Week 9 – Joy in the small

A few days ago, I had a good 4-5 inches of hair cut off. It was wet and windy out, which made me rethink leaving the apartment for a bit, but I was determined. The hair had to go.

I’m pretty low-maintenance when it comes to hair, really. I go to a salon maybe twice a year, usually when my hair has grown to the point where 1) I’m developing split ends, and/or 2) I start getting impatient with how long it takes to dry after washing it. Shoulder-length with is my go-to cut because it’s a manageable length and just long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail. This time, though, I was feeling a little adventurous (and bored). A little Internet digging yielded inspiration – a style called the a-line bob. It’s longer in front and shorter in the back, with a gradient running in between.

So when Maddie, the stylist, asked me what kind of cut I wanted, I told her exactly what I had in mind. She understood immediately, but just before draping the protective cape over my shoulders, she paused. “You’re sure, right?”

For a fleeting moment, her question made me wonder if I’d made a decision I’d later regret, but I pushed that thought out. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“What’s it going to be?” The two older ladies who were sitting in the waiting area had caught onto our conversation.

“She’s getting all of it cut off, all of it,” Maddie said from somewhere behind me. The fleeting doubt suddenly came back. What did she mean by all?

“Well, even if you don’t like it, it’ll grow back,” one of the women said encouragingly. That was pretty much my rationalization for what was about to happen.

Not too many minutes later, Maddie was putting the finishing touches on my hair. “Ooh, that’s really cute,” came the comment from the back row. “You made a great choice!” I smiled. It’s not every day you get your own cheerleading team for small life decisions.

They kept going. “You know what, you should add some color to make it even better. Just a streak of blue or something.” Maddie laughed. “One big change at a time, ladies!”

When Maddie was done, she handed me a mirror and spun me around. It was definitely a change, but I had no regrets. “I really like it,” I told her honestly.

“You should have taken a picture before the cut so you could do a before-and-after!” said one of my hair-cutting commentators.

“I usually do that with people who are getting colors, but you’re right,” Maddie agreed. “We can still take a picture now, just the side-profile, if you don’t mind!” I didn’t, and since Maddie seemed proud of her work, I agreed to a picture.

As I was about to leave, I thanked Maddie heartily and she cheerfully gave me her card. The two women in the waiting area piled on a couple more compliments, and after thanking them, I turned to wave everyone goodbye. Everyone was beaming. As I let the door close behind me, I thought about how even the smallest decisions to do something different and slightly risky (in a good way) can bring joy and inspiration to people around you. Sometimes it really is appreciating the smaller things in life that keeps us going.

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Week 8 – Sound and Silence

Recently, the Pandora app on my phone notified me that I’d listened to 1,011 songs, or about 70 hours’ worth of music, on my top radio station over the past three months. I wasn’t exactly surprised – in fact, I was pretty sure I’d worked my way through many more hours of music, perhaps via other stations. I do most of my work on a computer and usually like to listen to music when I’m working, so I rack up hours pretty quickly.  For a fleeting moment after reading the notification, though, I felt a sense of guilt. Maybe this was Pandora’s subtle way of hinting that I owed them some monetary compensation (e.g. a plus/premium membership) for such heavy usage of their streaming service. On a deeper level, there’s been a growing sense on my mind that I’m becoming less and less tolerant of silence.

I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one. From students walking across college campuses to train-commuters on their morning rides, it seems like every one person has earbuds in or headphones on when travelling solo, and my guess is that most of those people are not just using them as earplugs. I absolutely love the fact that we can choose the soundtracks of our daily lives, but I wonder: what are we losing, when we lose the ability to be content with silence?

Earlier today, I ran across news articles discussing the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ new National Transportation Noise Map, and I was more than a little curious to see how transportation-related noise shows up around the country. After looking at the map for a few seconds, I had to laugh – no wonder I felt uncomfortable without at least a little background noise. Every city or area I’ve ever lived in is covered in clusters of orange/red/pink noise dots. (If you’re curious, you can find the map here.)

But there’s noise, and then there’s music. I remember when my family had just moved from the Bay Area in California to the relatively quiet college town of Gainesville, Florida, and we were introduced to the startlingly loud chirping and clicking of what sounded like a million insects singing through the summer nights. It was almost overwhelming at first, but I quickly became acclimated to the nightly cicadian serenades. Now that I live in a slightly more urban environment (and one where it’s not hot and muggy for almost 8 months of the year), I actually miss those sounds. And then there are the sounds of thunder and pouring rain, and of waves breaking over a bed of sand and shells, and of wind whistling through the trees. I guess nature isn’t so quiet after all – it actually creates its own soundtrack.

