Monochopsis

The event of spring always feels more like an advent to me; that out of the depths of so much darkness and death can spring the loveliest, liveliest of things. It’s no accident that we celebrate the resurrection of Christ in the same breath as the returning flowers and green fields.

There’s symbolism in everything.

I’m a child of the spring. Not only because my birthday falls in early April, but also because of my connection with the season. I feel intimately the movement and shift of the vernal stirrings. Trying to explain it is like standing in a river and describing its strong undercurrent to someone who sees only rippling waters from their position on the riverbank. I know other people see the water moving: I don’t know that they feel its depths. My life also tends to mimic the cycle of plants. Every autumn is a withering, every winter a hibernating near-death in which I battle the seemingly insurmountable enemies, darkness and depression.

But then comes spring, and pushing through the darkness and into a marvellous light. With it comes the realisation that the things that threatened to bury me are the very elements that strengthen me and give me life. I know spring touches everyone’s spirits- the long-standing jokes of love in the time of cherry blossoms are evidence enough of that- and that I am far from being the only one who feels the burgeoning from its very roots, or fights the deepest dregs of depression in the cold-dark months of winter. We all like to believe we foster special connections with something, but in the true spirit of spring time I cannot even desire to hold sole claim to a thing which by nature is defined by sharing and abundance.

Remember back in January when I told you my word?

I thought I had a good idea of what it would look like, lived out in a life: gold.

I thought of refinement, of value, of beauty and boldness.

Here’s the thing: if you ask God to break and rebuild you, refine you, remove everything but Himself from the throneroom of your heart, you had better mean it. He doesn’t take such requests lightly, and God does nothing by halves. While “gold” may be my word for the year, it’s synonyms are quickly becoming “broken” and “pain,” “relinquish” and “redefine.” I knew refinement would be painful, but I think I’d forgotten that it is a process, and long one at that. I think of the verse in Psalms that describes being refined seven times in a fire. While the particular context is describing silver and as a metaphor for God’s word, the process for refining gold is no less intense, and our lives are scripturally referred to as such on more than one occasion (my favourite example being Job 23:10). The theme to notice across all of these verses is that the refinement and the gold both are meant to give glory to God; the refinement as testament as His actively working, and the finished product a pure and lovely thing because it is testament alone to God’s work. It is pure because the fire brought all of its impurities to the surface where they could be removed to make the gold like Christ. It is lovely because it was submitted to the fire in the hands of the most skilled craftsman who could then form it to His intended design.

As a lump of ore, as the bulb placed deep beneath the earth, I don’t want any of these things. I’m comfortable where I am, warm and safe and full of potential.

However, that same potential is what drives my dissatisfaction. The knowledge that I contain precious metals, that I could be a thing in bloom, eats away at my sense of contentment until I know I can linger underground no longer.

Thus begins the praying, and thus begins the fire.

And refinement begins to feel more and more synonymous with growth; I am finding my way, stumbling through the dark until I meet my full potential and purpose. I am being placed into fire after fire and finding my clutching hands let go of the things I cling to most as they are proven to be the very impurities keeping me from looking more like He who calls me Daughter. Some of these things would surprise you (heaven knows they surprised me)—love, relationships, traditions, desires. Others, the lies and deceit, the insecurities, the false beliefs, all make far more sense. They all feel the same to me, though; things I thought were deeply-valued and intrinsically part of me are quickly being proven false, or cheap, or less-than.

Oh my friends, the letting-go is so painful. I don’t have words to describe the hurt that it is causing me. It is nothing, however, in comparison to the hurt I am causing others as I begin to step out of my old form and shed the lies, shed the counterfeit loves and speak the truth and sever ties that never should have been told or made. The only comfort in these low times of shame and hurt are that I am truly at the end of my pride and self-sufficiency. Only a perfect God could forgive and heal and raise and refine all of this shattered, broken mess. My frayed rope has begun to come undone and I’m working up every ounce of courage to let go and fall, knowing that I’ll simply be moving closer to the safe and caring hands of a Father who will never relinquish me to the darkness that always feels so close at hand.

