Sunday, June 15, 2008

on magic carpets and grownups

I have been out of school for a year now (though eagerly anticipating my rejoining of the academic world in the fall), but it amazes me how much I am still actively learning. I wonder if life will always be this encompassing and new, in the sense that I am constantly experiencing and enjoying new aspects of my life, my relationships, and my spirituality. It is beautiful; I hope so.

Coming home is not always a vacation for me, mostly because there are so many people to see and things to do and shifts to pick up at my old restaurant. There is rarely time to relax and to exhale, though it is always a bit relieving to finally be surrounded by people I have loved and missed so terribly. In the chaos of it all it is easy to lose track of what I wanted from this week in the first place.

Intentionally and with purpose, I had set aside the first five days of this journey back to Duvall for two reasons, and two reasons alone: to find a few moments of tranquility to be alone with my own soul, and to spend as much time with my family as humanly possible. Just setting those goals for a few days has made all the difference (although if you have met either of my two brothers, in any length of time, you are probably aware that those two goals can’t usually coexist peacefully).

There are a few lingering moments in my life, happening more frequently as of late, when I look around me and suddenly realize how beautiful the moment is that I am in, along with all the potential it contains and, at last, all the mysteries and answers in my world and mind seem to be at rest. This happened yesterday at my brothers’ graduation party that carried on throughout the evening.

I am learning to live deeply in these moments. I lifted my hand to shield my eyes from the sun, sighed, and then took a look around me. Loved ones and friends wandered around our backyard, music wafting through the air in the background, surrounded by laughter and sunshine, a game of volleyball at hand, the barbecue making the yard smell like a summer dream. It was a celebration of endings and beginnings, and as my eyes darted from face to face I realized that there was a smile on every one of them. I sat at a table with a book in my hand while my shoulders took in the last rays of sunshine. I was captivated. And I watched.

I vaguely remember hearing someone sitting next to me say to their child, “No honey, not right now, I’m spending time with the grownups.” After a moment went by it began to register… she is talking about where I am sitting. I am a grownup.

I am a grownup?

For some reason, it’s such a bizarre concept for a girl who was a tomboy until middle school and didn’t learn to properly apply makeup until quite a long time after that. Forget that I turn 22 this year; I am still deciding on my major and worrying about the FAFSA and gas money.

I used to think that when I hit a certain age, my life would magically unfold… like a magic carpet would roll out like a scroll on the ground in front of me and give me all of the answers. It would pay my rent and make sure I was driving the right car and dating the right person. Somehow, at this magical number of acquired wisdom, this would all come about. I think I decided that age was 16 (this was, of course, when I was 9, and sixteen seemed years ahead of me instead of a mile marker in the road behind me). If my theories were correct, then by some stroke of evil luck I am still paying rent on my own, driving a car that is paid for, but far from perfect, and not dating… at all.

Now, however, none of those things seem like a burden, and instead seem so beautiful and such a part of my adventure and my life. I wonder why it is that our perceptions of success change so much with each era of our lives. I used to fight for wealth and possession and now I fight for wisdom and cultural understanding. I used to long for a job where I would be materialistically satisfied, and now I only long for one where I can be encouraged and at peace with who I am and who God has created and intended for me to be. I used to fight to find a relationship, no matter how damaging they were for me, or how needy or desperate I was for them. Now I desperately want to just understand myself and who I am apart from the men I have been blessed to have in my life.

I have been reading a lot this week about mindfulness and meditation, on focusing on what is good and true, and learning to dwell in that, in the here and now. I am not talking about new age religion or things like that, but about learning to be conscious in the moment. My favorite way it was described is that ‘mindfulness is essential to spiritual practice, for no matter what spiritual tradition we follow, we must have a mind that is able to stay in the present moment if our understanding and experience is to deepen.’

One of my favorite verses in the Bible says ‘Be still and know I am God.’ So simple. Yet He knew how we would wrestle with it, and how our minds tend to wander and focus and dwell on lesser things and that which is temporary. So, slowly, I am learning to be here. Present. Engaged in how stunning this moment is instead of how great tomorrow looks on my calendar. Learning to look around and be thankful. The process is slow, especially for me, but I am learning to love my life, my struggles, my personal victories, my disagreements, and my families, blended and beautiful and overflowing with love.

