Saying Goodbye

Could this be the most hideous word in the English language? Could any other word convey such deep levels of sadness?

I always think there are so many things I want to say when I’m saying goodbye. I should know. I’ve moved over 30 times in my life and at least half a dozen of those have involved significant geographical dislocation. I want to say how much that person has meant to me. I want to let them know just how thankful I am to God and to them for their kindness and their friendship. I want to say how surprised I was that we became such good friends, and how now I can’t imagine life without them.

I have always believed that it is important to actually utter the word ‘goodbye’ when someone is leaving. Not because the friendship is ending. Not because you’ll never see someone again. Not because you don’t care about them anymore. No. It’s because no matter your intention, things will not be the same, and saying ‘see you later’ implies (even subconsciously) that the relationship is not changing. It’s important to recognise the change.

As someone who has moved so much, I know this. And I try to put it into practice. But in the end, the only thing I end up saying is, ‘I don’t know what else to say, other than I’ll miss you’, usually blurted out between uncontrollable tears.

In the moment of saying goodbye, I’m not thinking about logic or being reasonable. I’m thinking about the pain. And it feels like a piece of me is being removed. It’s precise, like a surgeon is using a sharp scalpel to remove a Sarah-sized piece of me. I can’t fight it. I can’t be reasonable. And in reality, I don’t want to. I’m both excited about her new adventure, and devastated at the forthcoming change in our friendship.

My grief and sadness overpowers any other desire to explain just how much this friend means to me. Just how much I have loved being friends with her. Just how much God surprised me with her friendship. The weird thing is, I think she knows. I think she feels it too. She feels the thankfulness. The depth of the friendship. She knows how much it’s going to hurt.

So we cry. We do not need to speak. Together we grieve this loss. This change. It shows me the strength of our friendship that even now, we can sit and cry together, exchanging knowing looks about how much we will miss each other.

This is the pain of being human.

And today? Today I spend the day with a lump in my throat, on the edge of tears, as I process the grief of a best friend leaving. If you see me, please don’t ask me how I am.

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Date a Girl who Reads

This, from Rosemarie Urquico:

You should date a girl who reads.

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

Why I hate Facebook

There. I said it.

I think it was 6 years ago that I wrote a similarly titled article. The point of that one was that the Internet cheapens relationships when you use it for all your communication. I truly believe there is something special and unique and important about face-to-face communication.

6 years ago I was not signed up to Facebook. I resisted for a long time. My reasons were many and varied but mostly I simply believed that being friends in reality was enough. I didn’t need to be friends in the cyber world. Way back in 2006 I had made a promise to a friend that if I ever moved overseas then I would join Facebook. In my mind, that was the only worthy reason for joining Facebook – to stay connected with faraway friends. Plus, at that point I thought the chances of me moving overseas were slim, so it was a safe promise. Then, I moved overseas. I reluctantly joined. As it turned out, Facebook was a little bit of a lifeline for me. I was glad to be able to know about major events in peoples lives and to be part of that in some small way. I suppose it wasn’t quite the evil I had judged it to be. When I came home, it worked in reverse for a little while. I could stay in touch with friends overseas, participating in their lives from a distance.

It didn’t take long for me to become addicted. I found myself checking it all the time. Even in the middle of the night. I simultaneously wanted to know what everyone else was doing, but didn’t want to be part of it. No doubt this had something to do with an identity crisis that persistently attacked me from within. I had somehow missed this huge shift, but at least in some way, people were living life online now.

I adapted. I joined Facebook groups for College Resos, for ECU Grads, for Church, and for a hundred other things. I was invited to parties and weddings via Facebook. It became another way I stayed in touch with people. If I had felt inadequate as a friend without Facebook, then that was only amplified by the odd expectation that Facebook meant I could have meaningful relationships with people all around the globe. I tried harder.

I checked Facebook frequently. Too many times a day to count. In the morning before breakfast. After breakfast. In class I would have it open in another tab so I could see if someone had messaged me or commented on a photo or status. I would go to cafes to do my College work, at least partly so I could get away from the Internet.

Eventually I installed a program on my computer that restricted my Internet access. That was one of the best things I ever did. I turned my phone off at night. Yes, that meant that phone calls and messages also couldn’t come through, but I figured that any crisis that exploded at 3am could wait til 6am when I got up.

