Saying Goodbye to A Town Where Time Does Not Reside, Part 1

From age 4 to 18 I lived in the type of sleepy towns you read about in books, where people don’t always lock their doors, unless of course you’re us – the only non-white family around for many years. In that case your world is surrounded by Confederate flags in a state that was part of the Union but later became the central stronghold of the KKK, people who believe that immigrants are taking over jobs and that God does not call us to be in interracial relationships (but of course, that doesn’t mean their racist). A few months ago, I posted an article about how the people I knew in my childhood were friends of convenience and not true friends. I had someone reach out to me to say that article made them angry and that even if I thought that, they thought of me as a friend still. Nevermind that friendships do not work that way – that this man’s need to feel absolved from anything that occurred made him forcefully insert himself into my life. But the article rings true as it explains how as lone black children in white schools, you played with kids on the playground only to grow up and see the hatred they spew through social media and their lives.

Being in A Town Where Time Does Not Reside means you can be suspended in a moment to think, but it also means if you never leave, you are almost always suspended in these moments of the type of hate that has formed the foundations of this country. The type that people ignore because they think that racism looks like hooded figures burning crosses, and not the teacher who forces your mother to come into the school to demand that she holds you to the same academic standards as any other student. I’ve noticed that of the handful of true friends I do have from that time in my life, they have all left and found a world outside a sleepy one stoplight town. I’m especially grateful for my friend Emily who has been the type of friend who grows with you as you watch a nation disregard the lives of your brothers and sisters. I think of her comfort and happiness as the one white face in a sea of darker ones in my brother’s wedding photos, and I think of her strength in being willing to cutoff those who she confronts for their inability to understand that #blacklivesmatter.

See, there are those who message me to say they are ‘sorry’ for the constant loss of black life, and I have even been contacted by people who wanted to tell me that they wish they had been better allies when we were children. But I don’t need messages over a decade later or people who would private message me instead of publicly denouncing the anti-black racism of this world. No, I’m not scarred from my childhood. That town was filled with numerous anti-role models and those are sometimes just as valuable as role models. I have become all the things I wanted to ‘in spite of’ and ‘because of’ it.

My family began the process of moving in to a new home this past week. When I visit next month, it will be there that I stay. People have asked me if I am sad that I will no longer be going home to my childhood home. I laugh a little and shake my head ‘no.’ I’m grateful in many ways for that house and that home – but it was the world built within those walls that was home. My parents built a home in the midst of spaces that sometimes actively worked to break it down and passively often wanted to. With that love, they raised five children who knew what it meant to thrive in ways that we carry with us to every place we inhabit. As far as I am concerned, the best people that ever happened to that Town Where Time Does Not Reside will no longer be there. I will have no reasons to return.

The Science of Movement

“To truly understand yourself, your purpose and those around you, you must keep moving. You must move at least five times; five times to open your heart and dip your toes into something new, fresh and life changing.”

I have almost begun the single digit countdown to my next big move: Cambridge, England for (at least) the next twelve months, as I begin a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Development, and Democratic Education (PDDE). It’s a huge mouthful of a thematic route in their Education Department that basically boils down to me investigating how we can use curriculum and school design to facilitate spaces in which students from what I refer to as ‘domestic urban conflict zones,’ can use school to ‘learn to make’ and create a cycle in which what they learn in the classroom is directly translated into their lived experiences in a way that helps them create positive impact and changes in their communities. (Again, I know, a mouthful). And while my excitement about going back to school and living in a new place grows, I am reminded again of all the emotions that accompany such moves.

