I can’t believe it’s been a over a month since I returned from China. It doesn’t feel that long. At the same time, my summer is almost up–25% of my time in college has disappeared, running like sand from an hourglass. It can’t have gone by that fast, can it? My time as a teenager is almost up. My time in college will quickly follow. Life passes so fast that it’s really a wonder anyone can ever manage to be bored. And yet, I’m guilty of it too. I’ve wasted time being bored before. It’s folly. Every second, every grain of sand, is precious. I’m starting to understand that.
Despite my worries that I’ve wasted my time, this past year has really been incredibly productive. If you’ve been following my journeys, you know about China and the Enactus National Expo. You’ve traveled through memory palaces of Cordoba and seen the flying silks of Bangladesh Night 2015. Whether you can tell or not, I’m not the same person who began this blog almost a year ago. That girl was, at once, both supremely overconfident and extraordinarily insecure. She worried so much about what people thought of her. She didn’t know what she wanted to be or how hard she could work for something she loved. I’m not saying I’ve finished the journey to become the best me, but I have taken a few steps forward. I’ve traveled far enough, at least, that I can see a difference in who I am versus who I was.
The last thing I should mention in this moment of quiet reflection is my friends. I have significantly more amazing friends than I usually recognize. I just found out one of my good friends from high school is going to Yale. How awesome is that? It’s not all about getting into fancy schools though. One of my friends is studying Chinese in Shanghai, the beautiful city I left just a month and a half ago. I also have friends from college who graduated at the end of the school year. They’re moving on. Some are going to grad school (one is even going to William and Mary!) while others are finding jobs. Such is life. When this stage in my life ends and my hourglass if flipped, I don’t know where I’ll go. I suppose the mystery is half the fun. I also don’t know who will be beside me. Even if my next stage in life is one I must walk alone, I know that the friendships I’ve built are real. Even if we lose contact, those people helped make me into who I am today. For that, I am grateful. I wish the very best for all of my friends who are beginning a new stage in their journeys. I wish the same for you, whoever you are, and wherever you’re going. You’ve followed me thus far, and so I count you a friend. I hope you’ll join me as I begin my Sophomore year. I wonder where I’ll go and who I’ll meet. In a month it will begin. I’ll be back on the road. I’m not worried though; I’ve always felt most at home on the road and at the little inn that awaits me in Norman.
I guess I always knew growing up would be hard. I certainly ought to have known considering how often people told me. I’m finally starting to really get it though. As I try to decide what “grown-up” stuff I’m going to do this summer, I’m realizing that it’s way more complicated than just deciding. For example, one of my best friends wants an internship this summer. Great. However, he specifically wants one that is paid, near his family and friends, and that will teach him something valuable. Also fine. The problem is that lots of people want internships like that. In high school, we all got to be in high school. Sometimes we didn’t make a team or earn the best grade in a class, but it wasn’t really a big deal in the long run. If my friend can’t find an internship, he’s going to end up taking summer classes so that he can maintain productivity for the summer. But that would mean spending the entire summer away from home and also away from me.
I too have choices to make. I’d originally hoped to find an internship for the summer, but because I’m going abroad, my timing doesn’t line up with most internship programs. Instead, I’m going to try to test out of a couple classes. One of the classes I’d intended to test out of, though, OU doesn’t accept the CLEP test for. Now my 16 hour summer has dropped to a 13 hour summer. That’s still a lot of hours, but, at the same time, it’s not necessarily the best use of my time. I’m an economist so I’m always going to look at the opportunity cost when making a decision. Are a couple general education requirements worth giving up a summer’s worth of income and work experience? I don’t know anymore. How far behind will I fall in the long run if I fail to obtain this work experience now? I will never have a really free summer again. Study abroad trips and then graduation will interfere with all of them. This starless night is hemming me in. I cannot see the ground beneath me nor my path ahead of me. All I can hope for is that I can keep moving in the general right direction until dawn breaks and I can see my path once more.
It never occurred to me that during my time here in this resting place, this inn, I’d have to watch my friends take their own flights without me. However, the reality of the impermanence of this stage of life is starting to really hit me. Next semester most of my friends will have found their own homes and will no longer share this inn with me. The seats next to the fireplace where we are wont to congregate will be left empty. I will sit alone and see new faces come through while my family that I have found here has left me. In a mere week my family will leave without me on the first of their flights. However, I too will fly, though not so far. Nay, it is the future I can see on the horizon that saddens me.
This time next year one of my best friends will have flown across oceans to land on the other side of the world from me. A semester does not seem that long in the grand scheme of things, but upon his return my own journey will begin. Next winter we will bid each other farewell for a year and a half. That thought is lonelier than I thought possible. And yet, when I return it will only be a year before we graduate and leave this place of refuge, of nearness. Those eighteen months of separation that are daily drawing closer will very likely foreshadow a longer estrangement, perhaps even a lifelong one. How can you truly reconcile yourself to the idea that you may never again see one of your closest friends? I don’t know, but I will have to find out. Eventually I will have to say goodbye to all these people. It’s easier when I’m the one flying away, but in many cases I won’t have that option—they will leave me and take their own journeys. All I can wish for them is fair winds and good roads, fair thoughts and good friends.
Recently I’ve learned something about journeys: even if you intend to occasionally return home, the place from which you departed eventually ceases to really be “home.” Over the Christmas holidays I went back to Sugar Land for almost a month. I said I was going home, and I really believed it at the time. However, “home” is not a static place. In fact, I’m not certain it’s a place at all. Home is wherever you have become used to spending your time. It’s the place where you come together with those you care about and wish to spend time with. The house I grew up in is still special to me, but it isn’t really home. College—this crossroads, this inn—has become my home. I remember being told that this change would occur. I suppose I believed it, but I didn’t really understand it.
The joy of returning home at the end of the break was greater than I expected. However, it was also accompanied by a sort of melancholy premonition: the time I spend here is ticking away rapidly. We will all have to say goodbye and, once again, we will leave home. There is solace though. We lost our attachment to our first home without even noticing it, so why do we assume the next transition will be harder? Every goodbye is hard, but every goodbye passes. I will leave this home too, and I will be grateful for the time that was, not bitter that it couldn’t last. Good things aren’t static; they change. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something to be remembered so that I don’t lose the moment I have. Tomorrow will come, and I will return to the journey. Perhaps I will return to this home to visit, just as I returned to the home of my childhood, but perhaps I won’t pass this way again. Well, either way, I will follow the road.
“The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In every life there comes a point when you must, for the first time, say goodbye to a friend of your own age. For some people, this goodbye comes in the early years of their lives; for others, it does not come until the ripe years of life are behind them, and goodbyes are expected. For me, such a time came yesterday. A wonderful girl and dear friend has come to the end of her journey. We had such plans for her; her wings were newly spread. And yet, she has found her rest. I mourn that her journey was cut short, but I know she is happy. Her journey ended, like mine someday will, when a call was sounded and her final flight was taken. She is home with her Lord, singing, just as she always loved to. I will see her again when my journey too has ended. In the meantime, I hold on to this reminder that my journey may end at any moment, with or without warning. It is a frightening thought, but not one that should be pushed aside. I must live every day appreciating the journeys I have taken and the friends who walk alongside me. I heard someone say one time that, at the end of every day, we ought to say, “Today I have given all that I had; what I have kept I have lost.” I don’t know who said it first, but I know it to be true. I have twenty-four hours today, just like I had yesterday. If they are cut short tomorrow, I want to rest easy knowing I put them to good use today.