a check-in after three years in Lisbon

This week marks three years in Lisbon. It’s no longer new, hardly warranting a post, much less an email update to friends. Tales of pasteis de nata and sunsets over the river have given way to the mechanics of daily grocery shopping, looking for a new apartment, and paying taxes. Yet, even after three years some things are still inspiring, such as the color quality of the light and the magnitude of ancient history.

We have spent one third of our tenure here in varying degrees of lockdown.

We are fully vaccinated. Our friends and family in the U.S. were well ahead of us in access to vaccines. I was impatient and lobbied for a vaccine tourism trip back to the U.S., like several of our expat friends did. But we caught up. In fact, Portugal this week surpassed the U.S. in percentage of the adult population completing their vaccination. Portugal has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the European Union.

I am taking the first tentative steps, emerging back into the physical world. I am trying to be thoughtful and intentional. But it sometimes feels like I am coming out of a dark cave, squinting, into a loud and bright place.

We have all changed. How could we not? Certain undeniable truths came into sharp relief over the last 18 months. As the saying goes, “A false sense of security is the only kind there is.” So is a false sense of permanence.

Over the last year, I have ebbed and flowed through longing, chagrin, relief, consternation, hope, and incredulity. It has all settled into a morass of resignation. Now begins a long-haul project of unpacking and sense-making.

My story of a big life change — moving countries — was never unique. In Portugal, the increase in population of foreigners is higher than ever. Americans make up ten percent of the expat community here. But moving country is not the only kind of big change someone can undertake.

Purging your personal belongings and downsizing your lifestyle are relatively easy. Emancipating stubborn beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and illusions is altogether different. I had more time to ponder questions of identity, belonging, and home. And, of course, transitions and thresholds. This site and some of my side projects will continue this “thinking out loud” exploration. You are welcome to join the conversation.

Each of us has a story about how we weathered the last year. If we dared to pay attention, we learned something about ourselves. Many of us made big changes, externally or internally, that we previously thought impossible.

What’s next? Who knows? Long-term plans have given way to smaller, immediate course corrections toward an unknown and unknowable conclusion.

After three years in Lisbon, my new mantra is “We’ll see.”

3 thoughts on “a check-in after three years in Lisbon”

  1. Em, you’re right. We’re all changed in the years you’ve been physically absent from us. We like to think some of us are stronger, given our experiences. We’re certainly older, but I’m not so sure about wiser. I like to think we’re still hopeful, at least a little bit, but fear still creeps in around the edges. Let’s hope we keep it together until we can see each other again. We’ll see.
    ? Linda K.

  2. Hi Em. Loved reading your post. Not just because you’re a fabulous writer, and always have been. Also, because it’s nice to hear the perspective of someone in another country whose experiences are different, and yet the same. Keep the blogs coming. Be well my friend. And, as we used to sign off when we wrote to each other long ago…
    Love, and other challenges. Shannon

  3. Thanks, Shannon. If there is anything we should learn from the last 18 months it’s that we are all in this together.

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