It’s been a year.
It’s been a whole year since I left Corrymeela.
How can that be? I still talk about it constantly, ramble on about Northern Ireland and the friends I made there and the ocean and the views and Ballycastle and Belfast and the conflict and everything I learned. I’m sure I’m boring my new classmates to death.
Classmates? Why yes, I am in school full time again after a six year hiatus. Hence why I haven’t written: my life was not really interesting enough to merit any posts, and now it is much too interesting (read: full of readings) to sit down and synthesize the experience that is a new town and new people and grad school.
(translation: I am drowning in readings. And group projects. And “deliverables” – grad school has such fancy terminology)
But I had to commemorate today. A little over a year ago I wrote about what I thought I might be taking away with me from Corrymeela. I just reread my thoughts, and it is a comfort how true they still ring for me. And I know some other things I took away with me: a deeper sense of self-reflection. A circle of friends scattered across the globe. A view of what building peace can look like. A drive to understand that process more. A song about a moose. And a profound calling from within me that draws me back to that island. I can’t explain it except to say that Northern Ireland calls to me, and I know I will feel incomplete until I answer.
So here’s to one year, and a hope that it is less than that before I heed my heart.
Have you ever felt that people’s perception of you does not match how you view yourself at all? For the past several months, I’ve often had this sense of mismatch, of disparity, between how I see myself and how many others see me and it’s never stronger then when I’m talking with the customers at my parents’ restaurant.
By the way, hello! It’s been an ungodly amount of time since I’ve posted, mostly because I’ve been busy working at said restaurant and the numerous other jobs that I’m juggling. June was especially nuts, and whenever I think it’s slowing down, it never actually is. But helping at the restaurant really made me start thinking about this idea of identity and perception because the question I am asked constantly when I’m there is: Where are you traveling to next?
Apparently sometime in the past couple of years, I’ve become a known globetrotter, someone who is never in one place for very long and who is constantly planning her next adventure. And while I know that to some extent this is the life I’ve been living, and when I think about where I want to be in 5 years (a question I was recently asked) I just picture a list of places I’d like to try out, I feel like a fake. After all, I’ve been pretty much sedentary here in California for the past 10 months. But more than that, I read the blogs of people who are truly globetrotters and the risks they take. I definitely do not see myself as a risk taker. I like to have a plan. I’ve become a lot better at not having a plan, but only on a small scale – for the length of a short trip or something like that. I think a real globetrotter doesn’t have a room full of boxes and more clothes than can fit in her closet; she doesn’t stress about not booking a place to stay for all legs of her journey; she can – and will – leave at the drop of a hat; she doesn’t feel torn between wanting to settle in one place and live in a dozen others.
Am I crazy? Maybe other people don’t have this mental list of what a globetrotter/explorer/jetsetter is. Maybe they just see someone who likes to travel. I still can’t shake the feeling, though, that they think I take more risks than I actually do. Sure, I’ve gambled a few times in the past few years, but it hasn’t been without a lot of thought and contingency planning. I like backup plans, and I’ve met a lot people in my travels who don’t have one plan, let alone a couple backup ones. And I feel like some people see me in that group and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m just saying I’m a fraud if they do. I don’t even know why I’ve been pondering this, why it’s something I feel the need to write about. I guess I just put a lot of value on truth, on accuracy, on details, and I want to set the record straight even though no one will really read this. For myself. I guess because today we place such an importance on finding your identity and being comfortable with it, and I’m trying to find mine. So globetrotter? Maybe not. But semi-nomad? I think so, simply because I don’t think I can ever go full-nomad.
Until I was a senior in high school, I thought only some people had really sad stories, only some people had something really screwed up happen to them. Then I found out a truly surprising reality in one of my close friend’s lives and I remember exactly where I was because it flipped my world view on its head. I realized that everyone has a sad story, everyone has something messed up in their lives, and I think subconsciously I knew that it was only a matter of time before my life was touched by such a something.
The older I’ve gotten, the more this truth has revealed itself to me. I think what I now know is that some people can’t hide the tragedy or the screwed up situation or the scars, some people choose not to, and some people expose it only when they trust you. Some may argue that some stories are inherently “sadder” or “more messed up,” but honestly, the closer I get to friends, the more I learn of the world, the more I find that ranking sorrow is a futile exercise that leads to a lack of compassion and a general frustration unconducive to living with sadness or grief. Back at the beginning of the year I read a post from a blogger that I’ve followed for a few years now, and what she wrote really spoke to me: “I like to think that this is what the refusal to quantify love, loss, grief does to us: It makes us empathetic. It makes us keenly aware of the abundance of pain in our world, of loss in all its forms and suffering with all its faces. It reminds us that we are not hurting alone, that our pain may be unique to our circumstances in ways that only we alone can know, but that Pain at large is a shared, recognized, recognizable emotion.”
Although I see the universal truth of what I call sad stories, sometimes I struggle with giving the compassion that I would like to receive from others (because it’s true, I live with some sad stories. Are they the saddest stories around? Of course not, but I’m not going to deny their impact or their grief on me. Quantifying them or comparing them doesn’t diminish how I feel). And you know what? It just leads to anger. Even if I don’t understand the sad stories of others and the actions that they take because of them, I need to work to accept them and have some empathy because otherwise I find myself frustrated. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself many times with different people and although you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now, I haven’t. We won’t always understand where people are coming from and maybe that will lead to anger, but living angry isn’t the healthiest or happiest way to be. It’s like that prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to changes the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We can’t change the sad stories. We can only work to prevent and accept them in ourselves and others.
The time has come. Today is my last poem for National Poetry Month 2014. I’ve saved the best (aka my favorite poem of all time) for last. I hope you like it. And I hope you’ve enjoyed at least one poem I’ve shared this past month. I sure have enjoying selecting and posting them, so thanks to those of you who have followed along.