What Is a Bridge but a Paradox?

April 18, 2015 § 8 Comments

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What do you see when you see a dock?

A place for studying the horizon?
For dipping a toe in the water?
For casting off?

Or a place for lowering your sails?
For stepping onto dry land?
For coming ashore?

Is it a place for setting out or coming back? Much depends on the compass of your heart.

If for you, the dock is too short, out of desire or necessity, you build it forward, step by step, plank by plank, as you go—through the spray and the mist and the fog. And when you’ve built till you’re more coming than going, you see another shore—build, step, build, step. You are there.

This is crossing cultures. This is creating a bridge. This is going from home to home.

Then, at some point, out of desire or necessity, you step back onto the bridge. You must have been gone a long time, because what was once a complete span is now incomplete. You need to build to close the gaps. And at times you’re simply on a dock again, building to a shore you cannot yet see. Strange. It was a bridge before.

This time while you’re crossing, you find that in the mist there are others with you, and when they talk, you understand them, because they are speaking your language.

“Where are you from?” you hear someone ask, and the answer, “That’s an interesting question.” “You, too?” one says. “Me, too,” another replies. You understand them, not because you use the same words, but because when you speak those words you agree on the impreciseness of their meanings: near, far, hot, cold, friends, enemies, rich, poor, family, strangershere, there, hello, goodbye. Their meanings are slippery, like the damp boards beneath your feet. And the slipperiness is comfortable.

In time, you cross the bridge again and again, sharing familiar greetings with those in the misty middle. But never do you set out without having to repair what was built before. You continue . . . build, step, build, step.

What is a bridge, but a paradox, leading from home to home, from not-home to not-home? Your heart’s compass spins. The shores, they push and pull, they give hugs at arms length, they don’t plan on changing, but they do. The same can be said of you.

And then, out of desire or necessity, you settle down farther inland. You put down roots in loose soil. There’s a dock over the next, next hill. You go to visit from time to time and walk its length. You listen to the slap of the waves. You breathe in the smell of the ocean. You taste the salt in the air . . . and you remember the sounds and the smells and the bitter-sweet flavors of where you used to be.

What do you see when you see a dock?

You put down roots in loose soil, but you still speak the language of the bridge.


These thoughts are inspired by Mission Training International‘s “Pair of Ducks.” MTI uses two rubber ducks—a “yay duck” and a “yuck duck”—to show cross-cultural workers and their kids that all the places where they’ve lived have their good and bad parts.

[photo: “Harbour Bridge,” by D.Reichardt, used under a Creative Commons license]

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For Global Nomads, a Better Question than “Where Are You From?”

June 6, 2014 § 4 Comments

3117467895_011eeea741_zLast week I had the extreme pleasure of meeting with a small group who came together as Global Nomads.

The vocabulary in the conversations was peppered with insider words and phrases. Of course there was global nomad itself, as well as TCK and Adult Third Culture Kid and army brat and MK. But there was also talk of using “English English” and recognizing something as “weirdly comforting.”

No one was in charge. No one gave a prepared presentation. Instead, we just talked. It was kind of like a panel discussion where the audience was the panel itself.

Everyone there was a professional in higher education, but the backgrounds and countries represented were diverse. I was the first one to arrive, and as others came into the room, I asked them, out of habit, “Where are you from?” I only meant “Where do you live?” or “Where did you arrive here from?” I really wasn’t looking for a philosophical response, but in this group, it may have felt as if I were. One person responded with something like, “Oh, that is the question, isn’t it?”

We went around the room and introduced ourselves, and as people continued to join us, we introduced ourselves again. One person had started a group for global nomads on her college campus. One had done her doctoral dissertation on TCKs and university life. One had married an Adult TCK. One was preparing to move overseas.

One mentioned a book he’d read about authors who’d grown up abroad. When I later searched for it on the internet, I found out it is Antje M. Rauwerda’s The Writer and the Overseas Childhood: The Third Culture Literature of Kingsolver, McEwan and Others. While I was looking, I also ran across Writing out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids, a compilation of essays by and about TCKs, edited by Gene H. Bell-Villada, Nina SichelFaith Eidse, and Elaine Neil Orr. I’ve added both books to my Amazon.com Wish List, but I’m afraid the prices will continue to go up rather than down. Even the used copies are over $30.

My search also led me to a blog post written by Sichel, who, along with Eidse, also edited Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Globala book that I’d put on my list long ago. In her post, “The Trouble with Third Culture Kids,” Sichel talks, in the context of children’s mental health, about “chameleons,” “adjustment problems,” “TCK grief,” and “existential loss.”

She writes about a young TCK who is struggling: “She doesn’t want to talk about it.  She doesn’t know where to begin.” When you meet such a girl, she says, “don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her.” Instead, she offers a better response, one that would work with adult “kids” as well:

Ask her where she’s lived.  Ask her what she’s left behind.  Open doors.  And just listen.  Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn.  She has a story—many stories.  And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.

“Where have you lived?” I’m going to try that next time I meet a global nomad. And if she seems to be weighed down in her soul, I’ll ask, “What have you left behind?” Then I’ll try to be quiet and just listen.

(Nina Sichel, “The Trouble with Third Culture Kids,” Children’s Mental Health Network, February 11, 2013)

[photo: “Which Way to Go,” by theilr, used under a Creative Commons license]

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