What’s most confusing of all is the many forms growth takes, all of them itching, moving, shifting, painful. I think of April in these terms, and it’s only ever been agitated by my straining pull to run, to move away, anywhere but here with the pain. Strange that I only recently connected the symptoms with the cause: that all of the discomfort in the world, perennial and painful, could in fact be growth and movement of stretching limbs and earth as it crumbles away.

That not all things are buried in death, but also in preparation and in sleep.

And there’s the image of a buried God emerging whole, strong, and new, but still no different than He had been throughout the ages. And there’s the mirror image of flowers, exposed and delicate and so full of life; of gold removed once more from the fire, purer than before and lovelier for it.

There’s symbolism in everything.

Finifugal

It’s snowing again today. Early march, in like a lion when what my soul cries out for is the sweetness of the Lamb. Spring always stirs up the water in me, revealing the truths indelibly marked in my soul, the memory of who I am, the anticipation of who I am coming to be.

The past few weeks: a blend of the irritating, incomprehensible, and ironic, all whirled with a fine dose of intoxicating sunshine as the stuff of life dances a loop: fall apart, back together, apart, back together.

It would be a nice kind of lie to say that I’ve spent the time overlooking it all from a perch on the fence of mindful ambivalence, but a lie nonetheless. Everything lately has felt so unsortable. I wake up most days after very short nights facing a still-tangled mess of thoughts and circumstances, the mass of which I cannot seem to sort. If I could only find the loose end and unravel it all from there.

And in the core of it all, a sense of leaning, straining—reaching for some unnameable thing ahead. Amidst all of the busyness have been the stillest of moment, moments of clarity, assurances that all of this builds up and into a purpose.

But what purpose?

Just as the answer takes shape in the mist and the fog begins to clear; just as I step towards the meaning of it all-the memory of who I am and what I value-the world inevitably falls back to chaos.

Things progress: the old sputtering engines are exchanged for the new, we lift each other from the floor and into arms, into chairs, into the waiting rooms where doctors try to tell us our fates, and the show still goes on. Anticipation is met by the pattering of small padded feet across the floor, and, if done correctly, you exchange plane tickets and hours of anxious waiting for a week full of kisses and laughing hellos. Jangling nerves relax, the tangled knots release, and purpose begins to take shape again, closer this time, clearer now, almost discernible before disappearing once more back into the mist.

I haven’t yet learned how to handle life, and how to do so gracefully. I have to laugh at my name sometimes, at the way it belies the clumsy tumble-trip of my feet and flailing hands as I desperately try to find balance. I wonder: is there ever a time in life when you no longer feel that you’re at odds with the innermost pieces of yourself?

The fissures lacing their way up and down the walls mark a nonsense map: indent of beating fists and bodies. I remember the feeling of my hair being pulled, punctuated by angry words. I trace my fingers across the lines, making new memories. Whispered words send their tickling messages into waiting ears. I watch the cracks re-join and the lines heal. I watch the scars disappear.

The purpose takes shape and clears the mist, revealing itself not as a single being after all, not a hulking, nameable thing, but as a summation of so many parts. Pieces of me that I lose sight of but have always known to be mine. And thenI remember who I am.

The girl who loves receiving mail but who cannot seem to ever properly open an envelope.

I’ve learned to count my days in anniversaries, the passing months in memorandum of the things that have passed, the people. I’ve learned to identify myself with endings, to wait with bated breath for the next passing.

I still don’t know how to describe these things out loud. I haven’t really tried. I do know that I’m finished marking my life by tragedies, and I am ready to see my life in light of a grander scheme than merely defined by the losses that have surrounded it—that I am done singing requiems.

The challenge is learning, after so long, to find a new song to sing. But there is joy in that as well, a sense of adventure and uncertainty as you fumble with the unfamiliar notes and build a new tune, one entirely your own.

Or at least this is what I tell myself to make it all seem less daunting.

