Friday, December 31, 2010

I had a conversation today that directly connects to the blog post below.

The maintenance man at my new apartment is a Cameroonian political asylee, meaning he was granted protection in the United States due to an actual experience of or fear of certain religious, political or racial persecution in his home country. He told a friend and me his story of political torture in Cameroon, how he got out, about his family still living there, how he hasn't kissed his wife or children since 2006 when he fled, how he used to be a seaman but is deathly afraid of planes, etc. He showed us his crooked finger, part of the bone still shattered, where they tortured him with pliers. His eyes were sincere, grateful, sad, full of his life story. We asked him if he likes living in the U.S. We wanted to know is he was happy, to which he replied: all I want is a long life with my family. I am grateful for every day of life in which I can live without fear of death.

Do you know where I am going with this? That's all he wanted. Life. Not a certain kind or a certain set-up or a certain number of years or a specific way or path or filled with certain things. He just wanted breath in his lungs, movement in his body, food to eat, a place to feel home, loved ones to endure it with.

My eyes got a little misty at his reply to happiness. It's so simple and grateful. Here I am, counting up all of my "points," calculating my good and bad, getting frustrated when a couple of things are "off" in my life, restlessly striving toward some aim of perfection that I (and my society) have created for myself, and complaining.

Wake. Up. Jessi.

The only hope I have is that I have chosen a career that will continually humble me and remind me of how shallow and petty I can be.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year Reflections

In between first year semesters of graduate school, I’ve been able to wind down a bit. The rush is coming again soon, and I’ve taken some time to read humbling books and do a little soul searching and reflection after many months away from a single profound thought on life. I’ve been licking wounds lately, contemplating a disappoint in an area of life that I can’t seem to get right, and probably won’t ever get right due to the career choice I have made.
I’ve been dwelling too much and letting it get me down, and it is time to turn my thoughts around. My favorite line in the movie “Vanilla Sky” is by the character Sofia: “every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.” We can change our lives by changing the way we perceive our obstacles and our circumstances. It’s a profound decision in a brief moment that can change it all. A good friend recently reminded me that every time she has gone through this type of disappointment, she has been transformed and come out a better person than she was before. Absolutely true in my experience. My mom recently told me “nobody’s life is perfect. Ask around and I’ll bet you see there is one area in everyone’s life that they are not satisfied with.” I look at mine and absolutely everything, EVERYTHING, but one thing, is right. It’s better than right. It’s totally amazing!
So on that train of thought, I got to thinking about the last year in my life and I am blown away by the magic of it. Wouldn’t it be good for all of us to dedicate a chunk of time at the end of every year to reflect on the transformation within us in just a brief year of the many years that life is for most of us? A year is so brief, but so much can happen and change. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone kept track and reminded us, awakening us from our mental and spiritual slumber and lazy state of mind?
About this time one year ago, I was hiking on top of a glacier in southern Argentina with my friend Macala. I hiked a freakin’ glacier! Glorious! It wasn’t even on my list of things to do! I spent New Years in Mendoza, Argentina hiking around the Andes Mountains, contemplating a skydive, and toasting cheap champagne with my traveling buddy, wondering what the next year would teach me.
I applied to graduate school, unsure of the path I was on, starting to doubt whether what I wanted to do with my life was even a legit career. I was humbled, insecure, confused and worried. I saw graduate school as a way to confirm the path I was on. After four months spent analyzing every single line in every single essay, I sent everything off and tucked that dream away. Best not to hope too much.
Back to Missouri, where I stayed for a month while planning a move to DC. Even if I didn’t get grad school, I was going to get somewhere. To DC, where I stayed with a family who would take me in like one of their own, becoming a second family and place to retreat when the city life got to me.
Found a nice paying gig at a restaurant way above my level of sophistication. Not sure why they let me in. I tried to memorize wines, aperitifs, and . . . what the hell are sun chokes and dendi sauce? Still a Missouri girl in some ways.
Got accepted into every graduate school to which I applied; even one of the most highly selective programs, where I was one of 95 candidates. I can still feel that glory. It was the confirmation for which I had been yearning. I hadn’t been wasting my time all these years, traveling to other countries doing volunteer work! Then, I got a scholarship to one of the schools. OH MY GOD. Take my breath away, jump on the bed, cry for joy, kind of happiness. That phone call to my parents was one of the greatest moments in my life.
I reconnected with a friend from my past who was living in DC, who offered me a deal on rent I couldn’t refuse. The story is random, hilarious and what life is made of. We got along so well that a temporary arrangement has become long-term. Hadn’t seen or talked to him in seven years, and now he’s my roommate.
I fell in love. After many years without it, I remembered how amazing it feels to be adored and to adore someone. It was so, so, so good. And then I lost it.
I started graduate school and felt more overwhelmed than I ever have in life. Hello, stress. I made an incredible friend, Jenny, who is like me in so many ways it is frightening – right down to our damn initials. It’s third grade sort of girlie connection. Even our professors confuse us. I found a group of people that perceive the world in the same way that I do. I found camaraderie after many years of searching.
I trained for and ran my first marathon - 26.2!!! - in a time I am proud of: 4:30. I pushed my body through limits it has never crossed, and my body stayed strong during 5 months of wear and tear. I formed an incredible relationship with my body, and decided it deserved restoration for all of its hard work. Enter yoga. I discovered a yoga practice that fulfills me physically and mentally. I found an exercise that restores my inner and outer.
I began studying my third language, turning scribbles into sounds and letters, forming a new connection and respect between me and people from a different part of the world. I studied with cab drivers at 1:00 in the morning on my way home from work. Scribbles to phonetics, strangers to friends, unknown to respect.
I saw New York at Christmas, just like in the movies. I stayed in a high rise in New York with an equally blessed friend of mine from my days in Nicaragua. I reconnected with my Nicaraguan expat friends and strengthened my friendship with each of them.
I welcomed so many new, incredible people into my life. Each on his or her own determined, ambitious, inspirational path in life. Each doing his or her own part to chip away at the coldness and cruelness in the world; each cultivating a skill that will help him or her make the world a better place in a small way. They are soldiers, nurses, intelligence officers, international law students, policy wonks, development wanna-bes or practitioners, and story-tellers and writers.
I found a place to call home, a city that has everything I want right now. I found an apartment in my favorite part of that city, next to the family I love, the new friends in my life, the diversity I crave, and the coffee shops and dive bars I need.
Maybe I lost in love. Maybe the tally marks are beginning to take their toll. Maybe I am tired of pretending I care about how the wine pours into a glass or whether its Sancerre or Chablis or Blau & Blau just for a paycheck. But if those are the only problems I have in a year full of monumental, positive, glorious changes that have brought me a huge amount of happiness and joy . . . a hundred pluses and one minus = still a lot of pluses.
May this blog entry be a motivation for you to do the same for your own year. Take time to reflect on all the magic. Look at the negative too, and find the good that came from it. I bet you still have more pluses than minuses.
How can you make new year resolutions without reflecting on the power of a year in your life?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Just when I thought maybe I was losing the ability to feel strong emotions for anything, happiness or anger or sadness, someone served to show me that I can still be totally overwhelmed by my emotions. At the most inconvenient time. Not sure to take this as a positive reminder or a damning reality.

Ooh life, you are full of ups and downs and so many in-betweens. Always asking me to prove that I can. Always requiring that I push forward and find my inner strength. Sometimes I think it might be nice to give up every now and then, to be weak and let the whole world know it. Crawl to a safe place and stay there. But, that just never seems like a real option. So, here we go. May I amaze myself.