As a disclaimer, just because I’m claiming that expats need Easter, I fully respect those who don’t believe in the Easter story. One doesn’t have to believe in the story to gain some real truths from it.
And–let’s face it–Easter (and the days preceding it) are HUGE in Mexico!
Disclaimer #2: I use the word “expat” a lot. (This is E day, after all.) In my definition, it refers to any foreigner living in a country to which they don’t have citizenship. I know that isn’t the technical definition of expat (I really like Mariam’s definition here, but according to that one, I am an immigrant, not an expat). But there’s something I like about the word expat–it makes me think of sitting at a café in Paris with Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. So I’m using it here. In my use, it applies to EVERYONE living abroad.
Disclaimer #3: this post may contain affiliate links.
It’s been said that, on moving to Mexico, foreigners either love or hate their experience here. There aren’t too many who walk away from life in Mexico saying, “eh–it was OK.”
I’ve always wondered exactly what it is that brings such a strong reaction–both positive and negative–out of people. And is it just expats in Mexico that have these strong reactions, or is it a general phenomenon about life abroad?
Given my recent revelation, I think it’s a general “life abroad” thing. I’ve been reading Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr, which explores a dualism within each of us, which Rohr calls our False Self and our True Self. The book’s purpose helps us recognize and nurture our True Selves.
In order to nurture our True Selves–or become any kind of mature person–we need to take a real look at death and our inherent fear of death. These are two things that Mexico does very well, every six months with the Day of the Dead in November and Good Friday every Spring. In November, we remember loved ones and contemplate our own mortality. On Good Friday we remember that part of who we celebrate as God also died. Or perhaps better put, Jesus’s human part died, so he could become who he was really meant to be.
The big pattern leading to transformation or Resurrection says that there is a gate that you must pass through, even though the gate has a thousand forms: you must die before you die–and then you will know how to die and not be afraid of it. The Risen Presence always appears once your False Self stops attaching, defending, denying, and blaming. As it says in Matthew’s account (28:9), he just walks up and says, “Hi!”
Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond, “Enlightenment at Gunpoint”
Let me put this in terms of Angry Expat and Happy Expat. (Clear oversimplifications, but hang in there with me.) Both move abroad. Both tend to compare their experiences to their home country (initially, at least). Both go through culture shock. Happy Expat assimilates and genuinely enjoys life in his new country. (This doesn’t mean that she hates her home country. She has space in her heart to love both places.) Angry Expat never gets beyond the “I Hate This Place” stage of culture shock and, accordingly, hates the new country. Why the difference?
Angry Expat can’t let go. Even after most people have moved through other stages of culture shock, Angry Expat is still convinced that everything is better in her home country. She can’t move on, even though geographically, she has moved on.
In other words, she hasn’t “died” to her old self.
If she could simply let go (which I realize is not at all simple), she could have every possibility of being Happy Expat. She could see the possibilities that the new country has to offer, instead of criticizing it for not being her home country.
As Rohr continues to say (if we compare the True Self to Happy Expat and the False Self to Angry Expat), “the True Self can love and let go. The False Self cannot do this.” And he’s not bashing the False Self (Angry Expat). “The ego (False Self) wants to resolve all paradoxes in the most glib way and thinks that it can. It operates in a way that is mechanical and instrumental. This is not always bad, but it is surely limited. . . The True Self and the False Self see differently; both are necessary, but one is better, bigger, and even eternal.”
Sure, in Mexico, Good Friday gets top billing on Easter weekend. But it’s also not the end of the story. Catholics around the country gather on Saturday night, in the dark, clutching candles around a bonfire in the church courtyard. This is a new fire, not started by a match, but by flint and steel, symbolizing a new beginning.
We all have chances to start over.
We can all die to our old selves and become something new.
Like a seed being planted in the ground, we have no way of knowing what form (if any) that new life could take. But, unless the seed is buried, it has no chance of ever becoming something more.
Like Jesus’s disciples on Friday, they thought that it was all over. The game was up. Little did they know that it was just the beginning.
Living abroad has ways of stretching us, challenging us, making us grow. The more open to growth and change we are, the more we can grow. Or, life abroad has ways of being exceptionally frustrating and soul killing. Sometimes it is the situation that defines whether life abroad will be is soul killing or will make us grow. But more often than not, it’s our attitude, our openness, our willingness to be vulnerable, that defines whether we grow or whether we wither.
Fear has a lot to do with this.
There’s no room for love in fear.
Fear is afraid of losing.
However, there is no losing in love.
Love only begets more love.
Love is risky, love is vulnerable.
But, unless we’re open to love, we have no room to grow.
We have to let go to love.
We have to let go to grow.
This is how we become the people we were meant to be.
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