Three years ago I walked down the aisle of a ceremony and was handed my diploma, leaving behind the world of high school and all it represented. Some moments it feels like yesterday, but most times it seems another lifetime behind me. On Friday night I watched both of my brothers do the same, smiles on their faces and tassels on their hats… I listened to one of them speak words of wisdom to his classmates as salutatorian, and I beamed with pride. They are both so individual and unique… good at so many different things but yet completely different in their countenance.

It has been a week of learning, for me; learning more about myself and the aspects of my heart and soul that need work and maintenance. Learning more about how to gracefully interact with my family, even if I disagree, and even if I sometimes think that I am hardly in the wrong. Learning to stay silent more often and to listen more (although this is obviously still a work in progress). More importantly, about recognizing how beautiful my life is, no matter how flawed or how imperfect it may seem.

I can only hope that all of life is filled with learning and knowledge and relationships like my journey has been this year, with a thirst to learn language and people and history, and a desire to deeply know my God and myself. I just want to know. To reach. To move others and be moved, to teach and to learn. To continue to reach for the stars, and to refuse settling comfortably on the nearest mountaintop.

In the end, I think all of that is up to me.

I’m ready to reach.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

on missing my california

I am missing my California.

There are days when I think it was all just a dream; that I have really never left this place where I grew up at all. Did I ever leave? Was I ever really gone? Moments come when I can’t picture the faces anymore... I can’t piece the memories together and I don’t know what it’s like to feel the sun shine on my face the way it did then. It was another time in another place. I had a different heart, different hopes and different loves.

It is early in my story still, or at least that is what I like to believe when the end seems too near. If it is early, in fact, then I am led to wonder why my mind feels so aged and so accustomed to change. I am led to wonder why I am so numb to that change when it is crashing in around me. It seems as though my heart never registers what is going on until it’s too late to go back and start again. I wonder if God intended it that way… a fail-safe in case I dare to look back to where I came from and change my mind. By the time it hits me what I am letting go of it is already gone and over.

I guess all those things can be said less eloquently: I mourn later than everyone else. Granted, when I rejoice and when I celebrate something in my life, it is glorious and good. But when I do mourn or when I encounter this funny thing called nostalgia, I fall into the memories and I fall hard. I stumble into the ‘what if’ trap, and I fight off the feeling that I didn’t try hard enough or I didn’t choose wisely enough. If not the ‘what if’ trap, then it is the trap of good thoughts and recollections, and wondering if my heart will ever sigh so happily again; dreaming of better days instead of living in today. Physically aching to be somewhere else in a different era of your own life.

Life is so good and so rich. I have been saying that a lot lately and it is still so very true. But today I wanted nothing but to be in Azusa with my sister, walking to a coffee shop and driving to the beach with the wind in our hair and the world at our feet. I wanted to be walking in the evening air from my apartment to Bowles housing… to clutch my sweatshirt closer to my chest and know that a handful of my best friends were only a moments walk away. To rest in the comfort of knowing that God did make the rain, but he made the sunshine so very reassuring and full of hope. Today, I wanted yesterday so very badly.

The funny thing is that even if I returned, it would be so very different. If I were there, I would only wish to be somewhere else. The people have changed, just as I have, and the apartments are different and the friends have shuffled around and discovered new relationships, new paths to walk and new struggles to fight against. It’s called ‘my California’ because it is different than yours, different than anyone else’s.

Do you ever sit and wonder where you would be if you had only changed one thing? If you had only missed one conversation that changed you? If you had stepped back from your calling in life so that you could have it a little easier? I am recovering from a severe cold, so keep in mind that any of this could be the Nyquil talking, but tonight I want my California back. I am sitting here watching night turn quickly into morning, with a candle lit by my side, and I wonder what I could have changed. I wonder if I made the most of my time there; if people still remember me and if I am ever in their thoughts like they are in mine.

Life is so beautiful, and I am so thankful for today. Thankful for my two roommates who I adore and who lift me up and who hold me when I can’t keep the tears inside anymore. Thankful that I have two sets of parents who love and adore me, with more siblings than I could have ever hoped for and more love for and from them than I have ever dreamed of.

I am thankful but I am looking back.

California, rest in peace.