Stranger in a Strange Land

About a year ago, afterimmigrant family giving a public talk at Clearview, I was speaking with the father of a five-year-old who was about to enroll his daughter here. We spoke about how, even though he wasn’t raised with the freedom and responsibility of a Sudbury school, he could still sense this was right for his daughter.

It occurred to me then, and I told him, that we adults who support Sudbury schooling despite our conventional upbringing are like immigrants. We travel great distances (sometimes literally) and endure considerable hardship in order that our children might enjoy more opportunities, might craft a better life. While we know it’s the right course to take, we know just as viscerally that we’ll always be relatively foreign here, that we’ll never grasp or navigate this new land with the ease of a native.

Don’t get me wrong: I feel solidly at home in the Sudbury world, and not simply because of my desire to give as many kids as possible things I never had growing up—notably, the chance to know and feel comfortable with themselves, to find their own paths rather than get mired in fulfilling others’ expectations. As a working adult, I feel blessed every day to have meaningful, engaging, world-changing work that honors my talents and pushes me to grow, that brings me joy and forces me to stretch.

Yet it remains true that I often feel like someone from the old country. I was not raised for a life this open-ended, in a place so far from the shores of security. Whether that imagined security is, in fact, false or shallow is another question: I’m referring now to a mindset of prioritizing the familiar, seeking material comfort first and happiness later, provided there’s time and money left over.

On the one hand, the uncertainty inherent in a life of pursuing my passions (the uncertainty we all face, whether we acknowledge it or not) is a real challenge for me. It can be difficult to quiet the voices of my programming, the ones complaining that I’m neglecting my current material needs, not to mention my long-term enjoyment of such luxuries as food and shelter.

Yet at the same time, I remain as drawn toward this vision of a new world as ever: a world in which people not only can, but must, learn how to be flexible and adaptable, aligning our visions and realities in such a way that we live both fully and sustainably.

Besides, I’ve always have felt somewhat peripheral, a native of the fringe, a creature of niches. I discussed in a previous post how my passions for playing with music, words, and children tend to manifest in unconventional forms. As much I cherish integrity, mindfulness, and compassion, the ways in which I embody my values must surely surprise the more traditional-minded, at least occasionally.

The longer I live, then, it seems the more I straddle this gap between paradigms. I wish I could explain to those in the old country the reasons why my immigration is the best thing I’ve ever done. Simultaneously, I wish I could finally and completely drop the fear and limited imagination of the old-world perspective. (If only I were as confident or fearless in the face of the new as most of the Sudbury alumni I know.)

Driven to the new, but simultaneously afraid; longing for a familiar home, yet incapable of settling. Too often I can see what I need to do yet hesitate, nervous about whether I can actually do it. Let me tell you: if nothing else, life as a cautiously bold risk-taker makes for a very entertaining internal dialogue.

Wandering between two worlds, one dead
The other powerless to be born
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

~ Matthew Arnold, “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse”

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