Turning Points and Comfort Zones

I remember thinking, in the days leading up to high school graduation, that this was it. I would never come back here. My shadow would never darken the halls, my laughter and teenage angst would no longer fill them. I would never again see all of the spaces in the school that brought me comfort or reminded me of bad times. Never again would I run my fingers over the graffiti-covered tables in the vocational building. Never again would I run the track or race around the halls as I so often had. Never again would I stand on the balcony outside the cafeteria and wait for my crush as early morning light filled the courtyard and reflected off the windows of the school buses.

Similarly, I remember days leading up to college graduation, when I was stricken by a similar feeling. The “end of an era” feeling, the one that also contained hints of trepidation as I crossed into the unknown future. Part of me wanted to graduate; by that time, I was sick of writing papers, but at the same time, I knew I would miss it. In fact, I already missed the quiet “reading days” before exams, when I would wake up very early in the morning and go to the lounge above my dormitory (dubbed “the cloister”) just to write. I knew I would never again have that same purity of solitude.

The feeling came back again when I left my first “real-world” job in favor of the “better life” granted by a white collar job. I was there for only nine months, starting in August and ending in May, so it had that same “school year” feel. Hopefully, I would never again work in fast food, but I was grateful for the experience because it taught me more than I had learned in all my years of high school combined. The day after I left that job, I started my new job, where I am today. The world of fast food was so different from the world of office work that I felt like I was starting over again. The useless drama was gone. There was no clatter of pizza cutters and no messy soda spills and no customers threatening to come back with a gun if they didn’t get their discount.

The job is sterile. Everyone is just like me: quiet and reserved. If I pass someone in the hall, they do not regale me with stories of the sexual exploits they had over the weekend. “How are you?” “Good. And you?” “Fine.” And the occasional “Did you do anything fun this weekend?” “Yeah. I went to the art museum.” “Nice.” After working here five years, I have a strange feeling of simultaneous comfort and discomfort. It is my dream job. I sit at a desk all day and correct grammatical errors and meet my deadlines. I’m lucky if I speak to someone once a day. Ninety-five percent of communication is through email. No one reveals much about their life outside of work. Yet everyone is so quiet and calm that sometimes I want to scream and throw things in the air just to watch the chaos unfold that would have gone down at my old job every day.

Anyway, the real reason I write this post is because I am again at a turning point and moving out of my comfort zone. Today I’m getting married, which is still strange to me because I honestly never thought I would get married. But sometimes the person you are meant to be with just appears out of thin air. This is how life goes. This is growing up. This is change. I’m not whining that it will be hard because I know it will be hard. It will be fun and chaotic and quiet and calm and crazy and sad and happy and everything else because that is the nature of it. I have chosen, and I would make the same choice again if given the opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong. I am joyful and happy that I finally get to take this step—and I get to take it with my best friend at my side, which makes it that much better. But I am processing the fact that my house is now “my childhood home,” where I will return on occasion but never again lay my head down in. I am processing the fact that I have to do things as a true adult with no real oversight (except by the government, but that can’t be helped—they’re everywhere). But the most important thing to process is that it’s no longer just “me,” it’s “we.” And that will take a lot of getting used to! 🙂

What Is Greatness?

Weirdly enough, when I think of greatness, I think of Tony the Tiger going, “They’re grrrrreat!” when referring to Frosted Flakes. The world (or at least our American society) seems to think of greatness in this way, too. Something that stands out from the rest, something to encourage others to consume, something that’s well known, well worth the money, well worth the time invested, and so on. You’re great if you are successful, if you manage to overcome odds and climb to the top of the pile.

Can you be great on the bottom of the pile? Can one of the “least of these” be great? I think so.

Greatness can be loud and shared with others (the world’s way), and greatness can be more unassuming and self-contained (God’s way). To me, to be great is to influence others with your actions more than with your words, because people will discount what you say when you start to do something that contradicts it. To be great is to be humble, to do the right thing without expecting a reward or praise, to live an ordinary life with no grandiose plans, to let others have the spotlight.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. —C.S. Lewis

Post-Accident Musings

On June 14, I was in a car accident (or, as we call it in the South, a “wreck”), which left me with a collapsed lung and a fractured metatarsal in my left foot. I was in the hospital for almost two entire days. The short version of the story: I was driving to work early in the morning and moved over to avoid a pedestrian who was walking on the road. (I was still in my lane.) An SUV coming on the other side of the road crossed the center line because its driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, hitting my car (a small sedan) nearly head on. The pedestrian and the other driver survived, thankfully. My car was a total loss.*

In books and movies, when stuff like that happens, the affected character usually has a profound change or some brand new outlook on life, almost like Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation at the end of A Christmas Carol. But honestly, the only change that occurred in me was that I got mean. I lost patience, when before I had considered myself a fairly patient person. I snapped at people. I got sick of telling the story of the accident to everyone who asked me what happened. I didn’t want to deal with the insurance company or the ambulance chasers. I got mad at God (ironic, because when my car was hit, I had been praying the rosary, which in all likelihood saved my life). But I never did get mad at the pedestrian or the other driver.

I actually thought that God might be mad at me, that He might be trying to tell me something that I had been ignoring. So as I lay uncomfortably in the hospital bed with the incentive spirometer they gave me to reinflate my lung, I scoured my brain for things I might have done wrong. He’s trying to tell me that getting married is a bad idea. He thinks I’ve been too arrogant and is trying to make me more humble. He doesn’t want me to work the rest of this week because I’ve foolishly been overworking myself. He thinks I’m stupid because I’m not listening to Him, that I’m not interpreting this sign correctly.

Later on, I put all those thoughts out of my head and focused on the two positive things that drowned out all the negativity. (1) My four families love and care about me (my biological family, my future in-laws, my work family, my church family). (2) I am still alive, so my work on earth is not done. God has some kind of plan for me and He’s “got me” through this and everything else to follow, whatever that may be.

So onward I go, and perhaps the greatest lesson I can take from all this is to assert myself more often, so that when it comes down to it, all the meanness in me won’t come to a boiling point when similar crazy life events happen.

*Strangely enough, the loss of the car upset me more than anything. When you spend several years driving the same car, it becomes your friend and confidante. It has literally gone many miles with you and been with you through many important life events. Maybe this should be another lesson for me: never name your car or attribute human qualities to it. (But rest in peace, Vic.)