Sitting here in my favourite coffee shop, Costa Coffee, in my old neighbourhood in a north London suburb, reflecting. Comparing and contrasting old life with new. Owning a coffee shop is definitely part of my future.
I feel that my Miami Affair lifestage is gliding to a graceful and natural end. This is due, in part, to my decreasing tolerance for the ‘essence’ of south Florida. The mean-spiritness, the faux life, the cost of living, the segregated melting pot, the lack of homogeny, the barely concealed racism – the list goes on. South Florida is neither cosmopolitan nor progressive and this London lady needs both, in abundance. These many reasons are compounded by the overwhelming sense of emptiness that I have experienced here since losing my dear friend. My memories of this place were made with him. He is no longer here and my reasons for remaining here seem less tangible.
I’m back for an eight day hiatus. A luxury break, of sorts. Luxurious to me, as I bask in the warmth of all things familiar, steeped in memories created through a lifetime of living and working in London. Normality. Sincerity. Mannerisms that I mirror, and a language that I understand. Social rules and norms that make perfect sense to me. Language in shorthand – no translations required. Nuff said. The overly polite nature of many Londoners balanced with the outright acerbic nature of the few. Pedestrians knowing their place – which is NOT holding up traffic, strolling across the road, barely acknowledging the driver who has just given them way. Hearing ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ routinely used like a symphony. Driving with fellow drivers, where rudeness is the exception. The ability to blend, fit in and just ‘be’. I have truly come home. But, I do not want to stay here. I’m not ready to settle back into a routine where my life experience is limited to a comfortable re-run of the past twenty years.
I have no regrets about my decision to actively experience life, moving to Florida and doing something daring. Had I not, I would never had had the pleasure of watching fireworks on the beach with friends whilst celebrating America’s birthday. I would never have had the opportunity to ‘test my metal’ and see how I feared, living alone for the first time in my life. I would never have imagined that I would come to America and end up learning how to just about follow a conversation in Spanish. I would have remained full of judgement and prejudice in my comparatively privileged life, never knowing just how real ‘the struggle’ is for many impoverished children of colour every single day of their lives. I would never have learned a new craft, acquired a profession and played a small part in shaping the educational future of tomorrow’s generation. My passion for social justice would have remained buried and I would not now be feverishly researching how to set up a non-profit to creatively address some of the issues that disadvantaged children face daily.
Importantly, I would never have met my friend Jerico. To experience pure, uncompromising, non-judgemental and reciprocal love; and to have someone who so solidly had my back – was worth the sacrifices I made in order to accommodate my Ageing Disgracefully life change. I miss his every day. His presence, his voice, his laugh, his teasing, his patience, his tolerance.
As I look out at my old neighbourhood from my window seat, legs crossed underneath me, on a cosy sofa, watching people scuttle to and fro trying to complete their Christmas shopping, I am glad to have made the change that I did. It hasn’t been easy. It still isn’t. I don’t have a clear sense of being ‘settled’ either here at home in London, or ‘there’ at home in Florida. Home is where the heart is. The problem is that so many people have little pieces of my heart and they are not in the same place as me. So my heart is not settled. And therefore, I cannot be.
Opportunities present themselves, often unannounced. sometimes in disguise. The skill is in recognising the positivity and potential for self-impovement and to defeat the fear that arises in us when faced with the uncertainty of a new challenge. Many friends and family members have said that they envy my decision to just up and move to another country. It was carefully considered, but not overly so. There was very little procrastination. Instead of saying, ‘How can I?’, I thought ‘How can I not?’ I made sure that my children were either okay with me going, or actually coming along with me. They were the first priority, over and above my own need to satisfy my wanderlust. Once the decision was made, it was a matter of riding the tidal wave provided by the Teach for America experience and seeing where it took me.
The past two years has been a journey of self-growth, discovery, overcoming loneliness, enjoying friendship and, presently, enduring the unutterably soul-destroying pain of grief. I am not the same person that left England two years ago and I am grateful to Florida for facilitating my growth.
And now for……. ATLANTA!! But this time, no Disgraceful Ageing. Now it is time to take the reigns and steer my life towards a positive future. I see Rosie’s chain of coffee houses – with vegan food and speciality vegan cakes in abundance, green smoothies, pure freshly pressed juices and chilled jazz and laid back neo-soul music playing in the background – in the not too distant future!