I’m happy that in a few hours 2014 will be in the past. It has been one of the more difficult years of my life so far.
My marriage ended in August. It was and continues to be a profoundly sad and heartbreaking backdrop to a lot of other things that, on their own, would be cause for celebration.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what might have been, if things were different, if I was different – but they’re not, I’m not. Slowly, those thoughts are becoming less persistent and are being drowned out by feelings of gratitude. I have experienced real love. I was half of a truly wonderful marriage that just wasn’t meant to be – through no fault of his or mine. The way that Mr. Butterflies and I handled our separation, the way we continue to support one another is something I’m incredibly proud of.
Obviously, a new chapter in my life has begun.
And as usual, that leaves me wondering about my next move. Historically, moving to a new city has been my go-to solution for all of life’s challenges. When I’m not happy with my surroundings, I seek out new ones.
Professionally, it’s been the best year of my life. I co-authored a book, spoke at conferences around the world, and tripled the client base for a software solution we built to automate a methodology I designed. I’m growing my team and am confident about the direction our company is going. Imagine my delight when my boss told me he’d support me if I wanted to leave Toronto – that my job would come with me if I decided to go.
Suddenly my biggest problem was choosing where to go next: back to Amsterdam? San Francisco? Portland? Somewhere entirely new? I was paralyzed by the sheer volume of possibilities.
Life transitions tend to make me introspective, as I’m sure they do for most people. I asked myself why I was leaving, and what I needed to make me happy in a new city. Mr. Butterflies lovingly suggested I consider whether I was running from something or toward something, and as sound as the advice was, I kind of hated the answer. So what if I was running from something? It’s what I do.
The other thing I do is make lists.
Reasons to stay in Toronto:
- I have formed very important friendships that I couldn’t possibly live without. I’d be back often though…
- I’ve been in Toronto for five years – that’s longer than any city since childhood. I’ve been here long enough to develop a routine. It may sound silly, but if you’re even a little bit of a nomad like me you know how exhausting it can be to find a new hair salon, doctor, yoga studio, etc. With the very memorable exception of being convinced to get bangs (ugh, why did I listen?)- I’m happy with all of the above. I do miss proper cobb salads and unsweetened iced tea though…
- I own a parka, two pairs of snow boots, and a heaping pile of scarves in every fabric/colour combination you can think of. I can’t think of any other major cities where I could continue to get as much out of the significant investment I’ve made in cold weather gear. Maybe Chicago though…
Reasons to leave Toronto:
- It would be nice to be closer to friends and family in Oregon, or to go back to my expat life in Amsterdam. But then, I’m lucky enough to have a life that lets me see them more often than some of my friends who live just a few blocks away…
- I need to get out of my comfort zone. I need to push myself to grow. But staying put seems like the most uncomfortable and challenging thing in the world sometimes…
- It’s freezing cold here in the winter, and in the summer I get whatever the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder is, because it’s so hot and humid I am miserable and just want to stay indoors and whine. There are places with much nicer weather. But when I was in San Francisco I distinctly remember missing the seasons…
My simple list of pros and cons quickly turned into a Rubik’s cube. Or maybe a Venn diagram: every single rationale seemed to fit in the overlapping space as both an argument for staying and one for leaving.
I didn’t know if I should stay or go, I just wanted to be somewhere I could feel whole – somewhere I could silence the nagging feeling that my life is missing something. Sometimes traveling drowns out that feeling, other times it is yoga. Often I escape it when I’m laughing with my best friend, other times when I’m taking a bath and listening to Norah Jones.
Without a clear answer, I decided to give it some time. I say “I decided” like it was a conscious effort to just trust that the right path would reveal itself to me in time. But really, there was no trusting the universe, no patience, no certainty. It was a very uncomfortable few months. But as they tend to do, things worked out. The universe did indeed reveal the right path.
I’ve decided to stay here in Toronto, and to continue on the healing journey I started almost a decade ago. I founded the When You’re Ready Project, a community for survivors of sexual violence (including me) to share our stories and find strength in one another. The Project has a long term vision to create a sexual assault registry so that we can combat the problem using reliable information. I feel like everything before this led me here: my unfortunate experiences as a young woman, my choice of a career in a field focused on innovative uses of data and protecting the privacy of individuals, and making my way to Toronto which is the birthplace of many inspirational and like-minded movements and initiatives.
That nagging feeling is silenced for now, I know what I need to do and where I need to be. I’m about to take a bubble bath, listen to some Norah Jones, then get ready to spend the evening with a dear friend.
In a few hours I will say goodbye to 2014 and gladly ring in the new year feeling thankful for everything that has led me to where I am right now. Years ago, a very special friend shared this poem with me. I’ve carried it with me and read it often, and nothing seems more fitting.
The City by Constantine P. Cavafy
You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.