The truth is, I don’t know how to be alone. For all my independence, for every table for one, every private date with myself to every film, every night in with a cup of tea and a book and the void next to me I’ve been staving off some inexplicable sense of sadness I’ve been too frightened to allow myself to feel. I’m afraid to admit that I’m not just alone, but that I’m lonely. I’m afraid to own that the boundaries of my own mind and the pages of a book may not always be enough to satisfy the longing of my heart to find some kind of meaning. I’m afraid to admit that I don’t want to be alone, because how terrible and embarrassing would it be if my wish never came true and I was left kissing frogs for the rest of my days, desperately hoping one will somehow turn into a prince.

But as if the knotted loose ends know what is to come, it seems that they have already begun to fall, unravelling themselves. Or it could be that they have simply been loosened by other fingers, the same ones that formed me, perhaps, or the ones that have lovingly traced the length of my spine. Or both. I’m not certain that I need to know.

As this old life falls apart, I light a match and touch it to rubble and watch it go up in flames, burning itself into my memory in some great, glorious, fiery impression. One final, blazing salute to the chaos of what was as I turn to embrace the chaos of the unknowable what-will-be.

After all: chaos is a friend of mine.

Esperance

Typically this time of year feels like walking into a strong, biting, winter wind: an arduous and prolonged slogging through time and tasks until you make it safely to the month of March and the promise of warmer weather. I’m a bit of a slogger in general—or rather, I seem to have become one. My mind seems irrevocably tethered to what has already occurred, be it a moment or years ago, and seems to take the brunt of my attention most of the time.

Sometimes this habitual existence in the what-was can be helpful: when I’m able to wedge myself far enough out of the mire to try and use the past to inform my actions in the present. For the most part, though, it merely distracts and disappoints. I so easily lose track of myself-perhaps due in part to being a people-pleaser-as well as lost in the purpose and practices of adulthood. I’ve been out of university for less than a year, nearly halfway through my twenties, and have no idea what I want to be and who I feel I am anymore. A few paramount truths (such as my identity in Christ) remain the same. Everything else feels a little tarnished. There are so many things I am and long to be that I’m neither certain I could ever manage to become them all, nor how to even begin.

Here’s where the past informs the present: I am actively seeking my life’s purpose. This is a many-layerd process that includes the need for a great deal of healing in many areas. I’m back in counselling, and I’m taking the steps needed to get my health on track (even though most days I still don’t want to, and occasionally feel a premonition that it’s pointless). I am beginning to understand that I’m a liar, most especially to myself, and that I am broken in more ways than a handful of identifiable disorders. I’ve begun to admit the truth to myself (and by extension to the rest of the world) a whole host of things big and small– that I don’t want to go to grad school and never did, that I’m not sure what I believe most days, and that I am not fine relegating my creative pursuits to mere hobbies. I’m allowing my dreams to live as more than just vaporous “what-if’s,” and begin to take form through tentative diagrams and blueprints on the page. I want to start cultivating an existence that not only makes room for creativity, but gives it free reign of the entire house. I’m trying to find ways to stop cowering in fear of all the world could offer and take risks for the sake of what could be.

You know for an optimist I’ve lived nothing but pessimistically most of my life.

I’m trying to explore my relationship with God and claw my way out of this spiritually dry season I’ve been studiously ignoring for months now. I know that most of the healing I need cannot be offered by a kind woman in a chair with a notepad and a litany of questions. The pain and the brokenness I know I’m feeling is so much more than mood and circumstances: it’s an issue of the soul and testament to the many fissures streaking their way across my heart. I’ve mastered to art of placing myself higher up and further back into the shadows in hopes that obscurity and ignorance will cause the fractures to heal themselves. When they do it’s usually in the wrong formation, and it comes out further deformed and more deeply broken a thing than it was before. I’m tired of living like this, and ready to face the breaking necessary to set it straight again.

I know when Spring awakens every year. I can tell you the week, even the day, that she begins to stir, and it’s different every year. It can still be bitterly cold outside, it could have been light and warm for a few days before, but there is a distinct difference between a little extra sun and the movement of Spring. I’m not sure if it’s something I imagine or if it’s a strange sixth sense that tells me flowers are coming (because there’s nothing I truly love as much as flowers), but there is a shift and pull, and I always sense it, and it always brings me indescribable joy. Right now I’m beginning to sense a similar stirring, but in my own life and not somewhere beneath my feet.