So maybe it’s ok that I’m not comfortable with unnaturally quiet environments. There are times when I do like to put headphones on without listening to music, because the world does become distractingly noisy…but if you come across me at a desk with my earbuds in, chances are, I’ll be listening to my Yo-Yo Ma station on Pandora Radio.


 

In case you’re curious why the “Story Mondays” part of the title wasn’t included this time, the reason is this: my schedule varies from week to week, so I can’t guarantee posts on Mondays anymore. I’ll still be doing my best to write a post at the beginning of each week!

 

 

Story Mondays, Week 7: Lessons from the aftermath of Winter Storm Stella

(Putting this one out a little early since tomorrow promises to be busy!)

Last Wednesday afternoon, I found myself stabbing at hard-packed snow and ice with a tool that looked somewhat like the blade of a guillotine attached to a long stick, trying my best not to stab the tires of my car and deeply regretting the fact that I hadn’t shoveled immediately after the previous day’s storm. My arms were sore and I was working up a sweat even though outside temps were in the 20s and snow was falling quickly around me. A man walking his son home from school must have seen the look of tired desperation on my face, because he stopped to ask whether I needed help shoveling, and when I said no thanks, he looked skeptical and asked, “Are you sure?”

Just the day before, Winter Storm Stella had taken over the Northeast. Having grown up in mostly warm and sunny climes, I’m still learning how to handle a car in wintry weather – mainly by copying my neighbors. Remembering that several had left their windshield wipers pointing upwards during the last snowstorm, I thought this was a clever idea and lifted up my wipers after parking my car on Monday afternoon, thinking that I was well-prepared for the snow. I woke up the next morning to a world covered in white, including a line of cars parked along the street, almost all with their windshield wipers up, looking a bit like frosted beetles from our apartment windows. I watched the snow/sleet/freezing rain fall for a while, and then turned back to the tasks of the day.

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Beetle in the snow! This picture was from the last snowstorm – there was a lot more snow (and ice) this time around.

The next day, I pulled on my boots, grabbed my trusty snow shovel with its razor-sharp blade, and walked out the door, confident that I could shovel my car out of the snow in under 30 minutes. After all, I’d done it after the last snowstorm. Well. It turned out that because we’d had several inches of a wintry mix rather than pure snow, the “snow” was actually a cake of snow and ice that was a lot harder to shovel. The guillotine-like-tool helped to break up the ice, but it was still very slow going.

By the time the father and his son had approached me, I’d actually freed up some of the snow/ice around my tires, but was still having trouble getting the car to move. Several minutes later, our awesome apartment manager Rich came by and asked how it was going. I told him I couldn’t get my car out. Looking tired – he’d already helped free a few cars that day – he offered to come back to help me the next morning. Grateful and exhausted, I thanked him and put the shovel/ice-stabber to rest.

When I came down the next morning, I saw one of my neighbors spinning his wheels, trying to drive off the back lot. Rich threw handfuls of traction grit under his front wheels, but the car still wouldn’t move. When another neighbor pulled into the lot, Rich quickly came up with a plan to have me sit behind the wheel and push down on the pedal with the car in reverse, while the three guys pushed from the front. Maybe 15 seconds later, the car was freed. Exhilarated, the four of us walked over to tackle the next car – mine. Rich spotted another neighbor just leaving his apartment and summoned him over to help. I felt a little embarrassed; it seemed a little excessive to have four guys helping me get back onto the road. Their pushing did the trick, though, and I was out in under half a minute. I’ve never been happier to have a freely-moving vehicle in my life.

All this to say, I have two takeaways from the aftermath of Winter Storm Stella:
1) Shovel every few hours during a winter storm, or at least immediately after the worst is over. It will save you a lot of headache in the following days.

2) As Rich sagely declared, sometimes it does take a village. When it does, don’t be afraid to round up said village and lend a hand when you’re needed, too.

