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A hotel is for sale on Baltic Avenue.


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She asked if I would rewind.

If I could go back and rewind to a portion of life that was filled with boxes and suitcases, would I choose to never pack them? Would I choose to stay, instead of leave, New England? 

I was sitting on the countertop barefoot when her text rolled through. Half of a kale and grilled cheese sandwich on a plate beside me. I was waiting for someone to show up at my house and teach me how to garden. Dishes sat in the sink, content to soak a few hours before getting scrubbed good and hard. A candle burned, the smell of sandalwood filling in any parts of the kitchen that hadn’t felt like home just yet.

I stared at the screen for half a second. I wondered if this was the sort of thing we ever imagined would get sent in a text message. Like, when SMS first started, didn’t we always think it was going to be meant for quick communication? Like, brb. And see you in ten. But no, now I live in a world where text messages carry existential questions and I am forced to wonder about “what if” in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon where I really should have mopped the floor better.

If that text had showed up six months prior, I would have answered “yes.” I would have probably broken the phone by tapping those three letters– Y-E-S– so hard onto the screen. If it had been November, instead of April, I would have never even needed a moment to think and say, “Yes, I would have stayed. I would have never packed the car. I would have never chosen to be introduced to the antichrist known as IKEA furniture. I would have learned how to live in the same place I’d existed in for my whole life. The journey would have never happened.”

 

“If I had to rewind,” I answered back to her.

“I would have done everything absolutely the same.”

That text message alone– the confirmation of “delivered” on my screen– is proof that I am growing far more than I am shrinking these days. 

I would still choose boxes, I have decided. I would choose hard goodbyes. I would choose Siri speaking directions into my ear for thirteen hours straight as I navigated down Southern highways and stopped for sweet tea as a sign that hospitality was about to bear hug me tightly. I would choose the new furniture. The awkward conversations that eventually became “friendship.” I would choose to leave instead of stay.

 

I want to be clear on something.

Really clear. Because my mama is the devil’s advocate to every little word that comes out of my mouth and I love her fiercely for that. We all need the advocate for the “other way to see things.” We all need to be told every once in a while, “No, you aren’t always right.

If I had written this post a year ago, before I even packed to move, I probably would have tried to jam the idea of suitcases down your throat. I would have told you that you need to be brave. You need to leave. You need to heave yourself straight out of your comfort zone with no map and no manual.

I don’t feel that way anymore. You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. Some people want adventure. Some people want roots. Some people want an escape. Some people want a treasure hunt. We all want different things that keep us coming and going and staying and living. It’s better to just say, “You do you. You be your own manual. You be your own compass with the help of God that you want– the portion size you’ll take of Him. But I won’t preach at you with a suitcase in my hand. We all have our reasons for staying and leaving, and that’s just fine.”

I only say that because I’ve sat at a table across from my mother and she has said to me, “Not everyone wants what you want.” And I was forced to swallow hard and see her truth as truth– not everyone wants to get out. Some of us are wanderers. Some of us are fine where our feet are. Some of us wander in the hopes that our feet will finally whisper, “Stay right here. Here is where you need to stay.”

Staying is just as remarkable as leaving if you learn to white-knuckle-grip the perspective that lets you look at life and think, “We’re all going to find our way to gold. I believe that. I hope for that. We’re all going to make it out okay.” 

 

But me? I needed suitcases.

I needed suitcases one last time to finally unlearn how to be the girl who always wanted to leave. And not stay. And not endure the waves. And not feel the shards of a broken heart. And not sit with myself. I desperately needed a home that was hundreds of miles away from everything I knew to be true and safe if I ever wanted to get honest with myself and say: you’ve been running for a really long time, girl. Are you tired, yet? Are you over building walls, higher and higher, just yet?

I didn’t know any of that as I moved into my first Atlanta home. I didn’t know the next year of my life was going to be anything more than a honeymoon stage with a lot of cute boys in flat brim hats who hold the door open for you when you get into the car. I didn’t know that sometimes God drags you (you’d use the word “drag” when He’d probably use the word “lead”) to a place where you are forced to admit all that you are afraid to admit, “I don’t like unpacking suitcases. I don’t like staying. I don’t like letting my guard down. I don’t like being seen.”

Isn’t that just irony at its finest: when the girl who always “sees” people is too afraid to be seen for who she really is. 

 

I don’t know who I really am.

