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’m in China. Every time I say those words, I feel this little leap of joy. I can’t believe I’m here, to be honest. I’ve wanted to take a trip like this for my entire life. To see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, giant pandas, and so much more is incredible. I’m here. I made it.
The trip began, of course, with the flight. Up until now, I have had very little experience flying. The longest plane ride I’d ever been on before yesterday was four hours. This one was fourteen. That’s a long time to be on a plane. It was so worth it though. Since I’ve been here, I’ve done very little. I’ve eaten a meal and taken a bus through downtown Beijing, but that’s really all. However, today will give me all sorts of things to talk about. We’re going to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City today. Day 1 in China. Not a bad looking schedule at all. Hopefully the 5-6 hours of sleep I got last night will be enough to carry me through it.
It was really hard for me to leave my inn and my friends and my seat by the fire to come to a new country. I was excited, but also sad at the thought of saying my good-byes. However, I will only be here for a couple weeks. I can do that. Plus, since I’ve arrived, I’ve realized that this is a once in a lifetime experience. My friends and my fireside seat will be waiting for me when I return. Until then, I’m flying. That way I’ll have some great new stories to tell when I come back to my seat. Stories of this, my first flight.
I sit here in this place that has become my home and think. I’ve become so accustomed to this inn and these friends and the laughter and stories that we’ve shared. A lot has changed over the months here though. Many friendships have grown, though some have faded. Some paths have converged, while others have split, leading us apart. I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and also lost contact with some of my friends from childhood.
It’s not just the group that has the changed though—I have changed. I have been assured by my friends that I’m very different than the girl who came to college last semester. The months have worked their magic and aged me. I have become more relaxed, more open to others, and more cautious with my words. I have learned more than I could have dreamed. Topics I once knew nothing about, I can now hold an intelligent conversation concerning. This semester I was involved in another political discussion group, again joining with other students to watch the weather of the world. After the first few weeks, I noticed that my fellow group members, knowing my field of interest and study, would ask me about economic issues in Asia. At first, I really didn’t think I was qualified to give any sort of response. However, I began to see a change in my answers as they became tolerably informed. I am by no means an expert, but I know enough now to analyze and think critically and give informed opinions.
The opportunities I’ve had this year have been innumerable. I’ve gotten to sit down and talk to academics and business executives. I’ve traveled to new parts of my country, while preparing for my first flight abroad. I’ve made friends from throughout the world, even from my own corner of it. As much as I’m excited to fly next week and start my journey abroad, I’m a bit sad at the thought of leaving this inn and this fireplace. However, I know I will return. And when I do, I will be a bit older and a bit wiser than I am now. Such is life. Even returning to the same place, I’m not really the same person who left. But I don’t believe that’s a bad thing.
I have returned to my inn, my temporary home, after another flight. Last week I traveled with a few of my friends to St. Louis, Missouri, for a national expo with Enactus. I’ve spoken about Enactus before—it’s the group I’m working with to bring down sex trafficking. It was, in fact, in furtherance of this goal that I was at the expo. My team was going to present a short explanation of what we’d been doing this semester to a panel of business executives. Why is this important? Well, first, the winners of various rounds earned prize money for their projects. All of the teams are working on limited budgets to solve problems in their communities so this money is quite valuable. Second and, for me, more importantly, these business executives are in a position to do far more than I can for my cause. As I told the tale of the voiceless victims of human trafficking, I watched the faces of the judges, hoping to see reflected in them the concern I felt. In some faces, I did.
My team actually made a wonderful showing considering it was our first year at competition. We placed in the top 64 teams, bringing in a few hundred dollars for our projects. As for me, I was inspired by the number of teams working toward the same goal as me. There were numerous projects regarding sex trafficking, and some received significantly more funding than we did. These were much older projects that have had amazing impacts and will continue to do so. I didn’t realize so many people knew or cared about those faceless women sold into prostitution. It was a blessing to see.
The winning team from the US will be competing in South Africa in a few weeks against the top teams from across the globe. I can’t imagine how many other projects there are worldwide to bring down the sex trade. If just 1% of projects are dedicated to this end, then there are hundreds of projects around the world working alongside mine. Together, we really do have the ability to make this change, both in our individual communities and around the world. Together we can bear hope into the darkest corners of the world to those who need it most. This is my dream. Perhaps it is also the true reason for my journey.
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 past centuries, inns were a common sight at crossroads. Cities where important roads crossed would often have multiple inns. These inns would sometimes become the very center of life in their cities, places where people of all walks of life could meet with people from afar to trade tales. On my journey I have stopped at an inn of sorts. College is made up of large numbers of young adults who are starting on their various journeys from various homes and have found themselves at a particularly large “inn.” Together they sit around a roaring fire and enjoy the company of others who are on similar journeys, trading stories and planning new excursions into the surrounding country.
I have been very blessed to find many new friends here at this inn. We all have different destinations and purposes, yet we have been able to find common ground as well. It’s hard to accept that we will all be leaving each other soon. We cannot stay at this inn forever—that would defeat its very purpose. And yet, it’s easy to grow complacent and lose sight of the world beyond. I’m here because I’m on a journey, not because I wanted to live in a world of stories and flickering firelight. However, good has come of this respite: I have found others on similar journeys to mine. Our paths have converged and will lead on together for a time. For these friends with whom I am to journey, I am very grateful. Together, we can fly farther and faster. Come winds, come and beckon me on. I love this place of rest, but I cannot stay. The skies await.