Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Freedom (Part IV)

Dictionary.com defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

Here are a few truths about me:

I am probably the most liberal person you know, politically and non-politically. In general, I believe everyone should do what they want to do. I don’t believe in being reckless, per se, but even if someone decides to be, then I think even that’s their right. My screensaver says, “You do you. I’ll do me.” This is my mantra.

I don’t believe in having “bosses.” I have a couple of friends who call the person directly over me my “boss.” That’s not odd, I suppose. Most people do. But I always reject the term. In my mind, when I work somewhere, I’m in collaboration. You’re probably over me because you or someone else decided you were the best, most efficient person to organize and disseminate information (this is usually the educational hierarchy). We work together, and I have the freedom to agree to do something or decline doing something, with the onus of consequence on me. This is how I’ve operated at my last four jobs.

I am married to a man who doesn’t ask a lot of questions about my whereabouts. If I leave the house and say, “I’ll be back in four hours,” he doesn’t call me every sixty minutes asking me questions…about anything. When I left last year to visit Panama City Beach by myself, we verbally checked in once a day. I could never be with someone who required more; it would seem a bit naggy to me.

In my non-romantic relationships (e.g., family and friends) I function in similar ways. If you want me to call you every day, I’m not the friend for you. If you want me to reach out every Sunday at 2pm just so you can hear my voice, I’m not the right family member for you. I text when I’m thinking about you (sometimes), and if you cannot text, like my ninety-something-year-old grandmother, then I call…like once a month.

Back to living in Central America…

I outlined reasons we left the country, but I also knew I needed to leave for a change of scenery. Dwight chose the perfect Costa Rican Airbnb in the mountains. I’m more of a beach and metropolitan person, but it was refreshing to wake up, cook food, and sleep surrounded by mountains. And although Panamá City is a metropolis that is a lot like other major cities in the States, it’s not North America. It’s like living in a history lesson with people who are stuck in a colonial time capsule.

I needed to see other people and what they were doing. It was interesting to watch how Costa Ricans got to and from work every day. People rode horses; some walked; others biked; many drove motorcycles. It was cool joining the Ticos’ rhythm and abandoning my own. Though hearing roosters at six in the morning was annoying, I grew used to it. It became a part of my surroundings.

I needed to speak with people different than myself. From first through eleventh grades, I learned Spanish. I didn’t think I was as fluent as I am. It turns out that children who learn a language early on store it together with their native language. I’m not saying I can hold a quick-paced conversation with a Panamanian, but I can certainly understand what the Uber driver is saying, who by the way rated my Spanish as “que bien.” It was fun for me to recall words I thought I’d forgotten, but apparently are stuck in my brain somewhere. Speaking with people in another language challenged me in ways it wouldn’t have at home.

Some people are born to be quiet to demonstrate the value of silence; others are meant to be painters as a way to help us see the world differently. I was born with a natural sense of freedom that requires a certain lifestyle, and I think the result is I get to show people how to be free. This trip has reinforced who I know myself to be.



My #9 Year

Did you realize this is a number 9 year? (2+0+1+6 = 9) A number nine year typically symbolizes a period of letting go. Whether it’s releasing people, habits or situations, and whether you like it or not, this is a time when the urge is strong to free yourself.

My letting go began last July when my dad died. I had let go of him in some ways, but you know, death requires you to fully let go of someone’s physical being, thus stepping into a complete release.

Done.

Then, I started a new job in August. Being a community college professor is not what I thought I’d be doing with my PhD. Taking this job meant I accepted a path filled with 20 thousand fewer dollars and students who possess a different mind set. There were a lot of tears because letting go is not always easy. However, the next ten months revealed the benefits of this next step. I could’ve never jumped fully into writing, blogging or authoring had I continued to be a professor at a research institution.

Done.

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In March, the unfathomable happened. I had to let go of my dear Rascal. I won’t rehash how difficult it was to put that relationship to rest. I almost settled in a funk about it, until I saw a woodpecker. I choose to believe that bird, with its bright red feathers and focused pecking was behind me on purpose. He urged me not to get caught up in a cycle of sadness. The following week, a hawk flew on top of my building, looked right down into my eyes and reinforced the message. Rascal has moved on. You have to too. Focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.

