This semester, I took a feature writing class. One of the lessons my professor taught us was to go into a story with a one-word theme in mind. This theme could be something like redemption, love, change, regret – anything, as long as it encompassed what, essentially, the story was about.
This word rarely actually appeared in the story. It was something we, the writers, came up with already knowing the storyline and ending and being the ones who would actually weave the theme into the words that we produced. In other words, although we didn’t actually control the theme – it was supposed to already be there – we were the ones responsible for delivering it. The readers’ job was to pick up on it.
It’s not a novel thought that seasons in our lives come with themes. And as much as I think that I’m the author of my own life, I’m actually much more like the reader. My job is to pick up on the theme within a context that I can’t really control. Unfortunately, this usually comes through a lot of retrospect.
Today is the first day of my break following the second-to-last semester of my college career. As I thought about this past semester, one word came to mind: tumultuous. While I don’t think this is necessarily a great theme in terms of what I learned, it definitely works as an accurate descriptor.
According to Google, tumultuous is an old word and was used much more frequently around 1800 than it is today. It gives two definitions: 1) making a loud, confused noise; uproarious and 2) excited, confused or disorderly. For this second definition, synonyms include stormy, turbulent, volatile, full of ups-and-downs and roller coaster.
This past semester, a lot happened. I didn’t move in anywhere; I continued to live in the same house I had lived in this past summer and watched as six of seven roommates swapped out. I said goodbye to new friends that I had spent almost of all of my spare time with for the past three months and worried about what would happen with them gone. At the same time, I welcomed home seven of my best friends who, like me, are not naïve to the struggles that come with meaningful relationships.
I began the school year with a new sense of self; it felt like starting over after a year that I never want to have again. And I had a lot of fun. I had great friends, I made great memories and I couldn’t find a single thing to complain about.
…that is, until the above wasn’t true anymore. I discovered that I can, in fact, be blindsided by a boy that I didn’t see coming and then develop feelings for that boy. And that these feelings can include disappointment when it doesn’t work out and I never learn why.
I learned that sometimes, friends let you down when you need them the most. And it’s not because they don’t love you, it’s because sometimes, they’re just not capable of being what you need and the time you need them. So I learned what it is to be lonely.
A long-brewing cynicism and areas of doubt finally demanded addressing, and so one afternoon I sat on the floor in my room and held back frustrated tears and furiously tried to find some answers. And thus began my journey to figure serious things out.
I had a lot of fun. I laughed a lot, I kept in touch with the people I cared about and I chose to enjoy life in the moment rather than stress out about things that wouldn’t matter the next day.
I made mistakes. Plenty of mistakes – plenty of the same mistake. And now I understand what it means to want something and not want something at the same time; to hate something and to love it. To regret something and then do it again, many times.
I ran a half marathon after signing up for it four days before. I was surprised by my body’s abilities and felt deep accomplishment when I saw my time as I crossed the finish line.
And then, for the first time ever, I knew what it’s like to have a broken bone – specifically, a fractured foot. In this came the knowledge of what it feels like to be made helpless, in a way, by a physical limitation. I depended on people to drive me to and from class every single day, something that drove me crazy. Most importantly, I faced the struggle of having my primary outlet taken away from me: running.
Around this time, I realized something very important: I am not invincible, despite my best efforts to be so. Realizing this, however, is very different from embracing it.
For the longest time, I tried to keep swimming upstream; to quickly lift myself out of my position as fallen. I refused to be the person who couldn’t bounce back – who couldn’t simply choose joy and then keep going. I clung to a self-created identity of someone strong and independent.
And then, finally, that stopped working. I woke up this Sunday morning feeling alone and empty. That’s when I realized I had depleted my store of self-sufficiency, and my ability to lie to myself had stopped being a viable option.
So then, I had the beautiful experience of falling apart in front of a friend so, slowly, the Lord could put me back together. That came with admitting that I’m not as strong as I’d like to be, things aren’t as easy as I wish they were and I need people in a way that terrifies me.
Something about that, however, brought a sense of wholeness back to me. Washing your wounds stings at first, especially when they’re in places that you can’t reach and someone has to wash them for you. But when you get past the dirt and dried blood, other things start to wash away too; things you never knew were there, things like bitterness, fear and feelings of unworthiness. And then somehow, you begin to feel much more like the self you want to be, the self you were made to be.
Now, I find myself looking at Christmas break and only one semester left as a college student. I’m in no rush to get home, because I already feel home in this house that I’ve developed an intense attachment to. It’s not just the house, however; I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Maybe it’s the times that we’ve all reached the end of our rope, only to realize we could keep going because of the hand being extended to us. Maybe it’s the “shadow dancing” on the second floor, or the copious amounts of cheese, crackers and avocado that is eaten on said floor every week. Or maybe it’s just all the Christmas decorations in our living room. Regardless of what it is, I’m leaving Chapel Hill and McMansion with a sense of warmth, wholeness and the knowledge that I may not be invincible, but that’s okay.