When I was in the throes of what can only be called my ‘High Anxiety Days’ of considering our move to the UAE, John asked me a very simple question:
“What are you scared of?”
This wasn’t posed in a challenging or angry way. John wasn’t daring me. This was truly a question to help get to the bottom of why I might be so hesitant to head out to the UAE. While I didn’t know the answer right away, I did know that it had very little to do with any perceptions of the place.
Okay, maybe there was a *little* concern about the location. Just look at a map and any American would see why. But I knew people who lived in Dubai and LOVED it, and had friends who traveled to Abu Dhabi for the F1 races and also LOVED it. People rave about the place. It’s the ‘in’ tourism destination. So, what was I scared of?! I actually had to spend a few days mulling this over.
What I realized is that what I feared had nothing to do about where I was going, but everything to do with what I was leaving behind.
I guess here is the part where I’m supposed to give my loving tribute to my two point five decade stint in New York City. I know, I know, it’s what all writers are supposed to do when they take leave of the place. A love letter. A farewell. For now mine is:
Dear New York,
Everyone said it would never work out.
After 25 years, they were right.
Really, though, I love New York. But once we bought our home in Upstate New York, I became more and more disconnected (even overwhelmed at times) by the city’s bustle.
Working from home didn’t help. It was like I was growing apart from the place. Where was the connection to work, people, art? Then, when we moved up to Hudson Heights, north of the George Washington Bridge and far from my Brooklyn roots and beginnings, I had a hard time feeling any kind of sense of belonging. We were on the fringes. Sure, Hudson Heights was well-heeled and quiet and had the feel of a neighborhood, but I felt like I was just passing through.
So, it wasn't about leaving behind 'the place.' It was about leaving behind 'the people.' My people. They know who they are. ;-) I feel so fortunate. I have such a wonderful group of fun and amazing friends in New York. And leaving, even for just a year or so, makes me feel like I’m putting all of those friendships at risk of change.
I’ve always been uncomfortable with change. Sure, I’ll change my hairstyle on a dime, but I’ll stay in a crappy work situation until something externally brings about a change. And I’ll ‘happily’ live in a crappy apartment five years too long for fear that it’s not worth the risk of trying to find something better, because it may just end up being worse. But maybe the biggest tip-off to my adversity to change is that I listen to 80s music... All. The. Time.
Now, one of my amazing friends is Lesley, a citizen of the world, who has lived all over the place with her work in the Foreign Service, British Embassy and career at the United Nations. She’s even been to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and has been full of encouragement and understanding in helping me through this transition. In fact, when I first told her about Abu Dhabi her insight was that for my British husband, who has done the expat thing in Nigeria, France and New York, this was fine. But she understood, I was a born and bred New Yorker. This might not be that easy for me.
Lesley has this great story about how she came to decide to do a stint in Norway. She was young, in her 20s, and the opportunity for this foreign post came up. And while Lesley never said this, maybe Norway wasn’t *quite* at the top of the list of someone looking to live and work abroad in their effort to change the world. But it was a good opportunity, and she had to consider it. Seriously.
Just as she was offered this gig, Lesley came down with a bad bout of the flu. Bedridden with aches and fever, the decision weighed on her. When she turned on her stereo to distract herself from what ailed her, what song came on?
A sweet song, with a big video, from a band from, you guessed it, Norway.
'Take on Me,' by A-ha.
And with little hesitation, Lesley went on to take that post in Norway. Which led to a post in Madrid. Which led to a post in New York City. Which led to her gig at the United Nations. So really, from that one song, a career (and a kick-ass life) was born.
In the past, when Lesley told me this story, I would just laugh. “Who makes big life decisions based on a song!?” I’d think. But I also know that Lesley, being smart, savvy and Scottish, had probably already done a lot of the other work in deciding her future before that song came on. What it came down to was finding that little sign from the Universe… and taking that leap of faith.
This is something I was never very good at. Neither finding the sign. Nor listening to it.
BUT here’s the weird thing. Ever since this whole Abu Dhabi thing came up, Lesley's 'A-ha' song has been coming up again and again and again. For me.
I hear it on the radio when I drive the car.
I hear it in the restaurant having dinner with friends (including Lesley).
I hear it at a restaurant in Abu Dhabi when meeting up with Lesley and my mutual friend.
And I even hear it in the god-damn SUPERMARKET, people!
When I shared this with Lesley, she laughed.
“This is your A-ha moment!”
And I realized, even though I had to borrow it from Lesley, it was.
It was my sign from the Universe telling me to move forward and take this chance with my husband. And it was perfect. Because what better sign for me to see (this reluctant, worried soul afraid to leave her pals), than the shared sign of a caring friend?
So, here I am in Abu Dhabi. I arrived three days ago. We’re settling in, but things are good. Of course I’ll write more about that but for now –
Take on me, (take on me)
Take me on, (take on me)
I'll be gone
In a day or two
Take me on, (take on me)
I'll be gone
In a day or two