It’s been exactly one year since I finished AmeriCorps NCCC. (I can finally write out the full name now that I am no longer in fear of having my writing monitored!)
And here’s what I’ve learned this year in Kansas City, and my year on the West coast.
I’ve learned that things matter so much.
And things don’t matter at all.
—But really, everything matters so much.
I’ve learned that people are so flawed and fearful of being found out for the fake they believe themselves to be. And the ones don’t consider themselves a fake come off a fake to the rest of the world.
I’ve learned that it’s always better to run than to not run. I’ve learned that I am a really fragile and sensitive person when I let my natural brain chemicals ride. I’ve learned that I need some help keeping things in balance. And that’s a big thing to accept.
I’ve learned that I can’t solve it all. I’ve learned that there are things you can do, and things you can’t. I’ve learned I can’t control it all, and the best gift you can give to the world is to accept this, and enjoy the moment. And make the changes you believe in, and be the person you imagine you would be if you felt safe and happy. And act from there.
Because almost all hatred and anger comes from misunderstanding. We’re pushing our anger and our fear onto other people, instead of realising that it’s something internal that is off key- not the world. Accept the world, and take the steps necessary to change yourself.
I’ve learned that there are beautiful, beautiful lost people out there in the world. And they are always waiting for you to cross their path. And you will cross their path, when you open yourself up to chance. When you stop trying to control things, you can become things.
In commemoration of surviving a year past NCCC, I want to do a day of reflection on last year. I’ve been scared to reflect, because I’m not sure what I would do with my findings. And also, I’m worried I won’t be able to find what I need to.
So I’m going to just try to do it today. Start the process.
This is honestly the first full reflection I’ve done since finishing NCCC.
This is really the first time I’ve let myself look behind me this year. Maybe the first time I’ve looked behind me in a long time.
Pure, unstructured time to myself this morning.
I fried rice and beans with spinach and egg and salsa for breakfast.
Should always keep a stock of rice and beans in the fridge.
October 2014 I flew to California. I remember feeling really empowered from the get go, as the plane took off.
“This is my worst fear that I’m partaking in right now. If I can do this, I can do anything.”
Made it to California, and hit the ground running with my two new roommates who I believed, truly, were here to tell me something about a story book life. They fit into my life like two sides of a coin- one of them loud and seemingly fearless. The other one quiet and reserved and open about hesitations. One was born in the Rocky Mountains, the other one born in Shanghai’s moving city.
I felt like I was somewhere in the middle of these two. I felt compelled to stay up late with the two- listening to contrasting opinions and lifestyles and finding myself somewhere in the middle.
I’ve heard that when you join Peace Corps, one of the first questions they ask you is “what are you running from?” And it was about the same in AmeriCorps.
We were all running from something. Whether it was a relationship, lack of options, homelessness, or a fear of complacency. We all ran, and we all landed ourselves on that airbase in Sacramento California in October of 2014.
A quiet boy whose room was across the hall from mine and my two roommates, had landed in Sacramento due to a surprise flight.
I would try to get up the guts to talk to him routinely, but everytime I did it came out in bursts.
We didn’t officially meet until a late night at a biker bar in March.
So I sat on my top bunk bed, and listened to my roommates and found myself in the middle of them. I relished the comfort of finding myself in the middle. They made me feel safe and at home.
Soon, I found out that I was on a different “team” than my roommates. This meant that I would be traveling the West coast with 10 other people I had yet to meet.
My team leader came in and introduced herself, who I later found out preferred to be called themself, and was cold and unfeeling. I tried to bond over writing- but there was nothing there.
I realize now that my team leader was probably just scared shitless, and was trying really hard to be a good leader. They were learning.
But I had high expectations from the get go. If I was going to be all the way out in California, I was going to have a leader who was more competent than me, at the very least. And I felt pretty competent back then. Pretty fucking competent.
I sat back as I met my team, and let them introduce themselves to each other while I hung back. It wasn’t that I was scared, but it was that I was scared. And also, I’ve always found it easier to keep a boundary between myself and others. It makes for less explaining, and more ability to gloss over and laugh.
I remember the first time that my team saved me a seat at a meeting, and it made me feel so included. So loved already. I felt I was in exactly the place I should be. I felt I was living a story book, and all I had to do was let it unfold the way it would. And I would live an adventure, and I would grow into who I wanted to become. I would grow into who I was looking to find.
Still, I was reserved. My team was full of love, and wanted everyone to feel included and happy. And so this happiness included mine. And I thought it so strange, that they would be so concerned about my happiness. And then I realized that they were more like me than I had ever known.
For most of my life, I went around like a little shy ghost, imagining I could feel what all the other kids could feel. And it would really tear me apart when I would see the new kid sitting alone at recess. But I didn’t have the confidence or the social skillls yet to be able to smooth over that interaction.
That’s how my team was similar to me, and that’s how most of them were different.
They felt all these things as well. They all genuinely wanted all to feel good. More than I’ve ever seen in any one group of people in my life. And they also were able to do it, without feeling vulnerable. They sang to me when they saw me in the halls, they always sat next to me and called to me to join them with a group. They made me feel accepted and like family from the get go. And they were all so beautifully different and complementary to one another, that it was a story book. We were all characters in a story book. And that’s why I’ve been so hesistant to write a reflection about last year. Because last year was magic, and I want to be able to do it justice.
But if I don’t try now, I probably never will. So I’m telling you now, the whole year- every fucking day that I woke up- I believed in magic last year. I believed in some kind of fate. I believed in the moment, and owning every decision you made. I held myself to a strong moral and ethical code, just for me, not for others. Believing that I was given this chance to live in a story book, and I was going to make choices full of no regrets. Every day.
Of course there are certain things I know I could have done better. But overall, I held it together. I finished the year. From Sacramento to sleeping as sardines in Silver Falls Oregon, to Sacramento to Willits, to Sacramento to camping in downtown Sacramento, to Sacramento to the Arctic Circle, Barrow Alaska.
I remember, the day we were scheduled to fly out of Barrow and back to Sacramento, the winds were worse than they ever had been. And Alyssa woke up from a dream that we had all gotten in a crash. And I took my coffee mug, and went down to the window by the street outside the apartment complex. And I called my Mom, and asked her if I should get on this plane. She said yes, and I got on the plane.
Storybook was the only thing that got me back to Sacramento. The belief in a story that was bigger than myself. That had a course, and I was no one to fuck with it. I had to simply go along with it.
And I miss that storybook life, now.
Though I am still having an amazing time, traveling the world from the Congo to Burma to Afghanistan regularly now days, I have lost the faith in the storybook.
I feel off kilter, and like I am just acting. And my every action is a chance with consequences if I choose wrong.
When last year was the exact opposite. There was not time for much thinking, because I was pulled along with a current that was either going to create me or destroy me. And I was at peace with both.
Though I knew, in my heart, that it was going to create me as it seemed to destroyed me.
I was also peer pressured by my teammates, or perhaps inspired by my teammates, to suck it up and go with the flow instead of trying to map it all out.
We are made in the moments when we stop fighting so much, and just stop to see what happens.
We are made in the moments when we look up and see these 10 other people who are about to get on the plane with you. These full characters, full of life and potential and drive if only we can survive this flight, and tap into that magic.
That day, and everyday after.