 

 

Story Mondays, Week 6: Lights in the Dark

If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies, you’ll remember Galadriel’s glass phial, and possibly her parting words to Frodo: “May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Perhaps 6 hours of filming epicness later, Frodo finds himself in Shelob’s lair, seemingly out of luck and out of time. Suddenly, he remembers Galadriel’s glass phial and holds it out, hand shaking, as a sort of shield between himself and the giant spider. It doesn’t ultimately save him from being stung by Shelob, but without it, the fight would have been over much more quickly.

I’m about to tell part of a story that I’ve never told much of before. Part of me is afraid I’ll reveal too much (this is the Internet, after all), but the other part of me is convinced that someone out there needs to hear it, and that it’s worth telling. I know that there are some who are struggling with a difficult decision like the one I had to make, and if that’s you – this one’s for you.


 

Towards the end of my second year in a PhD program, I found myself struggling hard. Very hard. I thought I was prepared for what grad school and research life could throw at me, at least in terms of potential emotional/psychological effects – I’d been in labs throughout much of my undergrad and heard my fair share of grad students’ complaints (along with the occasional “go to med school instead” advice). As far as decisions go, this one had been exceptionally well-researched. I knew it would be challenging and would push me well beyond my comfort zone, but what is life without some calculated risk?

It was an initially good decision that just didn’t work out. However, that’s me with 20/20 hindsight vision. It wasn’t easy to see it so objectively at the time. For some time, a storm had been simmering in my subconscious. However, it wasn’t until my parents came to visit me one fateful weekend that I suddenly spilled out all my frustrations – some I’d dwelt on and others I didn’t even realize I felt so strongly about – and realized that it was not healthy for me to stay anymore. I had to leave. A few days later, I called my labmate to tell her that we’d better hold off on signing the lease for the apartment we were planning to share the next year.

And thus began my journey in the dark. See, leaving grad school is not like leaving a job. For one, you don’t just give a 2-week notice and walk away with your box of stuff. For many of us, we pour so much of ourselves into our work that it becomes our identity, or at least a very large part of it. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. So when it starts to unravel, it feels like losing a part of yourself. You also feel guilty because perhaps you’ve been supported by private or public fellowships, money which was invested in you and your projects…money which now seems like it was wasted. There’s also the fear of what your peers will think, because leaving with “just” a master’s degree – “mastering out,” as it’s sometimes derogatively called – could be seen as a sign of weakness. You’re a PhD student having a hard time? Suck it up and keep going! While no one ever said that to me (I had some awesome labmates and friends), academia is not generally known for being kind to those who decide to leave. Regret, guilt, fear, and deep sadness – looking back, I know they weren’t helpful or even entirely warranted, but at the time they were very real to me.

But amid the pain, I found my own shining phials. With trepidation and fearing disappointment, I spilled the beans to my lab mentor. I’d been told that I might not have enough material to finish a master’s thesis by the fall quarter, but he shot that down really quickly, saying that he thought I had enough to write about even at that moment. He asked about whether I’d stay in the city or go home, and offered to help me wrap things up. I couldn’t have asked for a kinder response. A few weeks later, as I was having lunch with a dear friend from the Graduate Christian Fellowship I was a part of, we were discussing my decision to leave when she said with warm conviction, “God has a wonderful plan for your life, Miranda.” I looked at her, grateful but somewhat skeptical. I couldn’t see it at all. But there was something so faith-filled in the way she said it that part of me began to believe her. My own faith was faltering, but for some reason, hers gave me hope that seeped into my soul.

I eventually did finish with a master’s thesis and left for another path that was better for me. The page turned – though I haven’t completely left that world behind – and time and distance did their work. There was a way out of the tunnel, and by God’s grace, I made it through.

So if you’re going through a similar process, these are my words to you. You are so much more than that degree, that project, that role. Your worth comes from the fact that you were made in the image of God. I won’t pretend to understand much of how God works in each of our lives, because it is a mystery, but I know there is hope, and there is healing. There really is a world outside of academic research and the place you’re in. Things will change, and they most certainly can do so for the better. But because you’re still in that place where all this seems like some distant dream, I pray that you will find your own version of Galadriel’s phial to light your way to the end.

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The sun breaking through storm clouds – seems like an appropriate metaphor.

Story Mondays, Week 5

It’s pre-break-craziness in this corner of the world, so I’ll just leave this here for you to enjoy. To anyone else who has struggled over a recursive algorithm, you might understand my elation when I finally figured out where my indexing was off and got my algorithm to run like it should. To everyone else – I’m sorry it looks like I’m excited about some very obvious results. Trust me, it was harder than it looks.

