Having just closed on a home in a tiny midwestern town, I boarded a plane for a professional conference in Seattle. A bustling city, intellectual conversations, and an unfettered schedule awaited me there, offering a much needed break from the everyday insanity of my toddler-saturated world. It would be a temporary refuge from the small town life I had just signed up for.
How would I survive in that isolated space that loved its own but stiff-armed the difference my family represented? The question echoed as I soaked in the balm of an urban environment that posed no expectations of who I was supposed to be. A few days in, I came to a sudden conclusion on how to make peace with my rural fate: I would pierce my nose. An external sign of an inward stance, it would be a daily reminder to be true to who I was – a mother, a professional, a misfit in an environment where belonging was prized. Silly as it sounds, it was a significant mental shift for me, one in which I accepted both my lot and my identity, and made space for the tension that existed between them.
I used to think that life worked like a straight line in which we moved from point to point, learning from one place and moving on to the next without ever returning to the old ones. What I’ve learned instead is that life is more of a spiral in which we revisit the same spaces, each time at a different level with added wisdom and grace from what we’ve learned before.
My spiral-shaped nose ring and I are back in Seattle for the first time in 10 years. This time around, the small town life lies in the distant past. I now live in a metropolitan area, and just left sick teenagers at home with their superhero of a father. It strikes me that I am making my way back to a beginning of sorts. It’s the same thing all over again, but this time at a different level. I still work as an academic administrator, but this time with a whole new size and scope. I’m still entrenched in this mothering thing, but this time juggling the teenage dramas instead of the toddler ones. I’m still working out how to live into the whole of my identity, but this time with a bit more wisdom and grace for myself and those around me.
Over the course of the last decade, my spiral has corkscrewed all over the place, but returning to this space draws an instant connection from where I used to be to where I am now. I think of that moment when I suddenly thought, “I know! I’ll pierce my nose!”, of the lesson it taught me to embrace who I’m created to be instead of running away from it, and I grin at the gently spiraling repetition of it all. That lesson may never grow old.