But control of the addiction isn’t enough. There’s another huge reason why I hate Facebook. Almost every time I log on I see photos of my friends new babies, or engagement announcements, or pictures of weddings. I’m not the Happy Family Grinch, I really do love weddings and children. And mostly I am happy with the life I have. But my contentment is fragile, and easily bruised. Am I the only one? I would like to get married and have kids (is it OK to actually say that?), and sometimes my Facebook feed is a painful reminder that I am not. Sometimes, it feels like everyone else in the world is doing what I’d like to be doing. And it makes me want to de-register my account and never go on Facebook again. I’ve been around enough to know that some of my friends see my Facebook feed and think that they’d like to be doing what I’m doing. The grass is always greener hey?

Where to from here? Facebook is a good tool to maintain faraway friendships, and perhaps it is even a useful organisational tool at the local level. But too frequently I find myself envious of others as I watch their lives unfold online. The best book I’ve read on this issue is called The Next Story, which outlines the history of the digital explosion, and some of the key things to consider when thinking how to use the internet. Still, it only asks the hard question:

  • How can I use Facebook and not be used by it?

It is up to us to find the answer.

Adieu.

4 years. 8 semesters. 104 weeks.

23 essays. 21 exams. 1 critical reflection. 2 book reviews. 1 sermon series. 1 presentation. 1 project.

4 mission weeks. 3 sermons.

This is the end.

This time last year I said goodbye to a group of people who had become such a huge part of my life. The sadness sat over and around me like a fog. I don’t quite know when or how it eventually lifted. I have been waiting for it to descend again. It hasn’t. I have not yet cried about finishing college and leaving this ragtag group of people who have taken up residence in my heart.

But as I pack up my room I am filled with nostalgia.

I remember the day I moved in. I remember driving my parents car into the driveway at number 28 and being parked in by Kylie. I remember how it only took one trip in the car to bring all my stuff in. I remember feeling intensely insecure and uncertain. I remember being afraid of becoming one of ‘those’ Moore College people. I remember unpacking and feeling certain that this room with its green feature wall would never feel like home. I remember sobbing myself to sleep the first night I slept here, not sure of who I was, why I was here, or what the next one year, three years or even four years would hold. I remember the unfamiliar hallways and fixed meal times. I remember feeling like I was on camp. I remember not knowing anyone. I remember feeling like an outsider.

And then we graduated into second year. Finally we weren’t ‘first years’ anymore. I remember thinking how hard the work was. I remember the whole year feeling like a massive high. I remember feeling comfortable in my friendships. I remember welcoming Kate and Tam on to our corridor. I remember the feeling of knowing what I was doing because I could help them. I remember writing and essay on the resurrection of Jesus and talking about it with my barista. I remember welcoming little Annabelle into the world. I remember the comfort of not having to say goodbye to anyone from our year.

Third year was a vacuum. Not the excitement of first year. Not the delight of graduating in to second year. Not close enough to the end to see it. Just stuck in the middle. I remember the terror of panic attacks. I remember the kindness of Katie who would sit with me during them. I remember the tears. I remember the confusion. I remember a lot of sleepless nights. I remember the stars. I remember Paul and Ryan letting me lie on their couches and just be. I remember Michael’s lectures on the Christian life. I remember the love-hate relationship I had with ethics. I remember learning in a new way that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

All of a sudden we were in fourth year. I remember deciding to do both my electives and audit a subject in first semester (not my finest moment). I remember the pain and joy of Shapers. I remember becoming real friends with lecturers. I remember the moment I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I remember wanting to do a project, and then wishing I hadn’t, and then glad I did. I remember wanting to make the most of the limited time with people. I remember being too tired to make conversation. I remember being thankful for friends with whom to be silent. I remember wishing Sarah and Kylie were here. I remember the way God provided new friendships. I remember the feeling of satisfaction.

And so much more.

And now we are finished. I feel like I blinked and suddenly it’s over. There are too many things to miss. Too many things to grieve. Studying together, not only with brothers and sisters, but with friends. Living together, and the unusual delight of just popping by to say hi. Learning together, both being taught and teaching each other.