Done.

Shortly after, I decided to let go of six boxes of books. They had cluttered our dining room for almost a year. It was time for me to give them away. I posted to FB about the release and three colleagues gasped and asked me to send them their way. So I did. I also bought two small bookcases for the ones I deemed important. Whether you subscribe to numerology or not, there’s something about clearing space that allows for more creativity and higher vibration. Those books symbolized twelve years of (outdated) university learning. It was time to let it go.

Done.

img_0864Then, I decided this was the year that I needed to cut my hair. I went natural in 2010. And I hadn’t cut it since. When I washed my hair, it stretched near my butt! That’s too much hair. It weighed me down. I was tired of doing twist-outs twice a week. It was time to let it go. My daughters begged me not to cut it. They disapproved of any style I showed them. The thing about liberation is once you feel it’s necessary, you have to follow your gut and ignore naysayers, even if they are family. So, I scheduled an appointment and cut my hair. Whew! I felt free.

Done.

I thought I was done letting people and situations go, but there was more. For the past three years, I’ve grown on purpose. I’ve become a more conscious version of myself. Some of it I’ve written about here: less judgment, more mindfulness. Some friends have rolled with me during this transition. And some have resisted the new me. While I haven’t released any friendships, per se, I have let go of certain aspects of the friendships that previously existed. Meaning, we can remain friends, but maybe our conversations are limited. Trust me. It’s challenging. But it’s okay.

Done.

Have you released anyone or anything this year? If so, then tell me about it. Do you believe in numerology? Let’s talk about that too.

A Small Freedom

Look at what the new world hath wrought ~from A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

Two years ago, I had dinner at a local place in Alexandria, Virginia. As is commonplace for me, I asked the waiter, a thin, olive-skinned, curly haired young man to repeat his name.

“It’s Mo,” he said.

I took note of each of his features. “You don’t look like a Mo.”

“Well, if you knew my real name, you’d say the same thing.”

Mo continued to answer our questions, this time about the menu and its oddities. As soon as he finished, I started back in.

“So, are you gonna share your real name with us?”

Mo then told us that his name was Mohammad. It was actually Mohammad, middle name: Arab, last name: Arab. Mo’s entire name is Arab. He joked about how difficult it was to fly and how it just minimized quite a bit of confusion for him to go by Mo.

I’m not sure if Mo realized how uncomfortable he looked explaining his identity to me, a stranger. And I totally understand that his uncomfortableness could have been due to an unknown patron engaging him about his “real” name, an unexpected topic for a server. Whatever the reason, it was clear that Mo was a bit squirmy.

But that’s when I felt compassion for him.

I go by Kathy, but when someone asks me my “real” name, I  simply (and proudly) state that it is Katherin…no “e” at the end, Elizabeth, Garland. No hesitation. My name doesn’t accompany jokes about societal judgments, cast just because I want to do something that people do everyday…fly. I can speak my name with pride. It is a small privilege with big benefits for my so-called American life. I can speak my name without assumptions. No one (as far as I know) has made prejudiced jokes and committed microagressions towards me because of my name. I’ve never been ashamed to tell someone my name. In fact, there have been several occasions where I meet another Cathy/Kathy/Kathie/Cathie/Katie and we marvel over the unique spellings of not just our full names, but also others.

And then I felt a bit of sadness for Mo. I felt sad because your name, no matter if you love it or hate it, is a part of your identity. Your name, aside from your actual presence is one of the first things that people learn about you and who you are in the world. To not be able to speak your name, with pride, is in essence a form of shame.

That is what saddened me.

It is my hope that Mo and everyone in our country will one day have the strength to shed societal shame and speak our names with pride, no matter what we believe the name conveys. How free are we really if we can’t do something as simple as announce our names for fear of being judged? I’d say that we’re not really that free at all. What do you think?