And while the joy seems yet to arrive, what has come with this particular stirring is hope.

 

Erlebnisse

Erlebnisse: (n.) The experiences, positive or negative, that we feel most deeply, and through which we truly live; not mere experiences, but Experiences. 

Have you ever taken the time to sit and listen to your own heartbeat? To settle back, close your eyes, and focus on the steady beat of that fist-sized muscle whose rhythmic pulse keeps you standing upright, eyes-wide and hands-reaching. There’s something comforting in its reliable tattoo, as if it were a tangible mark of your life, a pin-point sound that seems to say “We’re alive. We’re here.”

My own heart hasn’t historically been very consistent. I mean this metaphorically as well as literally. I can be unbelievably changeable, but it’s been in the past few years that my heart has taken on inconsistencies of its own. It was last autumn, sitting in the clinical cool of a doctor’s office, that I was shaken awake by the stern reprimand that it wasn’t going to keep going unless I made changes to help. I don’t discuss my health issues too widely- I don’t feel the need to- but I will say that at the time there seemed to be no explicable cause to the long string of sypmtoms I was experiencing. To my shame, it would take several more months of struggling before I decided to really do anything about it, but since I have it’s been amazing the improvement in overall quality of life, not the least of which includes a steady heart rate.

So I sit and I listen. And I marvel.

A lot of what I’ve been doing have been simple life changes, most of which go along with my word for the year and all the refining that accompanies it. It may seem a simple or even a silly thing, but at one point I sat down and wrote out my values, all of the things that are important to me, and compared them with the way I live. What we value shapes how we see the world and our reactions to things, but not always what we do. Cognitive dissonance is the technical term for that sense of unrest and inner conflict that arises when our actions contradict our deepest-held beliefs. You’d think that one’s deepest values would shape even the most mundane choices, but it’s not uncommon for culture or perceived expectations to get in the way and start making decisions for us instead.

Lifestyle blogs are an excellent example. I find them showy, overdone, and unbelievably unhelpful, and all they really do is push people further into the toxic mindset of comparison and dissatisfaction. And yet for the longest time I’d fall prey to them myself. Lifestyle is something deeply personal and unique. You can share values with someone, but you can never truly share the same lifestyle. Your daily habits, your preferences, your tastes, your wardrobe, your time, and even the way your hair reacts to certain products are all going to be particular to you. To try and fit one lifestyle into the advertised blueprint of someone else’s only furthers that sense of dissatisfaction and inadequacy when it still doesn’t feel “right.”

I’ve begun cultivating my own lifestyle (and no, I’m not going to tell you all about it). I’ve been learning to challenge my daily habits and start saying yes to more things. Better yet, I’ve started saying no to some as well (boundaries, especially with work, aren’t something that have really existed in my life up until this point). So far this has mostly just looked like more excuses to wear outlandish hats and eat more pancakes, but it’s also been permission for me to meet new people and reach out for help when I’ve found myself plunged back into the perpetual night of the I-Suck Abyss.

My favourite change so far, though, has been that of creating space and luxuriating in it. For several months now I’ve been going every Sunday to the same coffee shop in Scranton to sit and read and write and listen. I never see anyone I know (although one of the female baristas did try and ask me out), but it’s easily the most fun I have all week. I sometimes spend all afternoon there drinking overpriced coffee and reading, or just listening to people talk– eavesdropping on twenty different conversations, jotting down lines and observations, and enjoying the anomaly of sharing close quarters with complete strangers for hours on end. It’s a delicious experience that is always new and all mine.

So what does this post, in all of its ramblings, have to say? Well, dear reader, that I am learning to feel my heartbeat, and that I am learning to appreciate it. That I am stepping out of my habits and comfort zones and into new things and that vast un-comfort zone that takes up so much of the world (at least when you’re looking at it through my lenses). I’m hanging fairy lights in my room, staying up to read until unholy hours, eating pancakes for dinner, and going to see films on my own (and usually being the one to laugh the loudest in the room). I’m learning to have experiences and to live. I truly hope you are choosing to do the same.

