Fall River, MA
San Diego, CA
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Prague, Czech Republic
The first on this list of cities brought me up to the ripe age of 17. A lot of the population in Fall River hangs right around the poverty line and I knew my fair share of heroin addicts. I thought gangs and knives at school were normal occurrences. My mother and father were young when they were made parents and neither got to finish a 4 year degree with the pressure of raising children and paying a mortgage. But I knew, even at a young age, college was expected of me. After graduating 12th in a class of 600, I left Fall River and went just an hour north to study in the pre-med program at Boston University.
The idea of fulfilling a lifelong dream (become a M.D.) in one of the best ranked cities for health care in the world was captivating to me. I had planned on attending BU since I was about 12. My mother had started her studies there and a family friend went there as well. It was everything I wanted it to be…cosmopolitan, busy, exciting. And I hated it. Imagine the shock that shook me to my core when I realized that not only did I not love this school, but also my dreams of being a doctor were fading into the background. The idea of 80-100 hour shifts, a $250,000 med school loan and then having just 7 minutes per patient didn’t sound like doctoring or fun to me.
It forced me to do what I do best. Take notice, re-evaluate, adjust accordingly, and GO! I change. I move. I shift. I love adjustments. I shifted from following a pre-med path in Boston to studying Chinese Medicine in San Diego. This change was brought about by a woman named Livia Kohl, a scholar on Taoism, who taught a course in meditation that I was taking as an elective. When I went to her office hours in despair about my situation, she told me one thing. One sentence changed the course of my entire life. “Well, why don’t you do Chinese medicine?”
My first reaction was a scrunched up face at the question “What the heck is Chinese medicine?” That question lead me to a 4 year Master’s degree in Chinese medicine at a school in San Diego, California. Finding home in San Diego proved easier than in Boston. My sister moved out there with me, making the whole transition that much easier. In addition, I had aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends already in place. I settled in for a satisfying, fun 4 years.
During that time, I bartended at a few places to pay my bills while I was in school. I literally saved quarters, took a semester off before my last year and bought myself a ticket to Buenos Aires where I met my Polish husband.
San Diego through Bs As, Warsaw and Prague took me from the age of 20 until the age of 35. 4 cities, 3 languages, 1 marriage, 15 years. My life on the move has always been exciting for me. I met my bestie in Rome for her 30th birthday. I took my niece to Paris for her sweet 16. I’ve introduced my parents to Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Vienna and Lisbon. My sister, my husband and I road tripped from Prague to Budapest stopping in Czech wine country on the way. I’ve studied in Sweden, Germany and China. I’ve taught acupuncture techniques in multiple languages in Prague and Warsaw. It’s all so fun.
So imagine my surprise when I was whacked with a proverbial 2×4 on a yearly trip home, all the way back in Fall River, MA this year. Nothing had ever felt so comfortable to me. I floated back into my city with the ease of someone who had been there forever. I didn’t want to. I’m not proud of Fall River. It has a rich history and is beautiful in part, yes. It is also drug ridden and overrun with crime. I don’t, on paper, even want to live in the United States.
In my everyday life in Prague, I have no worries about health care costs. We get a minimum of 24 days of vacation. My husband isn’t too far from his family. We can weekend in Barcelona and summer vacation in Croatia. The income to cost of living ratio in Prague is incredible. My husband has a company car and I pay 150 euros a year to use public transport. In a world that makes sense, there is no reason to leave this little paradise that so few people know about.
But. Home. 2×4. It hit me.
My uncle threw me a BBQ. It was great. My cousins have small kids now, I realized that they aren’t really going to know me. I went to another cousin’s wedding. Coming from a large family, there is always a cousin’s party to go to. More children that don’t know me. Both of my parents had large numbers of siblings, and as crazy as it might sound to be tight with a family the size of mine, we are. Some of my cousins are as close to me as siblings. I didn’t realize how much I needed to be more a part of their lives until their families grew.
I travelled back to Prague and felt my heart break into a million pieces. I’m good at change but usually the drive to shift comes from a place of happiness, of excitement. This, right now, feels like change by sadness and loss. Do we make the decision to go? Do we make the decision to stay? Do we go with heart or head?
From the girl who always ‘just went’, this is surprisingly difficult. My husband is a change agent himself. It’s part of why we work. But, the States isn’t his primary target for a good life. He understands my desire but he’s not exactly surprising me with plane tickets tomorrow. With all the travel I’ve done and all the maps I’ve read, I’ve never felt so lost.
The time has come for creative solutions. Some time has passed since my return to Prague and things are more clear. I need both of the places that I call my home to stay a part of me and that is attainable now. Location independence is the name of the game. The creation of a lifestyle that allows me to move between countries as I please, spending time with the people I love and then returning to the daily life that suits me. We are so lucky to be alive at a time that things like this are possible. The solution isn’t always black and white. This one, for instance, is decidedly gray. And I love gray. The color of transformation, of mixing black and white, of smoke and clouds and fog.
Throughout all of this, I’ve learned that home is where my family is but home is also where I am most primed to grow. I can feel comfortable in so many places in the world. My connection with my ‘people’ is still strong, even stronger than ever, and yet my gypsy spirit still soars. So, home. Home. Home stays put and home comes with me. My home, like my spirit, must be able to move and adapt, to shapeshift with my needs. I concentrated for so long on finding ‘my place’. But here’s the kicker (I love a good kicker): my place is no place and every place. My place is here where I am and there where you are. My roots are flexible and grow where they need to.
My home comes with me because my home is me.
Author: Caitlin Donovan
Author Bio: Caitlin Donovan is an expert in Chinese Medicine who uses lifestyle and mindset changes as her primary tools. She’s your friend if you like to have uncomfortable conversations, drink tea out of big mugs and laugh until your stomach hurts. Hiking with her husband and dog keeps her sane and connected.
Link to social media or website: http://caitdonovan.com
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