Back with a full story next week!

when your recursive algorithm finally works

And there was much rejoicing. (PTL = Praise the Lord. Hallelujah = me being slightly over-the-top.)

Story Mondays, Week 4

Oops – a little late this week. Assignments have been keeping me pretty busy, and to be honest, I had a bit of trouble thinking of something to write. But then, it hit me. Food. Of course.


Food. It’s right there next to things like sleep and air on the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, yet humans are hardly as creative about meeting their resting and oxygen intake requirements as they are about filling their stomachs. There’s something about food that draws out the creative, adventurous sides of us. It gives us an excuse to gather around a table and catch up with family, friends, and co-workers,and gives us something to poke at when conversations turn awkward. It helps us to share something about who we are – the places we come from, the people we grew up with – without having to say much at all. Food is there when we welcome new neighbors, visit friends who are feeling poorly, and raise a toast to honor the legacy of a loved one. Which is incredible to think about, given the fact that food is usually just a structured collection of compounds like fatty acids, peptides, carbohydrates, vitamins, and water (and the occasional colonies of friendly bacteria). We are much more than the sum of our parts, I guess, and so is the food we eat.
I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately, and I think it’s partially because I recently hit a patch of nostalgia. Last Sunday, on the way back from a weekend retreat in PA, my friends and I stopped at a small ice cream shop that offered flavors like s’mores and amaretto fig & almond. The bright pastel colors, beach imagery, and soft-rock playing in the background sent me straight back to my high school days in Gainesville, Florida, where the local homemade ice cream shop was a favorite hangout place for kids and adults alike. I’ve been missing Chicago, too, because despite the unbearably cold winters, it was the place to be for foodies. I think I knew this while living there, but it didn’t really hit me how spoiled I’d been until recently. Tonkotsu ramen at Jinya, schnitzel and Bavarian-style pretzels at Laschet’s Inn, and chocolate wonuts (cross between a waffle and a donut, like so) at a pop-up stand in the Water Tower Place mall – these were normal features of the Chicago food scene that I miss now, and can’t get easily again. I’m sure NYC’s got lots to show off foodwise, but I don’t have the time and money in this current season, and something tells me the lines’ll be a whole lot longer than they were in most of the places I frequented in Chi-town.

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Ethiopian food at Addis Abeba in Evanston, IL (sadly, it’s closed for business according to Yelp – but this is where my classmates and I celebrated the end of our first winter quarter).

Thankfully, though, food doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy (or even served in restaurants) to nourish both body and heart. Some of my favorite memories are from collaborative home-cooked meals (a.k.a. potlucks) where everyone brings a dish to the table. A simple dinner with good friends can do more to cheer and encourage than the finest feast without.

Story Mondays, Week 3

I’ve just come back from a weekend retreat that was wonderful and very much needed, as I was forced to confront some work-in-progress areas of my life in a much deeper and more intentional way than I’ve had to in the past. (Ironically, in light of Week 2’s post, one of those areas was that of vocational callings.) It was also pretty emotionally and mentally exhausting. I’m still recovering and processing what happened there, but since that gets pretty heavy, here’s a memory that made me grin this morning. This one comes from a few years back, while I was an engineering student at Northwestern. Hope you enjoy it!


During my first quarter at Northwestern, most of my cohort and I had the distinct pleasure (and pain) of taking a class on quantum mechanics with a professor of exceptional caliber in the field. Minutes into his first lecture, it was obvious that this was someone who knew his stuff forwards and backwards. We later learned that he’d actually taught himself solid-state physics from textbooks as a young student. His teaching style was, to say the least, disciplined and rigorous, though he was happy to answer questions even if they may have sounded less-than-intelligent to him. He was not unkind, yet he gave the impression that he was not a man to be trifled with.

Our professor and his quantum course were something of a legend within the department. It was widely known that the class was a heavyweight, even in context with the non-trivial core classes we had to take for the degree. It was a tradition for the older students to take the first-years out to Nevin’s, a local pub, to drown out the pain of the first exam at the end of October. I distinctly remember telling a classmate in a post-exam daze that I felt like I’d been run over by 12 trucks.