I used to think that I made the decision to come to college because I wanted to be trained to do my job better. I wanted to spend time studying the Bible to grow in my knowledge of God so that I could teach others. Now I realise that God brought me here to break me. Never have I been so aware of my own sin, my own faults and failures. Never so aware of God’s unfailing, unending and unchanging grace. I am not the same person I was when I came here.

I wait for the fog of grief to descend. I am certain it will come.

But for now, Moore College, I bid you adieu.

I lost myself, and found someone better

My plane landed in Sydney on the 24th of January 2010. Three days later I moved all my worldly possessions into the room at Moore Theological College that I have now occupied for almost 4 years. Four days after that I spent my first night here. Then class started.

For the 13 months previous to this I had lived Mexico City. I lived with a charming Mexican family in one of the more pleasant parts of that megacity. When I was 24 I decided that I wanted to do one year of my MTS Apprenticeship overseas. I knew some people there, they invited me to train with them, I said yes, bought a plane ticket, and was on a plane within 7 months. I spent the year working with Compañerismo Estudiantil (it’s the AFES equivalent in Mexico).

But I digress.

Looking North West over Mexico City

Living in a megacity is a bit like living between the emergency department of a hospital and a rave dance party. All day and all night are marked by sirens, people shouting, dogs barking, children yelling, and noisy buses. All day. All night. It is a huge city, and it never sleeps. This, mixed with worsening digestive problems, produced in me a highly strung, intensely stressed personality. I didn’t know any of this until I got back to Australia and slept at my parents house. It was so quiet. I felt like I could breathe. It took me a long time to unwind all that pent up stress.

But this was the least of my problems.

As I was reunited with friends and family, I felt both there and not there. My body was there, but something was missing. And it wasn’t just jet lag. That bit of me never came home. The Tess that I knew was somehow no longer with me. This perplexed me no end. Australia is my home. Sydney is where I grew up. I expected to be comfortable here. Instead, everything felt foreign. I expected to know what language to speak. Instead, I would go to say something and it would come out in Spanish. I expected myself to be able to relate to people. Instead, I found myself wondering why people were being so cruel to me. I’d never had these problems before. I’m not socially awkward, I am pretty good at making friends, and usually love being in new places with new people. Not anymore. Now, the list of things I no longer knew how to do was endless. And extremely disconcerting.

I had expected to be able to slot back into my lovely Australian life as I had left it 13 months before. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only did I not know how to slot back in, as I watched others live their lives I wasn’t entirely certain that I wanted to. It didn’t look as appealing as it used to. I knew that I had lived like that for many years, but I wasn’t certain anymore. All I had was zillions of questions. And no answers. Again, disconcerting.

I had never consciously decided to live the way I had before going overseas, it was just the way it happened. I adopted my familial ways of doing the washing up. I emulated the fashion and music tastes of my friends. I wanted to fit in, after all. I travelled, because that’s what you do in your early 20s. I went to uni, because that’s what you do when you finish school. I never questioned any of this. I never asked why we do things the way we do. I just copied. I grew into well-worn patterns that had been trodden by many people before me. What could be so wrong with that?

Because I had travelled, I knew that moving to Mexico would mean learning a whole new way of living. I had prepared myself to consciously think about new ways of both verbal and non-verbal communication, of thinking, of shopping, even of doing the washing up. A thousand things, some big, some little, needed to be learned. It was fun, for the first two months. Then terrible for two months. And then, it just was. What never struck me was that I already had learned ways of doing these things in Australia, it just hadn’t been conscious. So when I got back, everything came crashing down. I had to learn everything. Again. Like a child. Every single moment was plagued by this learning, but was mirrored by my internal dialogue which persisted with the phrase: ‘you should know this’. I came to know this constant companion as reverse culture shock.

I watched as endless nameless faces paraded before me asking what I did before college, what living in Mexico was like, what I hoped to do afterwards, and then paid me out for all those things. Confusion was the order of the day. I cried a lot. A LOT. I skipped most of my Greek classes that year because I was having enough trouble figuring out whether to speak English or Spanish. I didn’t need to add another language into the mix. I would sit in the sun and quietly cry behind dark sunglasses.

IMG_2222

I was focusing on surviving. Anything more than that was a bonus. At almost every point I questioned why I was here. Most of the time I didn’t even want to be here. I struggled through essays and exams and classes. I almost dropped out once or twice. I had always planned to stay for three years but on a spur of the moment decision I had enrolled in the one year diploma. I vacillated between staying and leaving maybe half a dozen times that year.

