Friday morning, I sat at my neighborhood coffee shop awaiting her arrival. I was curious and excited to see what sort of “space” she would be in. The “she” in this reflection is a young woman – a student of mine – who had just returned the day before from Central America. She had sent me a message that upon her return, she wanted to reconnect. And so there I sat, finishing up the last of my delectable cinnamon roll and glass of skim milk (hoping to offset the calories of the delectable cinnamon roll), anxious to hear her voice and enjoy her presence.
The thing is, her trip to Central America didn’t make much sense at all. She is just one semester away from graduating with her counseling degree but two months ago, she put everything on hold: her education, her friends and family, her jobs, her relatively comfortable life here in the Twin Ports and she packed up and headed south….truly for points unknown. And here’s the best part – the “why” of the story. She left because she was searching for herself.
To be sure, this unique journey had already begun. Since meeting this amazing woman, she has been grappling with life. Refusing to settle for superficial answers and fighting to understand her existence, I have observed her over the last two years, painfully and joyfully consuming her journey rather than simply floating on the currents of life.
And so, when we began talking seriously last summer about her desire to get away from everything, I knew this was the next logical step. I use the word “logical” intentionally because to most people, her desire was not logical at all. We live in times where the gospel of pragmatism reigns supreme. Every step we take must make sense or have practical value. We use terms like advantageous or phrases like fiscally responsible to grant merit to circumstances which, upon closer inspection, are simply calculated moves that minimize risk and garner cheap approval from all the other play-it-safer’s who surround us. Logic for this pilgrim meant that if she was going to be able to trust herself in the future, she needed to know that her foundation was strong. That all the questions and tears and insightful moments of the previous several years (of her entire life, in fact) had really taken hold. That indeed she had changed and was the strong woman she dared to believe she could become. What better way to trust this than to intentionally remove the safety net?
Just over two months ago her closest friends and I all gathered to send her off. It was one of the more beautiful moments I have experienced. The small group who came from all over the area presented her with beads that were strung for her journey, well wishes were expressed and gifts were given. The evening was shrouded in symbolic gestures that represented the very real love and respect we all held for her. It was our way of clothing her in the best (and most authentic) sentiments we held for her and then, we said “Goodbye.” And off she went.
She served indigenous people while she was there, touching lives while being touched. And she wandered and breathed and journaled and watched and felt and thought. Strangers became friends and challenges toppled one after the other as she expanded her own horizons like the explorers of old. And then, she returned.
Interestingly, I still don’t know much of what happened on her journey. Coffee on Friday was not about postcards and souvenirs and snapshots. It was about her sitting across from me, often with tears in her eyes, often in long pauses of silence, conveying to me (and confirming to herself) that she did it. What she learned about herself and life…well, that will be sorted out in the days and weeks to come amidst the onslaught of a life that was put on hold and that now must resume.
So why did she go? What was the point of it all? She went because she needed to. She went because at this particular point in her life, she longed for room to breathe and space to stretch. She went because she had to confirm that the glimpses of the courageous and beautiful woman she was catching over the last year or two weren’t fiction. She went, as if to say, “Crawling is no longer satisfying, so I will rise and walk.”
And in the process, she created for herself a touchstone. An actual, lived season of her life that has been marked and memorialized. In the years to come, there will be many more challenges and constant temptation to forget who she really is…to deny her full potential and settle for what the play-it-safer’s would have for her. But in those moments that threaten to muddle and confuse life’s most important lessons she will be able to reach inside and “touch” the autumn of 2012 and instantly, the fears and exhilaration and sacred moments of her Central American wanderings will return to her and she will be able to whisper to herself in quiet confidence, “I did that.” “This is who I am.”
If you are reading this and you find yourself wondering, “What was the point?” “I don’t get it.” Ask yourself, “What am I truly capable of?” “What could I do if I threw off restraint, removed the safety net and decided to authentically live?” Don’t know the answer to those questions? That’s the point…