Refining

2017.

As the rest of the world (or, at the very least, Millenial American culture) has stood in defiant anger at the flicker and snuff of 2016- a year that seemed to many to rage like a destructive wildfire- it will come as no surprise that I’m just as elated to see it extinguished. The new year seems so promising, a veritable book of blank pages upon which anything could be written should you just have the courage to wield the pen. Of course this is a somewhat silly as our construct of time is little more momentous than Earth’s ceaselessly-spinning track, and the new year simply the completion and restart of her annual pilgrimage around our main source of heat.

In times past I’ve chosen a word for the year. Perhaps “chosen” is a little strong– the process of finding that word has always been one of deep personal introspection and- at the risk of sounding mystic- spiritual reflection and prayer. It was more of an uncovering or stumbling-upon than a choosing. And so that word would set the tone for the year, defining encounters, spurring choices, shaping attitudes; it was the compass I used to navigate the 365-day sea of time. Or perhaps the north star? The analogy quickly breaks down.

I had no word for 2016. I leapt in with both feet, my graduation on the horizon, and well-laid plans to go abroad and teach promptly afterwards. I didn’t feel the need to find a word: the waters were calm and I could navigate just fine.

Which is funny, because I didn’t. Looking back, I think the word for 2016 has been death, perhaps destruction. I don’t mean the many, at times inexplicable, deaths of celebrities (although I mourn their passing too). However, a group of strangers was nothing compared to the unexpected death of a beloved uncle in late January, followed soon after by the suicide of a close friend on my birthday. I’ve watched relationships die- some more painfully than others- and was deeply struck by the representation of Death played by a friend in a just-as-striking production of Everyman. I’ve watched friends and family alike struggle with living life after a death comes to call, and I’ve lived that struggle too. Heck, I even played Death at a comic con in the spring. Part of me wonders if this has been my comeuppance for so blithely approaching the year, but the greater side of me knows that it was necessary. I’m a great believer in the chiaroscuro of life, that shadows prove the sunshine, that we need contrast to understand the colour and light. It’s the decomposed nature of the soil that enables plants to grow and thrive (and anyone who knows me knows I adore flowers).

Which brings me to my word for 2017 (because I have clearly learned my lesson and will heretofore be paying proper respect to my superstitions). Gold.

Disappointed? Me too. Typically these things are strong, flourishing adjectives or verbs: create, brave, luscious, bright. But no, this year I get no such flourishes, just a colour. A colour, in fact, that I’ve never truly even liked.

Forgive me as I wax metaphorical, but it’s the process of gold that charms- and scares- me. The purest and best is melted and refined several times in a blazing fire, formed and shaped until it is deemed perfect. Its loveliness and value are inherent, but are multiplied through what can easily be called a painful process. I’m sure you can understand my discomfort.

Several months ago, as I sat frustrated and defeated on my bed, my sister sent me a piece of valuable advice: find out who you are and what you like, and go from there. Simple? Yes, but something I’d never really thought about doing ,much less made efforts to explore. I’ve spent years coasting on the preferences and habits I formed in late high school, relegating my adventures to literary expeditions and theatrical productions. The boldest thing I’ve done in the past year has probably been admitting to a large group that I “actually kind of like that song Cheerleader by Omi.”

As I approach 2017, I look forward to not only refining, but being refined. I anticipate the challenge of trying to understand and embrace my inherent value and beauty- things that I was raised to believe nonexistent- both as an individual, and as a general human in a wide spectrum of other humans. I hope to align my living and choices with the qualities and values that I find most important. After four years of college, it’s refreshing to stand on the brink of a new year that could be anything, rather than a segment of semesters with some free time in between (most of which is spent napping).

So here’s to a new year, a golden year, a year of departing the valley of shadows and finding life and light on the other side. Here’s to you, whoever you are, and your new year and new ventures. Go for the gold.

The Problem of Pain

It’s October again.