I am learning but I am not quite there yet. It feels like I have been playing some ridiculous and frustrating game like Monopoly for most of my life. I have passed “Go” half-a-hundred times without ever saying thank you for that two hundred dollars. I have been betting all my earnings on railroads and hotels on Baltic Avenue because I never had the courage to admit I wanted Park Place. Let’s be real, we’ve all wanted Park Place but it was easier to lift our heads to the ceiling at night and whisper, “I’d be fine with Baltic Avenue.”

I’m selling my hotels. The ones I built on Baltic Avenue, I am selling them for sure.

You know, I had a million ways to end this piece and every single one of them was preachy. Straight. Up. Preachy. So I said to myself, “Scrap it, girl. Scrap and tell someone what is real today.”


So what is real today? Today what’s real is that I am scared. I am scared straight over typing these words. My heart is nearly pounding out of my chest. I am scared because I am determined to make baby steps every single day that give me a life that looks a lot more like “living” instead of just “existing.” I am scared to find out that I moved nearly 12 months ago and it feels like I haven’t even put the foundation down yet. The foundation isn’t the good part, it’s the necessary part. I think I might be getting to the good part. Soon. Soon. 

I am scared because going forward, without looking back, isn’t an overnight thing. It is an everyday thing. An every hour thing. And I will not sit here and fake the process.

I cannot fake this process. This process is already breaking me. I won’t take an ounce of this year back– this journey to get right to the spot I am in right now: the moment of feeling like I get to start being really real. I get to stop looking for the suitcase handle and I get to start building a life. 

 

I want a life.

More than anything, I want a life. I don’t want boxes. I don’t want a geographic location. In the end, I did not move for a spot on the map. I moved because I wanted a life, not a place to live. It had nothing to do with people. It had nothing to do with apartments. It had nothing to do with what a location could or could not give me. It had nothing to do with cute, little coffee shops propped on the corner and neighbors appropriately named Little Bit. It had to do with myself– the one I have always been afraid of– and if I was willing to admit that nothing could change or budge or move inside of me if I did not just surrender.

And the only way to get to that point of surrender was by saying, “I relinquish control to all the things I know and find comfort in. I am choosing to let those things go if it means I am going to come alive.”

That’s what I want more than anything– not a house with a brown picket fence, not a countertop that snakes around the kitchen, not neighbors who bring me jello. I want to be alive. I want to be able to read that passage in Ezekial, the one that is overused in every worship song ever written, the one about “dry bones.” I want to read about those dry bones, the ones in Ezekial 37, and actually believe that things can go from dead to alive.

I want to look at all the dead things and be able to whisper, “That used to be me.”

I want to look at all the living things– all the pretty living things– and finally be able to whisper, “This is me. Finally I am saying it: Me too. Me too.”

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28 thoughts on “A hotel is for sale on Baltic Avenue.

  1. Giulietta Nardone says:

    Hannah, this is a great post for discussion. It take a long time to know who you are. I’m going say 45+ for most folks. It takes that long to unlearn most of the BS you have been taught by others. Being alive when you are alive is the hardest thing, but the best thing. It’s easy to follow the blueprint handed out early in life. Much harder to rip it up and draw your own.

  2. Your words always hit me right in the chest. Always. This one especially, my life is lived with very little control and now I’m at a point of coming and going. Specifically being forced to go from a place that I moved to 6 months ago and love, it’s not in my control to stay. Your words have soothed some of raw parts of my soul exposed by the change “In the end, I did not move for a spot on the map. I moved because I wanted a life, not a place to live”. I can have a life where I am coming back to.

  3. Pingback: » A hotel is for sale on Baltic Avenue.

  4. Tanya Levy says:

    Bless you sweet Hannah. Fourteen years ago my friend drove me and my son aged 2.5 years 2200 km to a town where I knew no one for a new job and a fresh start. It wasn’t always easy and yet here I am. Bless you ♡

  5. These words, right here: “Staying is just as remarkable as leaving.” Staying is not often dramatic or flashy, but it has its own goodness–goodness that is often overlooked or belittled in the face of shiny adventure.

  6. Lydia says:

    Thank you for this. Your words are always good but these especially were timed right for me. Going forward is an every hour thing.

  7. You’ve given me a LOT to think about tonight. I’m new to your audience and I feel like a deer staring into the headlights. My question is not location related and to move or not move, to pack or not to pack…mine has to do with thinking patterns…to think this or not to think this…because whatever I settle on, I’ll need to act on…and I’m just. not. sure. what I want to do. What I’m made to do. Be. Do. Be. dobedobedooooo. haha!! Thanks for this. I’m headed back to read it all again.