I would never say that I derive ‘hold fast to my heart’ wisdom from the types of articles that we have all seen that tell you 5 ways to do this, or 9 reasons you should not do that. But once in awhile, I stumble across one that has a title that catches my eye, and I give it a chance. I came across an article a few days ago that was entitled, “Staying is Settling: Why You Need to Move At Least 5 Times in Your Life.” This title piqued my interest. As I read the contents on the page, I began to take a journey over the last seven years of my life, and to the moves that have shaped me in very similar fashion to what the article described. And as I got to the very last line, I realized how much I stood by this philosophy. Maybe not so much in the words that staying in one place is ‘settling.’ I do think that some people just know where they want to build their life and sometimes life just requires such permanent roots. However, I do believe that in movement there is life, and in movement there is the type of ability to grow and change that one does not always find in one sedimentary spot. There is a form of the scientific experiment in moving; a time old positing of questions and and testing them out to see if what you thought was true, was indeed true.

1. To get away from what you know

Your first move is like taking flight for the first time. Like learning to fly, you realize the only thing stopping you from the world is yourself…You have the world in front of you, with nothing but open sky and limitless possibilities.

But first you must leave the nest. You must say goodbye to everything you grew up with, the small world you once considered enough. You must unlatch yourself from the comforts of the familiar and place yourself in the middle of chaos.

This first move is the hardest. It’s the moment you willingly decide to be uncomfortable, scared and alone. It’s making the decision to become a foreigner, an outsider, a refugee. It’s abandoning everything you once cherished for the idea that there’s something better out there.

My first big move was definitely seven years ago when I boarded a one way flight to Boston, a city (and state) that I had never been to before but I had accepted it as my home for the next four years after sending in an acceptance letter to attend Harvard. I always knew I wanted to leave my tiny, rural town of less than a thousand people and see just exactly what else was out there. I knew my opportunities were limited where I was, and I knew that if I could just get a taste of the outside world, I would find my way to the very edges of this earth. Being that far from home and feeling so different from the majority of my classmates life experiences, meant that the first semester was a hard adjustment. I had made a decision to becoming a foreigner in many different definitions of the word, but foreigners also oftentimes bring so much value to wherever they go and can accept to make a new place their home. And over the course of those four years, Harvard became a wonderful home and place of immense growth for me. It allowed me to travel the world (and on someone else’s dime), and I learned to appreciate every opportunity that came my way and drank deeply of each new experience.

2. To find new experiences

The second move you make should be one of restlessness. You should be tired of the same flavors of your now comfortable surroundings. This move is about feeling again. It’s about accepting that you can’t possibly know everything, but you are going to try.

You are going to have experiences, adventures and an unforeseen future. You don’t know who you’ll meet, what you’ll find or how you’ll get there, but you will do it. You will jump into it blindly and openly.

You will make new friends, find new flavors and reignite that passion for life that came with your first move. You will not rest until your hungry soul is placated. You will leave your old friends for new ones, your first language for another and that idea that you’re home for that invigorating feeling of homesick.

While Harvard became home over those four years, it also became too much of a familiar. I had gotten into a routine, and in many ways I was over extending myself because I felt comfortable. I was taking classes that demanded a lot of writing and research, and I was agreeing to more leadership roles in a wide range of extracurriculars. By sophomore spring, I had entered a precursor to burn-out, and I knew I needed to shake things up in order to fall back in love with the world of not knowing what to expect. So I grabbed one of my closest friends, Scott, and we jetted across the Atlantic for a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain.

Being completely immersed in a culture so different from the American one I was used to, with the romantic Spanish language spoken all around me was the move I needed to remind myself of just how much I did not know, and had not seen. And the fact that school was a lot more relaxed than the one I had grown accustomed to, also helped me refocus on other aspects of the world around me. Every day was something new–new people, new sites, new tastes, new smells. And on the weekends, Scott and I, and others we had befriended, would oftentimes go off to another country and briefly experience yet another way of being and living. We had the world at our fingertips. It was a blessing that I was grateful for each day. I did not know what to expect when I made the decision to study abroad, but it was in not knowing that I knew it was what I was looking for and wanted. Between the summer before in Ghana and going straight into my fall semester in Spain, I had stretched myself to new heights of knowing myself and what I was capable of doing and being. I returned that winter different from how I left the previous spring.

