Full disclosure: I am writing this post in the Houston airport on three hours of sleep in one of the most tumultuous weeks I’ve had this year.*
I was hoping to upload this second blog post last Saturday, September 2nd; the day the Ecuador cohort was supposed to leave for Quito. Due to Harvey’s damage of the Houston airport, the first leg of our flight to Quito was canceled, extending our stay in California another four days. So much has changed in those four days, both internally and externally, that I decided to completely scrap the draft I hashed out on September 1st to better convey my new feelings and insights. The duration of “Program Launch”, a structured week living in the Stanford dorms filled with inspirational speakers and mindfulness trainings, can be characterized as the antithesis of the YMCA Downtown Berkeley‘s scattered sessions and seemingly endless free time.+ Inspired by the artfully crafted orientation week, I decided to take a crack at crafting my escalating emotions into poetry. I think this poem is a nice depiction of my headspace and thought process towards the end of Program Launch: the anticipation, the anxiety, and the alliteration. I wrote the following poem in my notebook throughout the course of a day:
It’s the rush.
That adrenaline pumping— Pulsing, pouring, pushing — through my bloodstream.
Teetering on the edge
I tip-toe to peer into the endless abyss of what one step of life can destroy.
Stress jabs at the small of my back.
Stumbling, a rock jolts off the plateau of complacency
It falls, without a sound
That was back in July.
The pressure builds.
Energy expands, encircling each rib.
My heals dig into the dirt, scrambling to counter the tension
An attempt to stomp on the toes of anxiety.
Instead, inches of a rusty, orange childhood crumble.
Some connections, clinging their roots to dried soil, wither under the California sun
Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to live minimalistically.
There goes my comfort.
There go my excuses.
There goes familiarity.
Here goes nothing.
I take one step forward.
Gaze, not down, but up to the horizon.
Full of gratitude, dripping with fear.
If only my little, naïve self a week ago would understand that’s not quite how my experience would go. Rather than a clean “jump” into Ecuador, as the week at Stanford was built around, I boarded a bus to the East Bay rather than SFO. I was terrified. The distance I built between my home and Palo Alto was already dubious at best, with old friends visiting me on the Stanford campus. If you told me the day I left that I would drive past my exit on 580 within the week, lead a tour of Oakland/Berkeley, introducing landmarks of my childhood like Julia Morgan Theater and St. Augustine’s Church, and invite all fifty Fellows to my house, yes MY house, for a Labor Day BBQ, I deem it psychological torture. That run-on sentence was just a taste of what ran through my head. Saying goodbye to my friends, family, and hometown once was hard enough — think notorious Danny crying picture all over again—how was I supposed to do it all over again?
The answer derived from the previous week at Standard. The skills and tools we learned as coping mechanisms to help with the stress and unknown of living in a foreign country were put to the test in Berkeley. I pulled out my notes from lectures, skimming over more advice than I could need for the next ten years. “Live at the speed of life, not light”—Why should I be obsessed with getting to Quito if I can bond with my fellow Fellows in one of the coolest cities in the world. “Make lemonade out of lemons”—Instead of another reheated, low-budget meal (a staple of the YMCA) to celebrate Labor Day, my family and I were able to give everyone a taste of home in this hectic time. “Let go sometimes”—There’s nothing I could do about getting to Quito faster, so I shouldn’t worry about what I can’t control; inhale, exhale, and know it will all be just fine in the end. By taking a step back and embracing the setbacks, I was able to not only uniquely bond with new friends, but banish any traces of homesickness. The MacArthur Maze, fun tours, and a special BBQ didn’t weaken my heart, but widened my smile. Sometimes, it takes the pothole ridden Berkeley experience to recognize how impeccably paved the paths were at Stanford.
*Because I didn’t have WIFI when I landed in Quito to post this, the delay gave me time review this post a few days later. I laughed out loud when I read my overdramatic and semi-pretentious use of the word “tumultuous”, and I bet you did too. But I’ve decided to keep it to hold the integrity of this piece.
+ Who knew that YMCA was also a hostel?