  8. Hannah,
    This must be what 26 feels like. And what 25 felt like. And what transition feels like. I turned 26 in January and I swear I read these posts and I am always going ME TOO.
    This last year has been all about learning what it means to stay. I’m that girl who has traveled to 15 countries, but I’m just now learning to put down roots… ironic/meant to be that I’m in a yoga teacher training called RootEd? I have needed roots. I’ve needed to tangle with the earth instead of run from it. And learning to LIVE which can only happen of course if one grows from soil.
    Thank you for writing… thank you for you. The real one. It warms my heart to have your company on this journey and know that I’m not alone on it.

  9. Teresa says:

    This is exactly what I needed this early morning. Thank you Hannah. Again, you hit a homerun with your writing. Thank you dear girl.

  10. Beautiful. This so fully captures how I felt when we moved to Raleigh last year. It wasn’t for a location – it was for a location, it was because I wanted to live. And the Baltic Avenue analogy – just so good.

  11. I think Giulietta’s right … it takes a long time to know who you are. The thing is, I’ve found that our twenties is a time of so desperately wanting to know and own who we are, and to document every little bit of the journey lest it be that crucial moment of understanding. Regardless of whether we choose to leave or to stay, oh how difficult it is to let it be — to let the journey unfold.

    Thank you, thank you, for honestly and earnestly sharing.

  12. Ann V. says:

    My 20-something daughter moved away 12 months ago…with every word you speak I hear her voice! You put ink to her heart!!!

  13. takes a whole life to acquire wisdom
    you’re on the right track

    I moved to a different city after living almost half a century in the same one
    still looking around to find out who I am
    feeling blessed as never before in my life
    hoping to get a few decades more in this quest

    ps. mothers often know best… fathers do too sometimes, as my wife sometimes acknowledges

  14. I fist pumped this so hard.
    Those dry bones.
    And unlearning the mentality of being the girl who always leaves (because she’s afraid of being left). The last two years, I’ve been right smack in the middle of this. Feeling it.
    love you!

  15. Cassandra Kilareski says:

    its nice to know i’m about 12 months into my new “home” and i’m not the only one who’s still figuring it all out. thanks for the help! 🙂

    Cassie Kilareski

  16. I relate to this so incredibly much and have never been able to quite put into words what you’ve managed to do so effortlessly here. After I graduated college, I moved to LA – thought it was everything I’d ever want. But I loathed it, was counting down the time when it’d be feasible for me to move again.

    I left after a little over a year, decided to move back to my incredibly small hometown, regroup, and figure out what I wanted to do. I’m working a job that I love, not making much money at all while I try to write a novel and plot my next move. Home still doesn’t feel quite right to me, but I have no idea where to even start to grow some roots. I’ve narrowed it down to an entire coast so I can be near my family, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten.

    Thanks for your words. I’m thrilled to have discovered them from friends who have learned a lot from you.

  17. Pingback: my wandering feet | vagabond

  18. “Not everyone wants what you want” Gosh I love that. Your mama sounds like a wonderful person and we all certainly need someone to play the devil’s advocate once in a while.

    This past August I made the hardest move of my life. I packed up and moved south for a teaching position. I left home and I left comfort and I cried for days (or weeks). But I wouldn’t change any of it. I’d still come here to this new life. Would I have done some things differently when I got here? Maybe. But I’d still make the move again.

    It was the scariest and bravest thing I have ever done. And it was one of the first things that I ever did for myself. I finally learned that I can’t always be everyone’s life line and that sometimes I need to be my own. I’m a helper. That’s just who I am. I want to make other people’s lives easier and I usually forget about my own. But I wanted this change and I took my chance to have it.

    Now a year or two from now, I plan to be moving on to something new. I know that most people move to a new place in hopes of settling down and getting their life together. But for me, I moved to force myself to realize what I wanted in life without worrying about what everyone else needed from me. I’ve learned that they can survive without me and that I can love my life while still being a part of the lives of the ones I love.

    So for now, I’m happy where I am. But I know that the change is coming and when that travel bug comes to find me, I’ll be ready.

  19. shwetajoshi says:

    Believe me Hannah, I am one of those girls who always keep their feet grounded but the head is always wandering to endless roads. I REALLY would like to meet the person that I once was and the person that I am now. But with my mind being on constant move to the next place to be, I haven’t really been able to figure out my life yet. And yet, everything you write makes perfect sense. May be, it’s time to stop running away every time I get a chance to face myself and really talk to myself. As always, thanks for writing with such conviction.

    http://lovemagiclife.com

    xoxo
    Shweta.

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