As I awoke from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I felt sobered and new. Giving into the dark interstate, I began to grieve the last performance I would likely be a part of for at least a year. Please know I’m not under any illusion that a year is some great lapse of time – it isn’t. It is hardly a fraction of the adventure and joy and suffering that will be my life. That said, I am facing a new reality that at the end of this particular year, I will return home someone very different. This, I’ve discovered, under the circumstances of my passion for theatre being put on hiatus, is what I truly grieve. So I gave Shakespeare a toast at midnight and said goodbye.
Come August, I am taking no vacation. What I will be doing in West Africa is so far from easy that I am crippled in the face of it; there is little comfort in the prospect of this trip other than the knowledge that I will come home inevitably changed for the better. I spoke with an alumnus a few days ago who told me that a Global Citizen Year was like drowning with a lifeguard nearby. There are certainly days when I feel absolutely out of my mind for choosing this path: times when I think about belly laughing with my best friend or smelling blue ridge mountain air. Even writing this I wait for a revelation: a clear and concise reason for my decision. It doesn’t come. I am transcending worlds – not as a traveler, not as a savior, but as a naive and inexperienced high school graduate. I know that the Senegalese will teach me much more than I will teach them, and I know that these lessons will be jolting and new; but it is time to understand that learning what is necessary as a citizen of this world comes at a cost that cannot be weighed in a classroom.
As I live in preparation for this journey, there are so many moments that I grieve pre-maturely. There is so much good where I am, I cannot believe I am voluntarily relinquishing it to the unknown. I will miss being comfortable. As a child, I remember stumbling into my grandfather’s office and spinning his standing globe until it made me dizzy. It was nearly sepia – like an old photograph with pink and blue veins, and spangled with points that represented me, my family, and everyone I loved. When I remember this in the blurry detail that my memory allows, I am reminded. The prospect becomes clear. I know, then, that I am taking a Global Citizen Year because I love people; because I believe in the power of a story to travel along the veins of the world and unite us. I am taking a Global Citizen Year to stretch myself in ways that I can’t here, in this dot, on this point on a map. And I know that when I return home, I will be equipped for life in ways I wouldn’t have been had I stayed comfortable. The drowning metaphor is daunting, yes, but there is a postscript to it that I cannot forget: when all is finished, when after a year I finally walk onto the shore, I have arrived. There is a saying in Wolof (a widely spoken language in Senegal) that epitomizes this: “Mangi fi rekk.” Directly translated it means “I am here only.” – but the connotation of this expression is, “I am here and present and grateful.” I expect this saying to be the heartbeat pulsing underneath my time in Senegal – constant, hard, true.
Here is my resolution. Here is my invitation extended to you: drown with me this year. I don’t know what that looks like, but I urge you to jump anyway, and with messy, self-giving abandon. Learn alongside me the counterintuitive art of not knowing. Eight months from now, I am sure that I will see the shore – arrived, and walking bravely into the next ocean.