Monday, August 19, 2013

First Year Out

"August arrives, hot and breathless and full of all the things you held on to too tightly. and all the places that defined summer start to melt together, the sand that got stuck in your hair, and the bug bites you picked at too much, and the taste of every sunset that slipped through the open car window. somehow each summer is its own lifetime, we love and eat; and the sun will spin around us without fail." 

I have no idea who wrote that quote. I've searched, and I just keep coming up with anonymous. So, dear anonymous (who, according to Virginia Woolf, was a woman) thanks for that. 

Each summer has always felt like it's own lifetime. I have always defined my life in summers - "what year was that? Oh that was the summer I went to nerd camp/theater camp/New York social justice program/Oxford film program/DC internship/was a camp counselor/studied abroad".  During high school, anything exciting that ever happened to me happened in summer, usually at one of the myriad of programs I went to. Summer meant travel and learning and adventure and a summer crush. The end of summer left me nostalgic and a little bit heartbroken for the new friends I left behind.  In college, summer was a welcome respite, but I wasn't quite so sad when it ended - leaving behind huts in the woods for my air-conditioned university apartment wasn't the most difficult transition after months of bug bites, porta-potties and screaming children.  

August now doesn't mark just the end of summer, it marks the end of the craziest year of my life.  I spent this year in the rolling hills of the country of Georgia in Eastern Europe, on the beaches of the Dominican Republic, in the heat of Texas and sleeping it all off in my home state of Georgia. In one year I have been to five different countries (six, if you count Texas...). I have ridden buses and boats and airplanes and marshutkas and carritos and donkey carts.  
I have jumped into cold mountain pools and been carried across flooded mountain roads. I have fallen in and out of love. I have slept in terrible hostel beds and taken bucket showers and used outhouses and made friends with lizards and spiders and Georgian grandmothers who hit me with their canes. I have sang '90s karaoke at a bar filled with smoke and cowboy hats and Texas two-stepping.  I have walked through blizzards, burned myself on motorcycles, and prayed in tiny mountain chapels, large city mosques, and dangerously foggy roads. I have felt rich and luxurious as I ate delicious meals in Greece, and hungry and poor as I found yet another can of beans full of maggots in the Dominican. 

I have been lazy and bitter and discouraged and scared. At times I have not acted, not connected, not reached out.  I've been humbled and I've been humiliated. I've been blissfully happy. I have learned the art of silence. I have relearned the art of dancing with new friends. I have counted people as friends, real friends, when all we could use was my few words of Georgian or Haitian Creole, dancing feet and smiles.  I have been very sick and maybe near death. I have had family members pass away. I have marveled in the rain and in the sunset and at the ocean and the mountains and at the grape harvest and at my students all full of the glory and wonder of the Creator.  And I have wondered, while holding a skinny, bruised child, at the plans of the Creator.  

I have been humbled by the kindness of strangers and felt unworthy and it was true and right to know I was unworthy and to accept the kindness anyway. I have been very angry. And it was sometimes pride and cultural differences, and it was sometimes valid, raw anger.

I have had more awkward moments then should be allowed in anyone's lifetime. 

This was my first year out - outside of an institution, outside of the protection of family or school system or university. And what a year it was. 

There is an image in my mind, more like a five second movie clip, of a little boy in the Dominican, my neighbor, four years old, wearing nothing but dirty yellow undies, running down the street with his arms spread like wings in the sunshine, laughing his head off.  And for some reason when I try to package my past year this clip always comes to mind.

 I have not done anything terribly different (a lot of new graduates teach abroad) and I have not done anything terribly conventional. But somehow I know, after all the great times and the hard times and the awkward times, that I did what I was meant to do. There were things I needed to learn and to see and to live. 

And so August arrives. And so August goes, and in My Personal Calender it is the start of another year. 

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