3. To chase love

To chase love is to chase happinesses. It’s to decide that you will throw yourself into the swirling, maddening and restless chase we’re all trying to enter. Because love is the ultimate destination, is it not? It’s the reason we move, every day.

If you think you’ve found it… in a person, a city, a job, you must move for it. If your dream job awaits in Spain, you must move there. If your heart yearns for the pink beaches of Bermuda, you must go there. Chasing love is not irresponsible, it’s honest. 

Senior year of college, I remember thinking for the briefest of moments that I should be reading case study books and going to interviews with banks and consulting firms like so many of the other people that I knew who would be graduating with me that year. A brief moment. Luckily, despite a severely flawed and lacking career studies office, I had met enough incredible upperclassmen who were not on a ‘traditional’ path, who I could talk to about choosing a different course. Along my road to find that different course, I did stumble across a traditional route of sorts in the form of Teach for America. I applied, and felt very confident because of my past work in education (a field I do plan on staying in) that I would be accepted. When I was accepted, I wasn’t as excited as everyone else was for me. It didn’t feel right.

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I had been granted money to pursue work for a local child rights NGO in Accra, Ghana. My summer writing and implementing programs to help educate children on their rights and how to get help when those rights were being abused, made me feel alive in my work in a way that few things have managed to top. I was part of a community and bringing aid to an area of direct and very real need. When I left to head to Spain, I felt like my work was not done. And there’s nothing I hate more than unfinished work. So even though I got accepted to TFA, I continued to search for ways to make moving back to Ghana possible. Three weeks before I was set to move to Miami, I got word that I was being granted a postgraduate public service fellowship that would sponsor me for a year of work. I loved (and continue to deeply love) Ghana and its people, and I am so glad that I chased it that year instead of just taking the first thing that came my way. I knew it was the ‘crazier’ more ‘unpredictable’ road, but I was ready to BE there and EXPERIENCE that unpredictable road. I needed to see what post-graduate Delia was capable of doing and being, and in pushing that boundary, I would be able to finish what I had started.

That year brought me greater clarity in what mattered to me in values, more insight into my thoughts on education, made me better prepared when I transitioned back to TFA, and introduced me to my first love. It was an incredible whirlwind, that picked me up, and after it had put me back down, everything it had touched was marked deeply by the relationship I had with that space and place.

4. To escape that love

Love isn’t infinite. It can be found in a moment, a single dose or a fleeting romance. It can be a year of perfect love with someone who isn’t supposed to stay in your life. It can be in beaches that bring you peace until your heart years for something new. It can be in the first bite of pasta and over with its last.

Love isn’t defined by its length but its capacity to touch you and change you. Just because it doesn’t last doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. 

You must never settle, never give in to the idea that you can’t have another one. Because the world is full of things to throw your heart into, things to make you weep and realize (yet again) why you’re alive.

After a year of being immersed in the red dirt of Ghana, landing back in America was an uncomfortable jolt. In an instant I went from a simple existence (cooking on the floor, water from my well, no running water, etc.) to a life that seemed filled with excess. And Miami was a capital of excess, even while being home to those who had so little.

When I left Ghana, was the right time to leave. I had accomplished what I had gone back to finish, and I had made a promise of return to children I had yet to meet in Miami. I couldn’t help but have the internal struggle though that somehow I was doing the normal by going back to TFA and I was going to settle into a life devoid of the “exotic,” the ever-new. I would go from the child who was learning with each day to the adult who needed to immediately have answers because I was now in charge of other people’s children. I had so much love and peace in Ghana, and coming back did not excite me, except to see my family. But I was wrong.

