One of the adjustments to be made while serving on our mission is living in an apartment complex.
In the United States, over 40% of the people live in apartment buildings, but that was not my experience. For nearly all of my life I have lived in single family homes with a private yard. I am accustomed to being able to choose the colors and textures that surround me, and to have choice in how light/dark I want my rooms to be through selection of window treatments. I'm used to having relative quiet inside my home and quite a bit of space for projects or entertaining. I'm also used to having built in climate control through central heat and air conditioning.
None of that is true for me here. Don't get me wrong, I'm not whining. We have a lovely flat with lots of modern conveniences. I was delighted to find we had our own washer and dryer inside the apartment and have been intrigued by features I've not had before, such as the heated floors in the bathrooms and this cool towel warmer thingy that will make things quite cozy come winter.
I also have found it very convenient to be able to simply trot down the hall to one of the other units when I want to visit one of the other missionary couples. (There are about ten couples living in various units throughout this five story complex).
However, that does not change the fact that I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by being in a human hive.
There is a baby that lives a couple units over from us that cries quite a bit, often in the middle of the night. New babies do that. I would imagine it is rather frustrating to emerge into this world with a warrior spirit, only to discover that for the first several months in your life you have no coordination of this new body you have been given and you can't communicate with the locals with any sort of refinement. (Trust me baby, I really relate to you on that last part). So when the little chap needs his nappy changed or is longing for a bit of tucker, it only makes sense that he wails. However, I'm a very light sleeper. Every time the kid cries, it wakes me up and then I have a hard time getting back to sleep. That has been a source of frustration.
I continually hear doors opening and closing outside our unit and we sometimes catch snatches of laughter or talk as people come and go. It gives a much more "public" rather than "private" feel to being here.
Then there are the sirens. Oh my. We live on a fairly busy street, not far from a major medical center. So we get a fair amount of ambulance traffic going by. I suppose I will eventually get more used to it to the point that I can tune them out, more or less. But so far, each time one goes by sets my nerves all a jangle.
One of the most pervasive features of our flat that impacts me is the whiteness of it all. Color can have a tremendous impact on mood. Our place here is pretty sterile, with all white walls, white dishes, white window treatments. Previous missionaries who lived here did try to liven up the place by choosing bright red duvet coverings.
However, I still feel like I'm in a motel room rather than a home. Hopefully we can eventually pick up a pretty tablecloth and some brighter throw pillows or do SOMETHING to make it feel more cozy. For now, I'm learning to choose to accept my surroundings as they are by focusing on other senses:
SOUND - listening to a lot of Pandora
TASTE - I'm experimenting cooking with different spices and really trying to broaden our meals to include as much local produce and grains as I can
SMELL - we baked cookies which filled the whole flat with the sizzling scent of cinnamon and I've got a diffuser with lavender essential oil for calming.
When I absolutely can't take the whiteness of my living quarters anymore, all I really need to do is get out and go for a walk so I can immerse myself in the true beauty of this place.
On the positive side - one of the things I have found down right refreshing about apartment life is that I can whip through the whole place to get it all tidy in less than an hour. I certainly can't say that to be the case when cleaning my home back in Boise. Having less STUFF is very freeing, on many levels, and may be a general pattern I choose to carry on when I get home.
I am truly grateful that we have a place that meets our needs so very well. We live in a safe community. We have close, easy access to the beach, to the library, to shopping, and can walk to work. There are many advantages of being here. Sure, there are things I wish were different. That is to be expected. I will not put on a Polly Anna face and say that it's all perfect when I know very well it is not. Instead, I'll be honest about the things that grate on my nerves or keep me up at night. But I won't focus on them.
Today, I will do my best to breathe deep of the sea air and remind myself of what my purpose is here. I will seek out ways to incorporate color into my life, even when I can't change the color of my walls.
I will be living in this flat for 22 more months. During that time I hope to make it feel a bit more like "our own space". In the mean time, I can learn much, laugh and dance right where I am. There will ALWAYS be things in my surroundings or circumstances that are not to my liking, no matter where I am. My peace of mind is not dependent on what is going on outside of me. YES, I am influenced by my environment. But I still get to choose how much I dwell on those details. I get to choose where I put my thoughts and what I focus on.
Today, I will seek beauty. I will breathe peace. As for sleep? It may be a while till that kid down the way starts sleeping through the night. Until then, when I'm up in the wee hours I read, I write, I reflect on all that is amazing about this experience. If I am a little bleary eyes throughout the day, I can live with that.