Our professor also had the simultaneously endearing and infuriating habit of regularly pausing in his lectures to ask, “Is everyone comfortable with this?” The question was clearly asked out of a desire to ensure his students’ understanding of the material. Still, it became a point of desperation and hilarity with a good number of the class for whom quantum mechanics was not a research interest or side-interest. I think I’m being fair when I say that most of us were quite uncomfortable with the weighty material, but no one really wanted to say that out loud. Whatever quantum was, it was not a comfortable subject.

Ah, those were the days. It was a stressful first quarter – and to be honest, this class was only one of a number of factors that made it so -, but the challenges pushed us to work and study together. I’d heard horror stories of grad students who sabotaged each other to avoid being weeded out of their programs, but I found almost all of my classmates to be very willing to help each other understand what we were learning. It was hard at the time, but looking back on all that now, the memories have mellowed out into nostalgia and thankfulness for the camaraderie that grew over the course of that first year in Chicago-land.

Story Mondays, Week 2

I’ve got more work to do today than hours to do it with, but I don’t think my mind will let me concentrate properly until I’ve done a little bit of writing. Beyond assignments, it’s been one of those seasons where I could really use a Pensieve (for non-Harry Potter fans, here’s a description), but since I live in the Muggle world, writing will have to do. I can’t spend the time to write a full post today , so I’m going to cheat a bit and post an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my brother right before he graduated from high school. My mom had insisted that I give him advice for college before he headed off in the fall, and since I do my advice-giving best in written form, it turned into a lengthy letter that my brother was gracious enough to read through. It’s been a few years and thousands of miles traveled since, but for the most part I still hold to the same beliefs. Maybe I’ll publish the whole thing one day if there’s any interest. I know I’d sometimes wished someone had given me a bit of a heads-up on what college and young-adulthood would be like beforehand. On the other hand, I guess life is meant to be lived with some level of uncertainty. We humans are pretty terrible at predicting the future, as my finance & accounting professor likes to say. And that’s not always a bad thing.

Alright, enough blabber. Here’s the excerpt.

…Another huge thing for me and many of my peers was the idea of a calling. Some people think of this as their passion. What were you born to do? There’s a deep belief among many in our generation that the career we pursue should be something that is fulfilling, challenging, exciting, and world-bettering all at the same time. Whoa, there. And then a lot of people feel a sense of disappointment and bitterness when they find that such careers don’t seem to exist, at least not for them. Or even when their dream careers do exist, they hit so many roadblocks along the path of preparation that they start to wonder if it’s even worth it.

Here’s where I think the older generations do have a bit of an edge on us with perspective. Yes, your career should be all of those things I mentioned if you can help it. However, at the end of the day, it is just work. Just a job. There is more to life than just your job, so it’s dangerous to pour your soul into it and expect it to give back. Also, sometimes that dream career is actually achievable (although not in the same all-encompassing sense a lot of us young folk view it with), but it’s going to take a while to get there. Your first job out of college is probably not going to be exceptionally glamorous. But it’s ok, because day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, you will build your career. Sometimes you’ll find you’re on the wrong path, and that’s fine – you’re not married to your job. Switching careers is becoming more common, and a lot of older folks walked some pretty circuitous paths to be where they are now.

If there’s only one thing you take away from this essay, please remember this: Mom, Dad, and I are always here for you. Over the next four years, you will achieve great things, but you will also probably fall, and fall hard at times. Don’t let those times keep you down for too long. I remember wondering sometime in my first year (intro bio was a real kicker – they weren’t lying when they called it a weed-out class for pre-meds at Vanderbilt) whether I would actually make it. I’ll let you in on a secret: up until mid-sophomore year I had serious thoughts about transferring back to UF, sometimes due to academic challenges and other times due to a mixture of homesickness and worry about non-academic things. What happened to change that was a growing sense, over time, that I was starting to belong, that my place was actually with the community at Vanderbilt. You may go through seasons of self-doubt as well. But I encourage you to give it time before you decide to leave and give it up. This holds for a lot of things in life, actually. The best fortune cookie message I’ve ever seen goes like this: “Do not give up; the beginning is always the hardest.”

So whether you’re having a hard time or having the time of your life, don’t forget your family – we’re always just a text/call/email/Facebook message away. (Man, there are way too many methods of communication these days.) We’re excited to see what’s in God’s plan for you!