My whole life had been ripped apart. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know how to live here. I didn’t know how to relate to people. It was a total disaster.

Through the tears and exhaustion, I knew something had to be done. But what? How was I going to put a life together? And would I be happy to live it? Only questions. No answers.

From pretty early on I knew I didn’t simply want to emulate those around me. There had to be another way. I couldn’t really put my finger on why I thought this, but I was certain. Whenever I caved, my heart and mind would chime in, asking, ‘Why are you doing this? Do you really like those jeans? Or do you just like them because she thinks they look good on you? What do you like/want/think?’ It was a question that I didn’t know the answer to. And it happened over and over again. It was exhausting.

So I embarked on a journey of self-discovery. I would open iTunes and look through music I’d never heard of until I found something I liked. I would wander down King St, Newtown and find some clothes that I liked on me. I needed to spend a lot of time with myself to get to know myself and my likes and dislikes. It was unpleasant. I was a total mess. I was no fun to be around. I did not enjoy my own company. All I wanted was to get out of my head, and here I was intentionally spending time with myself. Surely that is the definition of madness. Not only unpleasant, it was also really hard. I had been conditioned to know what I think only as I know what others think. What did I think? How would I even figure that out? It took a long time. And I’m not even finished yet.

There has been some beautiful fruit from this long and painful process. I am more sure of who I am than I was four years ago. I like electronic and rap music. I never knew that. I like having my books in colour order on my shelves. I never knew that. I like to write, and I certainly never knew that. I have opinions. That scares me, but it’s a bit fun to know what you think. I am creative. I think I knew that, but it has taken on a whole new level in the last few years. I am whimsical and dream up blanket forts. I love to be the date night enabler for my married-with-kids friends. The funny thing is that I would never describe myself as confident, but maybe for the first time in my life I have a sense of myself.

I’m certain that I would never have done this or ended up here had my life been not pulled apart by moving continents a couple of times. Why would I have messed with something that worked? But now that I can actually think about it, I am so grateful for the chance to discover the person that God made me to be. I’m not done, I’m sure I will keep finding out more stuff about me as time rolls on. I’m a little bit excited about that. Who will I be? I don’t know, but He does, and I actually can’t wait to find out.

For now, I like this Tess. I might even like her better than the old Tess.

me. happy.

I’m not ready to grow up

I am 29 years old. I am about to graduate from a tertiary education institution for the second time. And I’m still not ready to grow up.

Perhaps you think I’m just another example of Gen Y kids being unwilling to move out of their parents houses and take responsibility for their own lives. Can I assure you that this is not me? I have lived out of home since I was 20 and took on a great deal of responsibility at a very young age.

To me, growing up includes taking responsibility but is fundamentally about something else. When I think of growing up I think of stale, boring jobs. I think of what doesn’t change. And the problem is this: I haven’t done everything I want to do. I still want to be a baker, an astronaut, a train driver, and a pilot. I want to learn how to be a carpenter, how to fix a dripping tap, and how to grow a plant from a cutting. I still want to get a tattoo and dye my hair. I still want to learn French and Italian and Russian. I still want to travel to Morocco and Alaska.

I’m not ready to let go of my dreams, but we are standing at a crossroads. The time for study and excessive holidays is passed. And it feels like the time for stable jobs and families and circles of friends is here. Goodbye freedom and whimsy, hello stability.

Ever since I can remember I’ve always loathed stability. It’s why I don’t go back. I won’t live in the same place twice. I usually won’t holiday in the same place twice – there’s too many places to explore. Even now as I holiday at Diamond Beach, it isn’t the same as previous years. In first year I discovered that I actually liked my friends (if you guys are reading this, thanks for giving me 9 months grace). In second year it was not like first year and that made it sad. And now, it’s all a bit bittersweet and somber because we don’t have three years in front of us, we don’t even have three months.

We stand on the precipice of the future, gazing into the unknown, and I only see fear. I fear becoming stale and boring. I fear that my dreams will pack up and leave me. I fear that my whimsical, daydreaming, crazy holiday planning, creative, flower picking self will be left behind and replaced with a boring adult.

Who will I be? How will I change? How will I force myself to stop running? Only God knows.