the pleasure of knowing all my Great Grandparents.

    Now, with the aging of my Grandma (95.5) and parents. My children have moved away taking their children. 5 Grand kids without the Grandparent spontaneity that I enjoyed as a child.

    My husband and I are at a cross road too. Do we stay with what we know and be close to our family and friends... or do we step out and move closer to our children?

    Your courage is inspiring and I can't wait to read your book selection.

  20. Dear Isabel,
    The words you write strike a chord in my heart. Much of your life (about moving), I have lived.
    I send you joy

    and a prayer for the blessings of good friends, where you are right now.
    That you will also visit your family often ~

    I come by way of Isabel ~ A room of Ones' own!

  21. How difficult your move must have been! I am very close to my family and understand what a sacrifice it must have been for you. BUT...then to be able to look deeply into yourself and write about it so honestly, I'm amazed. Your piece sounded like it was written for a national publication magazine...I admire you. I hope you will eventually feel that the US is your home...and that you are always comfortable here.

  22. Wow! This is the way I feel every day living in Poland, or Bulgaria or Kenya but coming from USA. It is truly strange to feel so at home in a place and yet at the same time as though you can never quite fit. I hear ya!
    Thanks for being so open and honest. What a great post.

  23. My first time here and...what a beautiful post! You have been very clever Isabel, but I understand that you found the man of your life and your love has been stronger than everything! I can're lucky!!!
    Thanks to join my giveaway!
    Happy Sunday!

  24. Just discovered your blog, beautiful! My family has all passed away and I know the loneliness I have, I can only imagine the sadness when they are miles away. With all your moving that in itself is also difficult. I hope your able to find some joy with your online friends, always just a keyboard away! Will visit again! Lori

  25. Just had the 43rd anniversary of my own arrival. The longing is eternal.

    It gets worse with the sense of also being a "foreigner" in our own country, after an absence of so many decades.

    Saudade, vai-te embora do meu peito tão cansado......


  26. I admire your courage, Isabel.
    To move so far away from family and everything familiar is a testament to the love you share with your husband.
    Thank you for giving us a glimpse of the amazing, accomplished woman behind the lovely "Maison Douce" blog.

    Kimberly :-)

  27. Girl, what a wonderful post. You are right we only have today, I think you made the right choices! I walked away from my job in Corp Finance with a hospital. I had been there 13 years, I walked away to manage an Antique Mall for $10 an hour. I left that high paying salary and benefits behind ..... for happiness! I think I need to print your post so I can reflect back on it when I wonder what the heck I have done! Thanks for the inspiration this post gives others, HUGS, Janna

  28. Isabel,admiro a tua coragem e imagino como foram difíceis os primeiros anos.Nota-se, em cada palavra,as saudades que sentes da tua família e do teu país. Eu não sei se seria capaz.

    Muitos bjs


  29. Isabel I found you by way of your post to another's blog. I'm so glad I did and just read this story of your life. Anyone would have trouble moving out of their home country to another. It takes years to learn a new culture. I think you should always keep your roots, they are who you are and you should go home and visit every year and also introduce your children to this culture. Perhaps you have done this. I have an aunt by marriage who is French and she goes home every year from Texas to her home in France and stays for months. She is older now with grown children and her huband gone. She still likes to live in Tex. next door to her son and travel back and forth to her beloved home in France. She has a very heavy French accent and always will.

  30. For me there is no greater treasure than the love of my life, and it sounds like the same is true of you. Your post shared such courage, love and honesty. It sounds like your life has worked out well despite the moments of "wondering what if". I think we all have those moments and they give a chance to appreciate the road we are on. Your attitude is warm and loving!

  31. Wow sounds like you went through a lot, you're a very courageous woman and your story really inspires me, thanks for posting!

  32. Beautiful post from a beautiful soul!!

  33. If it's one thing I've come to learn, it's that EVERYONE has a story....and the choices that we make are an integral part of the story-line. Thank you for sharing your story and your choices....beautiful prose.

  34. Beautifully expressed!

  35. Isabel,

    I am just getting to read this's so honest and real. I admire you for being able to do the things you have done. I wish we could have visited more when I was are such an amazing person with so much love and so much to share. I loved learning more about you. Hopefully I will get the chance to go back and spend more time getting to know you...I am so happy to have met you. Because of you I was able to step out of my comfort zone and have an incredible experience. Thank you sweet friend!

    Much love,

  36. Well said, my dear...well said.!! As always.. the best is yet to be.. God bless!!!

  37. Isabel I looved your honesty. To read your story was to revisite mine. Sometimes the physical distance helps to define how much we care. I see you closer to your roots then many that never left.
    Nao te deixes dominar pela nostalgia ou pelo conflito interior. Todos, os que partimos, sentimos isso em alguns momentos. But you have so much esteem for those afar embedded in your heart. I am sure they knwo it.
    Beijocas GORDAS e felicidades.
    Leonor Pinheiro

  38. I have SOMEHOW just stumbled upon this post (I think there was a reason)! ;) Your words really moved me. There are many ex-pats where I live, and I hear very similar stories to your own. I have lived here my entire life... and my biggest "move" was moving only 50 miles away from my parents. To this day my mother feels SO BADLY that she cannot see her grandchildren every day, help with babysitting, etc. (I come from a very large ethnic family south of Boston). I keep telling my Mom to be grateful that we are only 50 miles away... driving distance! And I read those VERY WORDS in your post... that you wish you lived within driving distance of your Mum. It just humbled me and reminded me to be grateful for what I have. It certainly sounds like you made the perfect decision to move here (in fact, all my great grandparents did the same thing when they left Europe)! Thank you again for this post! =)


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