A year ago today, this happened.
My life was placed into 82 boxes, all taped and bound, slapped with a sticker labeled: "Ibu Erin to New York."
Ibu Erin, to New York.
Ibu, the Balinese title for a woman, akin to Ms. in the states, became a small word with big meaning.
"Ibu!!!" said warmly, dripping with love, was the word I heard over and over again in my Balinese classroom.
"Ibu!" shouted across the garden as a greeting, by my beloved gardner, eager to show me the plant newly placed in the ground, or the orchid bud just opening.
"Ibuuuuuu..." followed by a warm hug and ingratiating smile, was the greeting I received from the woman whom I came to see as my life partner, my son's second mother, and the keeper of my home.
Ibu, a word that made me feel connected, tethered to Balinese ways, rooted to the island which changed my life.
When I first arrived on Bali, I was told that the island would chew me up and spit me out again and again, until I arrived at the person I was meant to be. The eternal soul polisher, Bali, I was told, would demand that I become the best version of myself. Do that, she did. Over and over again, for two years.
Not dealing with the past? HA! Not living a healthy lifestyle? HAHAHA! Allowing fear to control you? HAHAHAHA! Disconnected from the natural world? Not present in the moment? Not connecting with others? HAAAAAAAAHHHHAAAAAAAAHHHHAAAA!
When you are willing to do the work, Bali will reward you as well. With the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, deep spiritual practice, opportunity to gather and be connected, astounding natural vistas, alternative healing practices, incredible art, and opportunity after opportunity to discover new things about the world, and who you are within it. Whatever it was that I needed in the moment, Bali provided, especially if what I needed was a good kick in the ass. Bali allowed me the opportunity to blossom, and I liked what I was seeing. But was this all transferrable?
Could "Ibu Erin" be taken to New York and thrive, or would New York, the yang to Bali's yin, whittle her away into a hard city girl?
This is a question I have been asking myself over and over again for the last year.
New York, like Bali, is an island that can chew you up and spit you out. Alive and filled with an energetic pulse, this city can drag you through the mud, run you over, and leave you in the gutter, if you allow it to. It can also be the place where opportunity is endless, and where dreams come true. New York doesn't care one way or the other which way you go, but it will certainly help you along whichever way you chose.
From the moment my 82 boxes landed in the New York harbor, my life has been on hyper-drive, trying to set up home, settle in at a new school, acclimatize my son, reconnect with old friends and attempt to kindle new ones, learn how to be a single-mom singularly, all while going through one of the worst cases of culture shock I had ever known. (They say reverse culture shock is harder than entering a new country. They are right.) Oh, and let us not forget the winter. WINTER. WAS. CRUEL. And the commute. That gosh-darn-awful-evil-commute should not go without mention.
The re-entry to American culture took me by such a storm that I couldn't even find my voice to write about it. When I tried to talk about it with others, I found that either they couldn't relate, or worse, I would just start to cry, because I didn't know the words, just the overwhelming emotions.
In need of a way out or above, maybe even just through, I finally decided to live as if I were a tourist so that I could possibly hover above it all. And so I became an expat in my own country. As much as one can, at least. With my Global citizen mentality and NY baby eyes, I was better able to see the beauty. My camera enabled me to "capture the wow," and I felt myself begin to rise above the fray.
Rising, again, and again each day, I remind myself to try to stay there. To dig deep and yank out the best version of myself that I can find. I've failed on many occasions, and in the process, I've been confronted with some of the worst parts of myself, as well. Fear, ego, exhaustion... They've all crept in and invited me to sit and stay awhile, to take up residency in a darker, though possibly easier, place. Bali, however, won't allow me to. The part of that island which took up residency in my heart consistently finds a way to remind me of my course. Along the way, I've developed some practices that help me to ensure that "Ibu Erin" continues to flourish. In the coming weeks, I'll share them with you.
For now, though, in this state of the union address, I am pleased to report that we are finding our way. Edem and I still deeply miss Bali. In many ways, we still feel like foreigners here in New York, but the reality is, we may always feel that way in each land in which we live, and that is ok. I am learning, and I believe he is as well, that wherever we go, we will be able to make a home. We will be able to thrive. We will find and nurture community, and we will be looked after, as well. I know, deeply within, that I will always have the opportunity and needed support to discover the best version of myself, whether I am in Bali, New York or Timbuktu.
Looking around my space, seeing the treasures from around the world, Bali life mixed comfortably in this New York home, I can say that we safely arrived. 365 days later, Ibu Erin made it to New York, and here, she thrives.
Erin Michelle Threlfall
Artist, Activist, and Educator, Erin is the mother of a budding genius in his 13th year of study. Erin and her little man, Edem, have a plan to investigate world Theater and influence education one continent at a time. Ghana, South Korea, Togo, Bali, and US have been checked off the list of places to live; these days they call Switzerland home.