My friend Jen and I have known each other for a long time - right before I left for Georgia and shortly later, when she left for Botswana.
It was a huge transition in our lives and nearly 9 years to the date exactly - we are again in a stage of ebb & flow. We thought it would be an opportunity to write a letter to ourselves back then. Jen wrote a beautiful letter which you can read here. Now...my turn.
Dear Jen and Jo of 2007,
What an adventure lies before you.
If I told you what would happen over the next 9 years - you wouldn't believe me. From the moment you leave America - something shifts and you won’t return. I often think that if Johanna from 9 years ago knew she wouldn’t return to America after the Peace Corps - she would be heartbroken. But I can tell you - that it’s okay. The departure and arrival gates become your sacred sanctuaries where you move between who you were and who you are - but in the end, you know in your belly they are the same. They just speak different accents.
You left America to be bold and be challenged. And my girls, I can tell you - you took advantage of every opportunity to do exactly that. We are proud of you. Through your relationships, your work, and every decision you’ve made - you have been true to yourself (or atleast you got there in the end).
The adventures, the stories, the bucket baths and solar showers, the countless breakups, words lost in translation, bad mistakes and absolutely brilliant ones, visa interviews, missed trains, Russian invasions, sunburns, job applications, bus trips with a wee Georgian cat, pilots & cocktails, weekend safaris, new nieces, and extremely rewarding work. You will live all these adventures. And you will meet the most wonderful people that you can’t imagine life without. It’s almost as if you’ve spent your whole life waiting for them.
And you will still be dear dear friends. In moments of panic or uncertainty or utter triumph - you will be there for one another through a phone call or flurry of texts. Calling from a hut in Botswana to a Soviet bloc flat in Georgia - it’s almost as if you both were transported to pub in Minneapolis, yet again.
If I had the chance to give you some advice before you go - it might look a bit something like this -
Be bold and I promise, it will lead you down some wonderful paths (that maybe don’t feel so wonderful at that particular moment). Sometimes the boldness is a small step which is so subtle you might miss it - or it's huge and life changing.
Take the graceful exit. Sometimes a relationship, job, or experience doesn’t turn out like you expected - that’s okay. You aren’t discounting the value of the person or the experience by walking away - if anything, you are practicing gratitude.
Be gentle. Sometimes things will get heavy and it’s here where you learn the most about yourself. Give yourself time to take a bath, cry if you need, read Jeanette Winterson over and over again, write long letters, or whatever moves you. Make a ritual of it - it heals you.
Practice. Every interaction and opportunity is a chance to practice your intuition. Take advantage of things that are new and scare you - you will learn so much from these experiences that will help your decisions in the future.
Find delight and joy in everything you can. There will be moments of utter sadness and heartbreak - but over the next 9 years you will find so much joy and delight in your life.
Your priorities will change. If I told you what changes, you would probably be upset. But it will happen so gradually that when you realise it - it will fascinate you rather than scare you.
Call each other often. Check in, send emails, What’s App messages - whatever you need to do. Make time for one another - you will need it.
More than anything, know that you have a whole army of people that love you dearly that are rooting for you. Remember that everyday.
And Jo, a heads up - the Peace Corps did not buy your flight ticket from the Twin Cities so you might want to give them a call before you go to the airport instead of spending hours saying very emotional goodbyes just so you have to stay another night.