I know, I know–a truly revolutionary statement. October carries with it it’s own dignified sense of autumn, distinct from September’s gentle turning and a far cry from the bite of November’s march into winter. October is falling leaves and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; it’s bundle-up weather and early evenings, pots of cinnamon tea and hand-knit socks. It’s also become my month of endings, of death.

I think about death a lot.

There is a point in every child’s life where they come up against the truth of mortality: perhaps they lose a family member, or they see an animal die. It’s formative, necessary even, to the development and understanding of a person as they age– that knowledge that everything is temporary. But I cannot remember a time in my life where I wasn’t acutely aware of death. Even before I tangibly encountered it, I knew what it was– who she was. I’ve never feared death; rather, I’ve always found myself somewhat fascinated by it, evident in everything from my reading and writing preferences to the way I’m forever identifying with fictional personifications of it, either male or female (my favourite to date have been Neil Gaiman’s Death from Sandman and a friend’s interpretation in a recent theatrical production of Everyman, in case you were wondering). This preoccupation with the subject has over the years become a close acquaintance with the lady herself, which brings me back to October, and into the subject of pain.

Pain reminds me somewhat of a child, not entirely without sympathy: he remains to sit with those left behind once Death has moved on. You will find him there, by the coffin, the closed door, the empty closet, his grey dog Grief lying unleashed and close at his heels. October, death, and pain have come hand-in-hand this year more than ever, and I’ve spent a lot of time searching for a way to express it all in words. Not a day into the month and I found myself finally ending a long, tumultuous, complicated, abusive relationship with my father. The day after that, a relationship was ended with me.

In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis discusses the fact that there is no “unimaginable sum of human misery,” saying that “there is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe.”

Why then do I feel like I’m bearing the pain of three people?

My poor relationship with my father only ever complicated and warped my image of and relationships with men, while also tearing a sizeable hole in my relationship with a God who’s chief attribute of love is most often described in paternal terms. The decision and ability to finally relinquish the endless and impossible struggle of sufficiency enough for my father has opened a door to finally move on past all the cruel words cluttering my mind in his voice. The decision wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t quick: it took years to reach and several sleepless nights to choose. To be broken up with unexpectedly barely a day later took what was already fractured and shattered it completely.

I’m discovering that over the past few months I’ve somehow forgotten how to be alone. The independence so hard-wired into my system, strengthened by months spent navigating the streets of New York City on after high school, then sharpened as I moved halfway across the country for school seems a lifetime away, so easily obliterated by a single summer as I find myself in the position of relearning how to operate independently, how to pass my time on my own, how to savour solitude once more. I never used to notice an absence, but now absence is all I feel. I wake up every morning to begin regathering all the fragments once more, pieces to a puzzle that I can’t seem to assemble.

Lewis later goes on to write “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

In the mean time, life (like time) continues to march ever-steadily forward. Lewis wrote his treatise on pain in his effort to explain the coexistence of a purportedly loving God in a world so riddled by injustice and grief. This is a quandary I’m spending more and more time contemplating these days. Being raised in an environment where asking God “why” was viewed as defiance and “counting it all joy” the only right response has caused me to balk countless times in my spiritual life, opting to muddle through things on my own terms rather than carry them to a loving father God who’s purposes and ways are too terrible in their goodness and mystery for me to comprehend. But if there’s one thing I’m learning this month- this year, this lifetime- it’s that it is sometimes necessary for uplifted hands to turn to fists, if only for a little while, with the knowledge that there is grace enough even for this.

I know I’m not alone in this. Part of the struggle has been grappling with these things while coming alongside others around me who are fighting to carry their own burdens as well. We none of us can do it alone.

So in the midst- or rather at the end- of this heavy October, despite the unanswered questions and the gaping holes, despite the darkness, and most certainly despite the pain, I’m permitting myself the bruises and blood that comes from being so repeatedly driven to my knees, hoping that better and more glorious things will come of it the more I do.