I was wrong to think that one only finds the ever-new thousands of miles away. I was wrong that I would not find exactly what I was looking for within my grasp. I will always have Ghana. That red dirt is a part of my bones and who I have become. And just because I am no longer there does not mean that what was there was not the journey I felt it was when I was there. But it was always meant to be a finite journey. An affair to remember. There in Miami, was still very much a feeling of immense growth and learning. I entered a world in which I was once again the foreigner. Here I would find more things–or I should say students, my children–to throw my heart fully into. Students who made me realize you don’t get just one love, one life-shifting journey in your lifetime. Miami in all its problems and dichotomies was the imperfect-perfect transition from my temporary search for love across the ocean. And even though there are parts of that love (again, people) that are no longer part of my life, I now know that they just become something else that you take and learn from, and move forward.

 5. To begin all over again

You must resist the confines of comfort. You must defy the idea of settled. You must never resign yourself to the ordinary or the easy. You must challenge tranquility for the promise of something greater.

To live is to be born and to continually live is to be reborn, again and again. As a new person, new lover, new friend, you must willingly evolve and transform into new versions of yourself. You must never allow the new place you’ve created to become the final place. You must consistently defy the idea of comfort. 

Here I am, two years after moving to Miami, no longer living and teaching there. The summer found me easing out of my Miami life in California, and now I am spending time in The Town Where Time Does Not Reside, before being swept away in another movement, where I’ll begin journeying all over again.

Staying in Miami would have been easy. I could have taught anything I wanted to, and it would have been an entire environment that I knew the basic ins and outs of from days of tracing the same paths of work and personal life. I had a close group of friends, who defied my claim that I would not make closer friends than the ones I made in college. But it wasn’t where I saw myself long-term. And I wasn’t being developed in the ways I wished to be developed. I felt like a placeholder. I looked great where I was, but I did not have to be there. So I made the difficult decision to leave, and to go in search of, once again, that something that would help me to continue to evolve and grow. My students were growing, but I was not, except in the sense of understanding how to teach reading better, but that was not enough for me. So in a week when I leave for school, I will start to figure out what those next steps look like, but I am content in my thinking that I will feel that I am exactly where I am meant to be. 

I don’t know where my next move will be after England. It is too early to tell. I just know that whether it is to get away from what I know, find new experiences, chase or escape love, it is always a chance to begin again in some manner of the phrase. Here’s to a few more footprints in the air.

Easing into a New Life

AND SO WITH THE SUNSHINE AND THE GREAT BURSTS OF LEAVES GROWING ON THE TREES…I HAD THAT FAMILIAR CONVICTION THAT LIFE WAS BEGINNING OVER AGAIN WITH THE SUMMER.

-F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

When I flew into the Indianapolis airport, I was astounded to see the expanses of brown, dead earth that had creeped upon the usually beautifully green of an Indiana summer. I had heard that the state was in a drought, but seeing how scorched and scorned the earth was made everything more real.

I was only home for less than 24 hours. Enough time to pack up my bags and start the long drive with my family to Miami, where I would be starting the next chapter in my life. When we got there, there was so much rain. There was so much rain, I wanted to take buckets back to Indiana. But I’m not going back to Indiana. At least not for some time. For me, there is green everywhere, from the high palm trees outside my apartment window to the flowers by my parents hotel. There was water as far as the eyes could see as I stood, toes in the sand, gazing out at the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. New things are starting here. There is fresh life all around.

This is how I ease into this new life. My family has been down here since the beginning of the week to help move me in and take a vacation. From The Dark Knight Rises to Ikea to Key West, it’s been the lull that rocks me safely into this new life.

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When a Piece Reads You

It has now officially been over a year since I graduated. May 26, 2011 seems like a lifetime ago on some days, and on other days I can remember distinctly the way the sun felt on me as I posed for millions of photos as if it were yesterday. For the majority of the past year my life has been shaped, often erratically and forcefully, by my time abroad. Perhaps it is better to say that so much of my daily thoughts and actions have been sprinkled with the magic of times spent on distant shore. As I type these words with a blanket wrapped around me on one of the couches in the living room of my parents’ house, I can’t help but think of how different my life is now. Not different in a bad way, but rather just another type of exploration and a calmer source of adventure. But everything I experienced I carried back with me. I would never stay within the baggage allowances of my flights if they had to measure my heart, heavy with the mixed feelings of departures, or my brain, bursting through my head with new ideas and pictures and ways of living. I have been sorting through them since I returned to America.

