Goodbyes to a Bit of Myself

(In the flurry of the actual publication of my book, I have fallen dreadfully behind on blogging, so I apologize.)

I just wanted to muse briefly on what it means to be in transition. My last day of work is tomorrow and I’m leaving for school on Monday, and it’s hard to know whether to cling to the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had this summer or to long for those ahead. The last few days have been overwhelming and stressful, partly because I’ve had very little alone time and the arduous packing process is still ahead, but mostly because I don’t know how to react to leaving this summer behind me.

All summer I knew that the things I was doing were temporary: I got a temporary job, met many people I do not expect to see ever again, worked on a book that is complete and I will not return to (at least not soon), and spent what might possibly be my last full months at home. At the beginning, I was fine with this. I felt like a stranger at the fast food restaurant where I worked, someone who was dipping in a toe and nothing more and who would pass on like a mist in a few months. But as the summer continued, that changed.

I’ve started to see how difficult it is for humans to be transient.

My sister Lindsey was talking about this in her blog, how her travels for the internship she was doing throughout Peru were too short, too uprooted. But I hadn’t really thought of how the same applies to me, working my summer job here in the town I grew up in. It was only when I started discovering the crazy amazing people I work with–when I began to realize there was depth to this transient place, that it was impossible to drag my toes through for more than a week or two and that I had somehow started swimming without knowing how I got there–that I realized how sad it is to be swimming in a lake you may never see again. Many people think fast food sounds unpleasant. But the people I’ve met, the experience of working with them and being caught in the same temporary lake–even in the mundane things like filling drinks and taking orders and pulping lemons, the things I’ve been doing alongside all the other workers this summer–has changed me, and I know I’ll actually miss it when it’s over.

The thing is, every place we are, every thing we do, every relationship we form on earth goes too quickly. I think of how Ecclesiastes mourns, “he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (3:11). We have this need for eternity, for relationships that will last forever, for places we can make a lasting home from. But it’s hard, because we never really get those on this earth. Things change too fast for us to drink it all in.

And here I am, almost reluctant to transition back to the place I hated to leave just three months ago. I thought going in that these few months would be insignificant and easily separable from the rest of my life, but obviously things are never that clean-cut. On earth, we are travelers. We leave bits of ourselves behind everywhere we go, and we will never find the eternal home we were looking for until we follow our eternal Father past the grave.

To Be: In the Place We Are

“‘Things happen to people by accident,’ she used to say. ‘A lot of nice accidents have happened to me. It just happened that I always liked lessons and books, and could remember things when I learned them. It just happened that I was born with a father who was beautiful and nice and clever, and could give me everything I liked. Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? I don’t know’–looking quite serious–‘how I shall ever find out whether I am really a nice child or a horrid one. Perhaps I’m a hideous child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials.”

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My sister is in Peru right now. In her blog (here) she talks about the living situations of the people there–their resilience, their humanity, and the things they have to fight against to survive. To me these things are entirely foreign. But for a lot of people in the world, you do just sleep in a tent, avoid the rabid dogs, and boil the water before you drink it. For a lot of people, that’s really the best they can do.

I’m not sure how to react to my life situation, since I was born into a loving middle-class American family, with parents who have a strong Christian faith, plenty of material goods to get through life comfortably, and the passion to give me the best education I can have. Millions of people lack one or all of these things, and the fact that I do not–a fact that has shaped every aspect of my existence, my interests, my beliefs, my character, and my relationships–unsettles me. Who would I have been if God had put me in the untouchable caste in India? Or a Norwegian peasant family in the Medieval Ages? Or the family of some cruel dictator? Why am I here now, in the richest 20% of the world, getting a college education, drinking clean water and buying manufactured clothing at the drop of a hat?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. All I know is that God has entrusted me with A LOT and expects me to do a lot with it, and that’s why I write like there’s no tomorrow. (Who knows? Maybe there isn’t.) God gave me a gift and a passion–and I don’t know why He gave it to me, but here I am. I guess, if He put me here, He intends to use me here. But I don’t know why He chose me. He could have switched my place with an illiterate Bengali woman, and if she had been born into this home and country she could have been a better writer, a more considerate friend, and a stronger follower of Christ than I am–and I could have been a weaker and less independent (and really, a generally hopeless) sweatshop-laborer. That Bengali woman is probably taking care of five children, alone, and works ten hours seven days a week. And here I am, with a humane forty-hour work-week, nobody depending on me for anything, and barely the energy to handle it. I don’t know why it is that I’ve been given the opportunity to make a mark on the world–I have more of a shot than most, with the amount of resources I have–and she hasn’t. The only thing I can say is that I trust God knows what He’s doing when He puts people where they are.

Anyway, that’s the reason I write. It’s because I can–because I’m here, and not somewhere else, and I have an education, and I’m able to impact the lives of others through my words. I may not make much of an impact on very many people, and my words will probably fade from history at the moment of my death. But I am totally convinced it is worth doing because God gave me the gift. It’s the only reason I can think of that He would put me here, of all places.

This is not a very polished blog post; I have no argument, no main point. But I ask that you think about it. That you have compassion on the deaf community in Moyobamba (a stop in Lindsey’s journey around Peru) and put yourself in their shoes for a few minutes. That you question the way you’ve been spending your money–some people live for a year on the amount you just spent on that dress. That you do your homework because you have been blessed with an education and not because you want a 4.0. I don’t know what to do about any of this, and I don’t know why you’re where you are and I’m where I am. But here we are. I guess we just need to use the things we have to their utmost and trust that God placed us in exactly the right spot.