He breezed through the library like Johnny Depp, a modern version of his Captain Sparrow. Long, stringy braids threaded pink at the ends swung down beneath a red stocking cap. He wore a pink sparkly backpack with a girl from one of the many teeny bopper shows on the Disney Channel, a neon green reusable grocery sack slung across one shoulder. With his arms covered in pink argyle sweater gloves, the kind that stretch all the way past the elbow, he flipped through rows of CDs, bangles clacking around his wrists. Simultaneously, he’d reach a leg back to kick a wayward chair back into place with his pirate-booted foot. Anything out of place seemed to be a personal nuisance to him, and so with gloved hands and booted feet he pushed or kicked them back into their rightful place in his universe. All the while, muttering occasional words under his breath I couldn't decipher.
I stared in blatant fascination. I couldn't help it. He seemed out of place in downtown Bellevue, whereas he would have blended in up on Capitol Hill. The people watching isn't often this colorful here on the Eastside.
I'm still getting used to a different landscape, traveling east across the water from Seattle. It's an eight minute drive to downtown from where I live, traffic depending, but a world away. Life is more homogenous, at least on the exterior. Lots of SUVs, BMWs, Mercedes and Volvos. Lawns that look like gardens tucked in lush forest or perched overlooking Lake Washington. There's admittedly not much in the way of shopping, and upon moving here, I had to adjust to the virtual absence of eclectic boutiques and hole-in-the-wall cafes. We do have one delicatessen hot spot that oozes local charm and culinary goodness, Stompsky's, the only place on our island I know of where I can stop for a cup of non-Starbucks or Tully's coffee. Stumptown, to be exact, which makes me very happy.
But I think it's safe to say we have more parks and baseball fields per capita than our neighboring Seattle. The first month I lived here, when I was able to explore my new surroundings in running shoes, I was constantly stumbling upon hidden parks. What surprised me was how refreshing it was, the experience of these discoveries, compared to the thrill of stumbling upon a new cafe. After ten years of living in the fast pace of the city, my whole body craved the peaceful stillness of the outdoors, and I didn't even know it until my life transplanted here. I leaned into the simplicity of having little in my tiny part of the world but trees, lake, mountain views, trails, parks and quiet neighborhoods.
When I look at my soul's reflection in the mirror, I wonder, sometimes, if the same girl that inhabited this body five years ago is still staring back at me. The girl who possessed the energetic zeal to fight many battles I don't care enough to fight any more, partly because my priorities have changed. I'd barely passed through Mercer Island before moving here, adamant that I would never live in a place like this, let alone here, sputtering the words with a righteous contempt. How many "nevers" have come back to knock on my door, I'm not sure. - but lots. And this "never" turns out to be one I've gratefully embraced in a season of needing rest. God knew I needed this place, at least for a season. Now I'm the one whose reply of where she lives elicits raised eyebrows and awkward jesting from resident Seattle-ites: "Oh! Reeallllly. Well, excuse me!" As if I've crossed over from Zooey Deschanel to Paris Hilton with a move across the water. It makes me chuckle now, because I get it. I used to think that, too. I used to think a lot of things that have now escaped me.
And still, I doubt some of these changes. Am I ok, I wonder, or am I sell-out? Is it alright that my dreams have evolved from wanting to raise a family in the most diverse, low-income part of the city to hungering to make a home on a small piece of land, just far enough from the city to catch our breath, with animals and a garden and space to run without having to drive in our car to get there? The older I get, the more I crave dirt, wide open skies, fresh air and stillness. I crave sanctuary. I loved these things before, but I never let myself want them. I felt I needed to sacrifice them on the altar of "urban ministry" and that I could never really love "the poor" from here. But as I read on another blog today, "the poor" don't exist in a class of people, but in individual stories and faces. They are not a destination or a part of the city or a certain group of people. Could it be that my definitions of how to love and live life have more than changed - but expanded - to include a type of life I never allowed myself to want before? Could it be that I can actually love people from all different walks of life just as well outside the "inner city" as I could within, if I'm willing to be intentional?
I see, too, that at least one thing has not changed. I am still a wrestler.
*Joining the Just Write community today at Heather King's blog