About a week ago I read an article online entitled “What Happens When You Live Abroad.” There were so many parts of the article that I found myself nodding along to that I felt as though the article was, in fact, reading me instead of the other way around. I wanted to pull out some of the passages I especially felt connected to:

But one thing that undoubtedly exists between all of us, something that lingers unspoken at all of our gatherings, is fear. There is a palpable fear to living in a new country, and though it is more acute in the first months, even year, of your stay, it never completely evaporates as time goes on. It simply changes. The anxiousness that was once concentrated on how you’re going to make new friends, adjust, and master the nuances of the language has become the repeated question “What am I missing?” As you settle into your new life and country, as time passes and becomes less a question of how long you’ve been here and more one of how long you’ve been gone, you realize that life back home has gone on without you. People have grown up, they’ve moved, they’ve married, they’ve become completely different people — and so have you.

I remember before I left for Ghana, I had a conversation with my friend Roxanne, who is often on the move, about how she coped with the feeling that even though she was having her own adventures, that the lives of those she is not with are going and moving forward without her. I did not live abroad for several years, but still there was the feeling of missed connections and missed events. For me, four of my five college roommates moved to New York City and the other moved to a city where we had other friends moving there as well. They often run into other friends we made in university, and through photos and anecdotes, this fact is chronicled for me. And a small part of me worries that I will become the stranger at group gatherings. You know—the one that everyone vaguely knows what is happening to or where he or she is in the world. But I keep in touch and get better with each month at ‘being there’ even when I can’t be there.

Still, the last line of the paragraph rings truest. The greatest change that happened during my fellowship year was the changes that happened to me and not just the world around me. On a smaller scale, I recall having these thoughts when I came back from my semester in Madrid. I was back at Harvard for the spring semester of my junior year. The parties were the same, the workload was the same, and almost everything was as if I had left it in a time capsule. I had changed, but I had come back to a place that was vastly unchanged. The new and challenging environment had forced me into a new stage of my life. Those new stages can happen anywhere, but for me, it was stretching the very core of my being. I have probably only spoken to three close friends in depth about the type of living that requires you to spend hours contemplating thoughts and getting to know yourself in new ways. I have discovered much of what postgraduate me is capable of doing and being. This passage speaks to how I feel:

Walking streets alone and eating dinner at tables for one — maybe with a book, maybe not — you’re left alone for hours, days on end with nothing but your own thoughts. You start talking to yourself, asking yourself questions and answering them, and taking in the day’s activities with a slowness and an appreciation that you’ve never before even attempted. Even just going to the grocery store — when in an exciting new place, when all by yourself, when in a new language — is a thrilling activity. And having to start from zero and rebuild everything, having to re-learn how to live and carry out every day activities like a child, fundamentally alters you. Yes, the country and its people will have their own effect on who you are and what you think, but few things are more profound than just starting over with the basics and relying on yourself to build a life again. I have yet to meet a person who I didn’t find calmed by the experience. There is a certain amount of comfort and confidence that you gain with yourself when you go to this new place and start all over again, and a knowledge that — come what may in the rest of your life — you were capable of taking that leap and landing softly at least once.

It is time for a new phase of my life to begin. On Friday I leave for Miami. Another move to another new place where I will know less than a handful of people. There will be more meals alone and more building new relationships and meanings to the word ‘home.’ These two sentences in the article are probably the ones that struck a sharp chord in my heart when I read it. I cannot think of truer words to share to summarize what my mind has processed during my time in the town where time does not reside. They are the words that remind me how much potential Miami has for more journeys, more loves, and more events that remind me just how durable faith is.

It takes so much to carve out a new life for yourself somewhere new, and it can’t die simply because you’ve moved over a few time zones. The people that took you into their country and became your new family, they aren’t going to mean any less to you when you’re far away.