Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Continental Divide



I live a double life.

More than once a month, I zip across three time zones and transmute into an alter ego.

My East Coast life and my West Coast life are about as opposite as two lives can be.  Sometimes I feel slightly schizophrenic.

Here’s an illustration: I’m East Coast now. It’s after 9:00 a.m., and I am lying in bed sipping my second cup of freshly ground coffee. (Thank you, Husband.) I slept in until almost 8:30, then had my Quiet Time and checked emails and schedules. Watched a little Today Show. (Hey, we’re empty nesters. Give me a break.)

If I were West Coast, it would have gone more like this: 6:45 a.m.: Wake up and stumble to kitchen (area) to make some instant coffee. Get back in bed, pick up my Bible and try to see the words through bleary eyes. Read three sentences. Phone buzzes with a text: “Mom, James is crying to come over. Ok?”  Thirty seconds later, my little buddy arrives at my back door, a whirlwind of activity and love and disruption and messes and total adorableness. I’m worn out by 9:00.

The circumstances of my double entities (identities) are different in almost every way.

East Coast, I drive down a long, winding road past other people’s Dream Houses to reach our own. It is on a wooded cul-de-sac. A couple of acres with a pretty pond in the back yard. Each house in the neighborhood occupies its own “space,” both positionally and existentially. We exist together in a state of perfect climate-controlled privacy. Several of my close friends live just down the street, but we don’t run into each other by accident. No one hears anyone else’s business. 

West Coast, we live very close together, in houses that are wide open to the (generally) perfect weather. No central heat or air needed there. (At least, not in 1925, when my little cottage was constructed. No prob until the heat records exceeded 105 a few days ago. Global warming.) Backyards adjoin so closely that every private conversation is heard by one and all. Every fight. Every intimate conversation.

Privacy is pretty much an unknown entity in an urban setting. If I try to take a nap in the afternoon when James does, I am invariably awakened after 10 minutes by screaming sirens or loud teenagers on the sidewalk a couple of feet from my open window. I feel exposed, vulnerable. A couple of times, the whole street's been cordoned off by a battalion of police accompanied by the Canine Unit. I see people looking in the windows as they walk by my tiny abode on the way to a concert or theatre performance. It’s life in a miniature fishbowl.

My West Coast bedroom is smaller than my East Coast closet, if that helps you get the picture.

East Coast, I have Help. (Thank you.)

West Coast, I (mostly) am The Help. Bumbling my way through a newly-necessitated domesticity that does not come easily or naturally. But one that is strangely fulfilling and satisfying nonetheless. As I’ve said, there’s nothing quite like the smell of little boy clothes drying in the sun on a line in the postage-stamp back yard.

West Coast Backyard
East Coast Backyard


East Coast, I jump in my car for each and every errand, mindless of issues like fuel consumption or traffic.

West Coast, I walk to the grocery store. To Starbucks. To the Farmer’s Market. To every restaurant at which I choose to eat.

Not only are the living conditions disparate, the alter egos don't even look alike. Different clothes for different coasts. In LA, anything goes. I walk around on the sidewalk in my pajamas most mornings, without getting a single funny look. East Coast, I have to tone the wardrobe down. In Los Angeles, it is not uncommon to see a 75-year-old woman in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s sporting leggings with a leopard-skin top that doesn’t cover her fanny. (With heels or boots.) I kid you not. I’ve tried to sneak a few pix because I knew that no one back home would believe it. In Georgia, I’m always asking myself, “Will this outfit embarrass my mother? Will she tell me I’m not dressing my age?” 

I’m even going to Talbot’s with her this week.

West Coast, I’m usually too tired to take care of myself. East Coast is all about self-maintenance. At home, I won’t go to the grocery store without at least a smidgen of makeup on. West Coast, there are days when I’m bold enough to let all the world gaze upon my unmasked beauty. (I do try to keep sunglasses on.) Unwashed hair in a clip, the same dirty t-shirt 3 days in a row… but who really cares? I don’t know any of these people. In Athens, I run into 4 or 5 acquaintances every time I try to dash in and grab a loaf of bread.

West Coast, I don’t have a social life.  East Coast, there are more people I want to get together with than there are days in which to do it. I feel lonely one place; stretched thin the other.

It’s funny.

The two lives appear on the surface to be as different as night and day. Looking only at external circumstances, people might be envious of one and pity the other. 

One life is definitely more physically demanding. There are fewer creature comforts. I have less time “for myself.” I don’t get to do what I want to do very often.

But.

I have discovered that life circumstances have absolutely nothing to do with my happiness quotient.

Nothing at all.

Zero.

Actually, I didn’t just discover this. I’ve known it for some time. But to live it out so vividly and experientially has provided a unique opportunity for spiritual growth.

Please listen, people.

This is important.

It really, really, really doesn’t matter where you live or what you do.

…What you have or don’t have.

…Whom you’re with or not with.

Living a contented… joyful… life is completely independent of all of these external matters.

Because I take myself with me wherever I go.

As you take yourself with you.

Although I would not have chosen this lifestyle, our family's circumstances have given me the gift of living extremely disparate lives in two very different places. Neither one is perfect. Fortunately, there are many things I love about both places and lives. I am blessed to be able to savor the richness to be found in each experience.

But I know, in ways I’ve never known before, that while happiness is not to be found on either coast…in one lifestyle or the other…

it may be achieved in either or both.

As long as I remember that my true home is neither.

Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I can retreat to that secret sweet spot of the spirit.


Christ in me.


That’s the only place I really fit in.



***************



“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phillipians 4:11-13)
East Coast Across-the-Street Neighbor's Fall Porch Decor
West Coast Across-the-Street Neighbor's Fall Porch Decor


Vive la difference!

14 comments:

Laurel said...

Ha! Your "East/West" divide sounds more like a "pre-schooler/empty nester" divide to me. The no makeup, dirty shirt three days in a row thing? That's me. And I am East Coast 24/7. I put on makeup to go to the grocery store when the kids are at a grandmother's house.

I also sleep past sunrise and read over my coffee when the kids are at a grandmother's house.

The autumn porch decorations will be put out when...you guessed it...the kids are at a grandmother's house.

The postage stamp house? We had one of those up until a few years ago. Can't help you with that one. Just paint everything pink and pretend you are Malibu Barbie.

Joy said...

So many people are bitter because they think the grass is greener on the other side. I struggle with it myself... sometimes being envious of the "easier" lifestyles of others.

Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share your perspective. And for the reminder that happiness is not about externals.

PLilR said...

I applaud your honesty--and your commitment to both. I'm not saying the following thing in a derogatory manner at all, I'm just drawing it from my experiences with my parents, but after you reach a certain point in this life, it is very hard to change. Very hard to adapt to new circumstances--or so it seems. While I realize that this has probably been much, much more difficult than most or all of us could even imagine, you have really embraced it beautifully--and made it seem sorta effortless. I hate the circumstances that have made the two of us aware of each other, but I have always maintained that this thing that has happened to my friend and to her whole family happened to people that could handle it. There is absolutely no solace to be drawn from that, but I look at my life and the people that are my family and I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is no way that I would have been taken care of as well as you and everyone around Katherine has been able to assist her and take care of her. There is literally no way that I could ever be as strong and graceful as Katherine is in regards to all of the many things that are different about her life now. I am continually blown away, bowled over and rendered speechless by the amount of love and commitment that your family has for one another. It is inspiring. It is a teacher. You are a teacher. And you are very much so appreciated! So, wear those pj pants and your dirty hair and no make up with pride, because if there is one thing that LA does pretty well is never judging. :)

xxoo, Desiree

Kim Arnold said...

wow, Desiree...

That made me cry. Your support and love through all of this has been amazing.

Thank you so much for your words of encouragement.

you get it.

Lucy said...

Oh, my goodness.

You must have some really interesting neighbors in LA!

I admire your resiliency and humor in the face of what must be challenging circumstances for you.

Keep the faith, no matter what!

Anonymous said...

Great article. We Southerners can so "get it" when it comes to things that just "won't do". That's why the unconditional love of Christ is such a welcome relief from having to be people pleasers.Oh, if we could all just love and accept each other as He does. He begins where we are and enables us to be better.

Rebecca said...

Having lived several lives - one filled with things and a house in the right neighborhood to being on my own for over 12 years in a small house in Lubbock,Texas learning the art of living alone, I can relate to taking myself wherever I go. Living alone for so long taught me a peace about that existence and a resilency about life. It really doesn't matter where we find ourselves physically; it's where we find ourselves emotionally and spiritually. (p.s. I liked the west coast neighbor's porch best!)

Anonymous said...

I am a long time reader but have never left a comment. I so needed to read this post today - to be reminded that "wherever I go, there I am". I struggle often with being happy in spite of circumstances - but it is, in fact, a choice that I can make. Thank you for the reminder.

Brittany said...

Oh my goodness- what a wonderfully inspiring post. I have continued to read all your post but admit I usually read and think to myself "I love her" but don't comment. Thank you for sharing. I am so inspired by the mother you are being to your girls....
and I'm still in one of those postage stamp houses but try to remember the "closeness" of everything keeps my boys from getting into something without me knowing it!

Anonymous said...

Such deep truths, told with lightness and humor.

Thank you for being brave enough to expose details of your life (lives) in order to share an important message.

Our happiness does not lie in possessions or position.

I am trying to learn that secret.

Peggy Dabbs said...

Kim, I can so identify with much of
what you have written. I too have
another life in another state. I have a lovely large house in Alabama on acreage with a lot of privacy - an empty nester with time to pamper myself.

My second life is spent in Texas in my daughter's house. Think living in
one bedroom and sharing everything!

My days are spent caring for a 6 year old and a 14 year old while my
daughter works and makes a living.
I too have learned to be content
wherever I am and slip in and out of the roles that I play. I have learned so much from my circumstances and found happiness in myself!

Elizabeth said...

Wow, your west coast house is gorgeous! I want to live there. I hear you about CA, it is UGLY, we move to the Bay Area (from beautiful Colorado) so my husband could go to graduate school and I have been chomping at the bit to leave ever since, just counting down the years (5 total, he is working on a Ph. D). But you are right, I am happy here, we have great friends, and I don't know how much moving from 450 sf (yep, that is how tiny our apt is) to 3000 sf will change the quality of my life. We are where God called us to be for now. Great post, I needed the reminder.

Nicole said...

Your resilience is inspirational.

It is good to be reminded that happiness is not dependent upon lifestyle, as the media would have us believe.

jeremiah's mom said...

what a GREAT post!! sounds like the apostle Paul to me ('whatever state i'm in ...to be content')...i'm sure not there yet but it's forever a goal. thanks for inspiring me to work on flexibility and contentment. and yes, katherine will always be my heroine.