Fast forward 25 years, and the same girl is standing in the arrivals area of the Geneva airport wearing a grey coat that is not warm enough for a European winter and pulling a large red suitcase behind her. She’s looking for someone who might have had a vision the night before of a traveller arriving on February 4 who needed accommodation. No one there has a sign with her name on it, so she goes to the tourist information desk instead, then turns left, goes to the toilet, fills her pink Nalgene water bottle and enters the train station area to sit down for several hours to read, write and wait to figure out what comes next.
Four-and-a-half years later, I stand in a flowing skirt and a nursing top, feeling like a kangaroo with a joey in my ruby Moby on a hot day. I’m in the Geneva arrivals area again, trying to remember the sights, sounds and feelings in my heart because today I am here to say goodbye, to part ways with the past four years.
What do you do when your whole life was marked by plane tickets? The earliest trips were the paper ones, bound together on the left side like books with several pages, flights from Sri Lanka to the U.S., the U.S. To the Philippines, and so many other trips. I only know endings and beginnings because I had them every four years of my life on average, and in the past decade, I’ve never lived anywhere longer than three years. There has always been the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, and yes whenever it got tough in any place with any person – because that always happened – I could just fix my eyes on the next place, the next incarnation of my life in a new corner of the world, waiting for me after the immigrations and customs line.
If I could just get through this difficult series of exams or dysfunctional friendship or stressful event, then I’ll be in Fayetteville, at JBU, in Australia, in Geneva, and then I won’t have to deal with it anymore, if I had a lifestyle, that was it. Get through whatever difficult thing is happening because there is always an exit strategy. Every four years there was an airplane waiting to take me somewhere else.
My life pattern does not seem to be changing.
We found out several months ago that Husband’s work is taking us to Stockholm, Sweden for a few years after the past three years in Geneva, and again I found myself facing the same old feelings, Just get through the next several months, pretend nothing is happening, you’ll wake up in Stockholm and you can get on with it then.
I have regularly felt the need to just close my eyes and wish the time away for the next thing, the new thing, but for the last weeks, I forced my eyes open, forced my heart open and forced myself to engage with what Geneva meant to me, what happened in my life here and what I am losing by leaving it.
So I go back to the airport, back to the very beginning for it is a very good place to start, and I will my heart to return to where it was on that February morning. Retracing steps brings back memories, revelations also pour in.
The arrivals area of the airport has been renovated, the train station is completely changed, and the youth hostel where I spent almost two weeks evolved from the grungy building with old walls and a strange smell to modern lines, black and white professional reception area and where are the desks with computers where I wrote email after email to friends and family?
If we’re stuck in the past, in a memory, a moment, it becomes our ultimate end to keep recreating it, forever frustrated when our efforts turn up nothing. The world keeps moving regardless of where we are or what schedule we are on. It keeps changing, evolving, and moving forward.
I trace the numbers of the keypad of the electronic ticket machine, remembering my anxiety at the thought of figuring out a public transport system. What do I take into the city? Which ticket do I need to buy? How am I going to get all of my luggage on board? This time I know, I use these machines regularly, I know the different zones of transport in Geneva, but I’m pushing a heavy stroller and momentarily am flooded with the same anxiety, How will I get this on the train? Will I accidentally injure my baby? And as it did four-and-a-half years ago, it drove me to one of my favourite prayers, God, I need your help.
I can talk to him about anything, anything, anything, there is no such thing as too small or too big. All things that concern me, concern him. Just keep talking. Just keep talking.
My bench in the mall-train-station area of the airport. It’s hard, silver, cold, three seats facing the escalators to the trains, three seats facing shops. I sit there, open my Bible, my journal and the memories rain around me. The cleaner who walks by, the people who were sitting next to me, the whole time wondering, Why am I here? Why am I here? What will I do? What will I do? And the aching doubts, Can I really believe that everything will work out the end? What will be required of me here? I remember reading and re-reading these words, my lifeline:
Count it all joy my brothers and sisters when you face trials of any kind, for the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect making you perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
And I remember his words to my spirit, You can do this, you can weather this storm, come on Devi, you can stand while things swirl around you. You can do this.
I don’t remember crying then, but I’m holding back tears now after three years of transition, change, grief, babies, lack of sleep, lack of time, the absence of family and familiarity. There have been trials, there have been reasons to stop believing in the goodness of God, but I sit in those silver chairs again, and in my spirit rises the truth that cannot be silenced by the lies that come in difficulty.
He is good. He is faithful. He does what he says he will do. He gave me the strength I needed to weather every single storm. And so I say Thank You. Always thank you. In everything, in every difficulty, there was always a reason to be thankful.
Standing in front of number 25 Quai de Mont Blanc, the building that started it all, the doors I was never supposed to enter. I should have gone with the women from my hostel room for an evening out, but I’m lying in my hostel bed waking up from an afternoon nap, and groggily asking God in my spirit, What do you want me to do tonight? The answer that comes back is not the one I want to hear, Go to YAGs, so I walk the short walk between my hostel and the apartment in the cold wind and dark night and enter a room full of warm people, gorgeous furniture, high ceilings. The tall, German man sitting in front of the fireplace was the icing on the cake. He prays at the end, and I think, That guy is praying what’s in my heart.
It’s hot now, more than four years later, plus I have a baby strapped to me and it’s almost noon, but I stand in front of that door and I build an altar in my heart to the kindness of the One who led me by the hand to this place. I had no idea where I was going, why I was going, but I was always safe in the good hands of God.
I say Thank You, and I open my hands and let go.
I let go of this glorious, beautiful, miraculous story with all its people, places, apartments and things, and I allow myself to believe that there are greater things to come, for me, for us, for our family. I release it, and I turn my face toward what lies ahead.
If our hands are full of the past – however wonderful (or awful) it may be – we cannot receive the future.
I retrace, relive, remember, celebrate and release these life-changing years in Geneva, and with each step I take, I feel the excitement and anticipation building in me for the time to come.
Stockholm, I am ready for you. I am ready to live a new story. I am ready to write a new song.