In summation (and as only Lewis could put it): “The great thing to remember is that though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

Up Til Now

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Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you: and by funny I mean entirely unexpected, rather unamusing, and somewhat unwanted. But that’s the way it works, all at once and while you’re not paying attention. I’ve had so many questions from friends and family concerning my plans since crossing the stage in May to receive my diploma. I in all my scatter-brained busyness have hardly had the time much less the inclination to answer every well-meaning inquiry, but I’ve decided it was high-time I brought the world up-to-speed.

I’ve found myself in the unique position of moving rather deliberately from stage-to-stage these past few months, carried along by events that have felt out of my hands, and in a way that most do not have the privilege of experiencing. I slipped easily from the world of undergrad classes and into the waiting arms of a relationship, and an internship that would keep me distracted from the wait-period following my interview for a full-time job. God knows my tendencies, and in turn gave me lines to memorise and stage tasks to fill the weeks of what would otherwise have been anxious hours. The internship’s end bled into the job’s start (which I did get), while also leading me to the people who will become my flatmates in the house we just discovered will be ours for the coming year. All of these things shifting gently one into the other almost imperceptibly until I suddenly realised that life had been circling for weeks, moving in slowly and knocking me out in surprise: guerrilla warfare of the most ordinary kind.

Ask me at age sixteen, fretfully counting down the days until I reached adulthood, where I would be at twenty-three: “Europe,” I’d probably say “reading books along the Seine” or “bicycling around Reykjavik;” “writing in a flat overlooking London.” Ask me a yaer ago and I would have said the same thing. Certainly not Pennsylvania: certainly not settling down, not by any means.

I am a gypsy, and I like to travel light: one blanket, my trusty pillow, a few pieces of clothing, and a battered copy of Eliot’s poetry in hand. I arrived on-campus my last year of undergrad, my entire life packed in two suitcases under fifty pounds with room to spare. I am always yearning to roam, and I am certain to be equally prepared to do so. I moved to six different homes the summer of my junior year alone. As long as this wanderlust keeps me itching for another quest, my dream-home has sworn to stay relegated to photos of rooms filled with softly filtered light. Commitment and settling down for me looks like an excess of blankets and pillows, a wall of bookshelves filled with my own personal library, the contents of which have spent the last four or five years over two thousand miles away, packed up in cardboard boxes.  

Suddenly these days I find myself perusing websites and store walls, asking friends what they use, what they think.”Don’t even think about it,” breathes the ever-practical traveler within as I run my hands over the pile of pillows- those down-filled-delights that epitomise impracticality- stacked in Target, “how would you take it with you when you move? It’s a hassle to carry with you when you go.”

But that’s the thing: I’m not sure I am going, at least not now, at least not soon. I have a house and a job, a degree and a car. I have someone who makes it worth the staying. For the first time in my life I’m considering shelves and calculating the cost of seven large boxes of books shipped media mail across the United States so I can reread them all over again. I’m planting things and building a pantry’s supply of spices. I’m tracking down a mattress, and considering putting at least two pillows on my bed. And while all of this feels like it should be unsettling and a touch scary, it really isn’t. 

Certainly I’m not always committed to this concept of commitment. Depending on the day, I am overwhelmed in a gulf of panic at the thought of losing my independence, my ceaseless desire to roam. It’s as if by purchasing pillows I am nailing my feet to the ground, never to explore again, and that simply isn’t so.

It takes a lot to relinquish the well-laid plans that took years of dreaming to formulate and grasp, exchanging them instead for the things that appear in front of you now. Sometimes we get so used to wanting something for so long that when we no longer want it, we feel we must still cling on, if only to justify the time and energy we’ve invested into the thought alone. To let go feels like admitting defeat. In cases such as these I think we often find it’s the tradition of the thing we can’t relinquish rather than the thing itself. Or at least this is what I’m discovering about myself. 

And so I am willingly facing the coming days and the commitments both large and small that they doubtless hold. There’s a certain power in staring down the unknown and shouting “I choose this” into its void. It’s a power the faith of which rests in an assurance that a greater plan is in place, and that the plan holds greater things than my little suitcase heart can fathom. And perhaps choosing to trust that plan starts by purchasing a few extra pillows.