Monday, September 23, 2013

Passport Renewal

Because I am planning a trip later this month, I realized a little late that I needed to renew my passport. I also realized that I had to let go of my passport issued in 2003 when I was first heading off to study abroad in France.  That was a tough pill to swallow.

It has certainly come full circle because the whole reason I am taking this trip is to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of studying abroad with a member of my Grenoble cohort.  I was flipping back through the pages and pages of stamps from different countries, remembering what it was like to be exploring and living in a new country and learning a new language with totally new people.

This was my first visa ever.  I sat down and thumbed through the pages of the passport musing over the places that my eyes have seen and my feet have trod.  This was a really hard passport to let go of.   I remember running through Parisian train stations in winter hoping to catch a bus to the airport on time. I got really sweaty with my winter coat on and with my passport in my back pocket, all the heat made the passport book a little damp and it dried all wrinkly.   I used it so many times that the cover was worn out and strings were coming out of the sides.  It had four or five security stickers on the back.  Looking at it and turning that soft, somewhat battered book in my hands I was so thankful for so many opportunities.  I let the memories flood my mind.  

I thought about the doors that first visa opened.  The word visa comes from the Latin verb for "to see".  Each stamp made me think about the visual impressions that awaited me behind all of those customs desks in all of those airports, all over Europe.  In 9th grade I took a trip to England with my World Civilizations class over Spring Break and within the first 24 hours of being in England I had made up my mind to study abroad in college.  Then, I remember going to the Reves Center in college, talking to an advisor, figuring out everything with my schedule and basically making my entire college career revolve around spending a year in France.  I remember over the summer before I left to go, I spent a morning at the French Embassy in DC getting my visa and thinking, THIS IS HAPPENING.  I remember leaving my parents at Dulles Airport and being overcome with emotion, about 5% fear and 95% excitement.  That first visa, those first stamps, they were welcoming me into a new era of my life, welcoming me into my vocation, into my future career.  I could feel the weight of what I was about to do.  And here I sit at my desk, fully entrenched in my chosen path, understanding the significance of those first steps and how they shaped me.  

That year I filled page after page with stamps - Czech Republic, Ireland, UK, Italy, Spain, Greece, Egypt.  I am in the process of going back over the blog entries from that year and reposting them in an updated format with 10 year anniversary commentary.  In fact, this blog entry is what inspired that project.   

Then two years after I returned from France I headed back out into the unknown waters of the Caribbean Sea.  That was one of the most trying years of my life but I know how formative it was as well.  I got an escape at a time I really needed it and was able to meet some amazing people and see amazing things.  It was another step in the journey.  That adventure was what inspired me to start this blog.  My first entry was on the 8th of May, 2006.   I was inspired to write because  I felt like my life was pretty interesting when I traveled.  I've learned that I need to write things to process them, and something about the blog platform enabled me to share that with people in a private way.  That's one of the biggest lessons I've learned over these years:  to accept that the people in my life really do care about me, and want to know what I am thinking.  I should tell them more, and listen more still.  

Oh the South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe trip.  After Martinique and a second stint in Williamsburg, you represent my grad school years and the most serious relationship I've ever been in.  The next big stage in my life and the first big step towards a career and owning my adulthood.  Put many more hard lessons and heartaches under my belt.  

Turkey, my last big international trip.  I always go on a big trip in the wake of a big breakup.  Something about leaving the country gives me space enough to think more clearly.  It takes me out of myself a little bit.  

What does this new passport hold?  What are the pages that remain to be written?  What kinds of stamps and impressions will be made? Only God knows.  But each one of these past stamps is like a tattoo.  It's become part of what makes up the jigsaw puzzle that is me.  I've been thinking so much about what makes up the "self".  So much of who that person is is who has filled it to this point, that is, mostly just the person I thought I was or who I hoped other people thought I was.  All these extraordinary journeys played a role in stretching me, helping me figure out what about the picture I wanted to project was actually true, and what I just wanted to be true because it sounded good or was more widely accepted.  I'm seeing now that relinquishing that control, and giving more of myself in my relationships is slowly diminshing that need.  I am finding there is more room for others because of that.  This has been a source of incredible joy, to know the people in my life in new ways.  Some of them have been in my life for 15 years or more, and in some ways I feel like I am just now seeing them for real.  

What a great mercy.  We can live our lives around people and never truly know them.  And we can live our entire lives without ever really living.  I spent a lot of time traveling and working to cultivate knowledge of the world and the great things it has to offer.  I know that it has shaped me and I am thankful for every moment of it.  But I also know that I was walking blind through most of that with only a flash here and there of what I was really doing and why.  

I think what I have taken away from this reflection is that now, at 30, having more intention and purpose in my movements has added depth and a joy to everything, even to the sorrows.  With each new impression, each new door that is opened to me, within my community at home or wherever I am led, I hope that I will always be grateful, fully present, and open to what there is to see. 

Strange Realization

Today on my metro commute home, I was switching to the yellow line at Gallery Place as I usually do.  I saw that a Yellow train was coming in one minute.  I remember there was a green train on the board before it, but with no arrival time, so I shrugged it off as a probable no passenger train.  I was pretty engrossed in my book, and without really thinking about it, I got on the next train that arrived.

After a few stops, we were in a tunnel and I looked up and around me.  I noticed two things:
1) The train was much more empty than it usually is.
2) I was the only white person on it.

And that alone was enough to know I was on the Green line.

It was an odd moment for me to identify going in the wrong direction not by geography at all, but by ethnicity.  Sure enough, the next stop, where I got off to correct my mistake, was Congress Heights, about 4 stops past where I should have been.  As soon as the train came back into the district near Nats Stadium and Navy Yard, the ethnic make up began to diversify the closer we got to downtown.

As I walked home through my neighborhood and the mixed income housing developments that line my street, the $800,000 townhomes and the Section 8 row houses that exist side by side, I thought about the people who make up my neighborhood and I hope I get to meet more of them.   DC is a divided city. There is still tension, socio-economically, racially, spiritually, politically; it exists at all levels.  Getting on the wrong train today was a good reminder of that, and a spur to think about ways to bridge gaps or at least to be ready for opportunities for understanding better why that divide exists and what my role in it is.

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