Love,

Your sister

 

* Just a qualifier – I have the same level of respect for UF students as I do for Vanderbilt students, and I’d wager there are many classes at UF that are more difficult than similar classes at Vanderbilt. I don’t buy into private-school-elitism because it’s silly and often unwarranted. At that early point in my college years, though, I was juggling a few issues that made focusing on schoolwork (and therefore doing well) more difficult, so the school “back home” just seemed like it would be easier to handle because I imagined I’d escape or at least lessen the severity of some of those issues. The grass always looks greener on the other side.

Story Mondays, week 1

I like writing. The process of building something with words and phrases is fun for me. But like any art, it’s something that needs practice. Inspired by an unexpectedly refreshing 8-minute Uber ride this morning, I’m going to try to tell a different story every week, specifically on Monday because Mondays get a bad rap for being blah. Here goes Week 1.

As someone who enjoys reflecting on potentially deeper meanings behind things, I’m pretty open to inspiration coming from surprising places and people. However, when I clambered into an Uber vehicle this morning to start the workday, I wasn’t exactly in a pensive state. I don’t remember where my thoughts were precisely – probably somewhere between “I hope I’m not late,” “I should have gone to bed earlier last night,” and “oh cool, finally an Uber driver who’s a woman!”

Her name was Rachel, and her outgoing, friendly nature was immediately apparent.

“Good morning! You ready to start the day?”

“Yeah!” (Ahem. But who hasn’t said, “Fine!” in response to “How are you?” even when it’s not true?)

She laughed. “Well, I’m glad one of us is, at least!”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries before she asked, “Where are you from? Your accent sounds almost Southern!”

This really tickled me, because I’ve never thought of myself having an accent – my “home” has shifted between cities in California, Arizona, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, and Illinois over the course of this not-so-long life. I do admit craving things like fried okra and finding excuses to use the word “y’all” ever since leaving Tennessee. Still, I don’t consciously try to affect a Southern accent.

I told her I’d lived in the South for a few years, and she revealed that she was from Memphis but that she’d been in Jersey for some 20-odd years. She seemed fascinated by the fact that I’d grown up all over the place and asked a lot of questions about why we’d moved so much, what I was doing up North, and where my interest in working with the healthcare industry comes from. I don’t usually open up to “strangers” so readily, but there was something so refreshingly curious about Rachel that I found myself talking freely. I didn’t want the conversation to focus solely on my life, but before I could think of good questions to ask her, she’d already come up with another for me.

Before I knew it, she’d pulled off to the side of the road so that I could get off. We exchanged thanks and well-wishes, and took off on our separate ways. I gave Rachel a 5-star rating in the Uber app and sent her a message of thanks for making my day by being so friendly. She was much more than that, though. She was a wonderful interviewer and listener, and somehow made me feel understood even though we’d only just met. She didn’t worry about whether she was asking “good questions” or not, and didn’t try to insert her own narrative when I was telling her my story. She listened, engaged, and reminded me by example of the beauty and simplicity in open conversation.

Thanks, Rachel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

a new chapter

I’m about to move again, and I haven’t worked out how I feel about it yet (delayed emotions, anyone?).

I do know that nostalgia was hovering over my shoulder for a good portion of this week, though. The result was an extended session of #ThrowbackThursday (#TBT for all you cool kids), involving lots of scrolling through old Facebook pictures. So much has changed over the past few years that I often catch myself wishing, just a little, that I could re-visit certain periods of my life. Sometimes I think that nostalgia is actually a coping mechanism for moments of uncertainty about the future, but that’s another blog post altogether.

I remember a conversation with a mentor during my freshman year of college. I was overwhelmed and adjusting to all the differences college life presents – no AP or IB class prepares you for those – and in the midst of everything, I admitted to her, “I just wish I could feel settled in life.” She laughed kindly and said, “To be honest, I don’t think most people feel settled until their 30s.” That was not quite the answer I wanted to hear; twelve years is a long time to wait for anything when you’re only 18. These days, though, I see the truth in her words, and I’m ok with it.

There is something to be said for the semi-migratory life, even though it can be hard to leave behind family, friends, and old haunts. I don’t mean that each move is a new adventure, although it is. I mean that when you’re really familiar with what it’s like to be an outsider, to be “that new person,” it can help you become much more aware of other people who may feel lonely or homesick or unheard. You learn that good friends can come from anywhere, that struggling through tough situations with people draws you closer, and that some of the best friendships begin when you step outside of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to that person you’ve walked past dozens of times but with whom you’ve never had the occasion to chat.

Here’s to a new chapter.

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Chimney Rock Park, North Carolina