Twenty years ago we moved to Thailand. Here is my hindsight letter to a 30-year-old me. I am almost 50 now.
Dear Me at 30,
One day, believe it or not, you will love the city of Bangkok. Right now all you do is tolerate it one stinking, sweating, 35*-Celsius day at a time. No. Days are too large a measure at this time. You survive it one hesitant lonely breath at a time. There will come a day when you genuinely love that city. Instead of looking for ways to leave, your enthusiasm will be instrumental in convincing others to stay.
I want you to know that there is life after Quebec, but only after you learn (the hard way) that you must redefine your idea of real life. You see, you will witness first-hand that not everyone has the choice of where to live. You will keep living like a sad victim of the imperfect system, the imperfect marriage, the Thunderous Perfect God, until you meet a desperate Chinese refugee mom, standing on the other side of a cage-like cell, separated from her husband and son, waiting to get somewhere beyond Bangkok’s immigration detention center. She doesn’t have choices, and as you witness her heartbreaking reality it will change yours.
Oh 30-year-old Me, right now you want to fall asleep and wake up on the other side of this city, but one day you will stare the city down and defy it to just try to send you away. You will feel protective and maternal, even patriotic. You’ll learn that you don’t have to become Thai in order to belong, you just have to have purpose. With that new-found sense of purpose you will be shocked that nothing -not your accent, not your white freckled skin, not your hazely-green eyes- can tell you that you don’t belong.
As lonely as you are – no, as alone as you are- hold on! I promise you there will be friends. And just when you start to flat-line there will be people who will resuscitate you back to life. They will pound your chest or reach in and massage your heart if they have to. Word by gentle word they will community you back to life and reassure you that you would be missed if, for some reason, you were not there anymore.
That Bible you angrily threw into the very, very back of your bottom drawer? It will talk to you again and it will have good news. You will see how you have misunderstood the Heart of those words. Your eyes will get baptized, and gradually you will see things clearer, where people around you will no longer look like walking trees, but they will become living, breathing, interesting individuals who are on your path for a reason.
At thirty your husband travels to remote parts of Asia, having the adventure of a lifetime, and you are alone with your three sons on the border town of Nong Khai. Right now your greatest comfort on those alone nights, your sense of escaping away from Thailand and back to Quebec, comes from your cassettes of Celine Dion. You put your earphones in, lie flat on your back and memorize all the lyrics in French. Tears pour down your face and into your ears but you don’t care. You love those songs. You love Celine Dion. And while you will always love Celine Dion for being such a good friend all those nights, I can promise you that you will find a NewSong and you will love it with all your heart and it will be an even better friend for the rest of your days.
And lastly, dear 30-year-old Me, you will be loved passionately by a man and you will fall in love again. No, there won’t be a divorce and remarriage. There will be a restoring of your first love. You got married to him when you were 20, but the day is coming when you will finally be his bride. Your differences -which are, and always will be, many- will make both of you laugh instead of scream. Your five children will thank you for staying together. You will lie down at the end of each day and be glad to see him there with you.
And for the record, even though in Thai shops you have to buy XL, you are NOT and never will be a ‘farang somboon bep’! (tranlates: a fat foreigner.)