The last few days anywhere are hard. Whether you leave on good or bad terms, there is stress. There is nostalgia over what once was, what has long past, memories made and experienced lived. It is over. Time has gone on, and now so must you also. On to another chapter in this story of your journey. On to new faces and new experiences and new possibilities, new opportunities to see and be seen. New chances to love and be loved.
I have been packing for college this week, and I leave on Sunday. But this isn’t just packing for college. I’ve done that before. This is packing for the next life, the new life, or at least a few of its chapters. I am going to school, and I will leave behind the home I’ve known for the past nine years. These walls, I will not be returning to. There will be new rooms in a new city in a new state. A new kitchen and a new library and a new church. My parents are moving soon after my brother and I are settled in at school. This whole summer, my mom has been asking me how I feel about moving. I’ve answered the same way every time: “it’s happening.”
Tonight, the first twinges of emotion came through. I do not feel except through others, and my parents have been away so much this summer that I have not caught their frequencies, their emotional wavelengths. My brother’s are mostly buried in apathy and privacy, and I took to mimicking it for myself. I had nothing else to work with. But tonight, I was in the onslaught of “lasts”, surrounded by nostalgia and remembrance. It was a night that happens every year in the young adult community that I am a part of. Or was. It’s the night where those who are 26 are blessed, prayed over, and sent out–into the greater body of the church, into the world at large.
As you can imagine, there was plenty for me to work with. I sat, mostly anxious and staring off into my own memories, scattered and vague as they are. It was hard to focus. I knew the night’s theme and had left my journal at home, but I wish I hadn’t. It would have given my nervous hands activity, would have soothed my stress. No matter. I sat through, did my best to watch and consider and keep calm enough. I wasn’t feeling well, which only added another distraction, but I managed fine enough. I watched as people remembered, as they offered wisdom and encouraged, as they loved and let go.
I love rites of passage. It is a monumental time, in not just one person’s life but in an entire community’s. Sometimes, it is a defining moment in an entire nation’s, a whole kingdom. These are the moments that history is made of. I am always honored to be witness to such monumental moment in people’s journeys, but it also brings with it a sharp prick of pain. I am not vain by any means, nor do I care for attention, but I have lived most of my life yearning to belong. A rite of passage denotes time spent, struggles overcome, honor earned. Here is a place where you know and are known, where you give and are given to. But I seem only to fall through the cracks every time.
I’ve moved around, lived and visited internationally, and never been much connected to anyone or anything. There was never anything to hold onto save the three other people with me, and soon enough even we had to grow apart as education and work work took us in new directions. I’ve lived here, in this house, for seven or so years, I’ve called it home for nearly nine. Moving away from college, I haven’t really stayed here much, but it has been a place to come back to, with familiar things and places and people. Of course they grew and changed, came and went, but doesn’t everything? Still, it was what I knew. And now I will know it only in memory, and only for however short a time those might last me.
Like the ones who were prayed over and commissioned, tonight was my last night of youth group. I know not when I will see them again, if ever, in this life. I was struck by awe, in the last moments as I watched a room full of people worship their God. My God. I may not see them again, I may have never said to them a word, but parting ways here will not be the end. Not the forever end, at least. In the forever end we will all be reunited, praising Our God–10,000 years and then forever more.
Along with this realization came another–I would not have this hope, this joy, this reassurance, had it not been for these very people, this very place. I visited that church one month when my own wasn’t having youth group. So I went to theirs, since several kids from my school went, and I was shocked. That night had been the kick-off for the school year, and an entire auditorium was filled with kids grades 6 through 12. We praised, we considered, we were inspired. On fire. It was easy to be swept up in it, to be carried away. I kept going, that month. And even after the youth group resumed at my old church, I kept going there. That was sophomore year, and I have worked to make that church my home ever since.
I was amazed to find that, there, within those walls, I was seen. I was a person. I was not hidden in the shadow of the reputations of my parents and my brother. I was not expected to be well behaved, highly knowledgeable, and wonderfully privileged just because of my last name. They wanted nothing but to get to know me–and I gave them a hell of a time of trying to do it. I was more than guarded. I was brittle, fragile, straining under the weight of holding myself together. But they broke me, and when I fell apart, they picked up my pieces and held them in place.
For someone who had always drifted and faded into invisibility, here was a place they knew my name, my face, and the bits of my story I shared without expecting anything in return. Here was a place where I was loved, just because I showed up–and even when I didn’t. Here was a place where there were arms waiting to embrace me, hands ready to hold mine, shoulders primed to be weighed with my burdens. I mattered, here. I was worth something. I kept my walls, clung to my distance, and often kept their arms and hands and shoulders empty. I refused the contact most of the times, but they never stopped proving that they were not afraid of the scars on my legs, the hate in my heart. Their love made them bold, and it showed. My God, did it show…
So now, five years later, I am bound to leave. How do I feel about moving? Well, here was the last night at the first place where I didn’t fall through the cracks, where I ever felt loved. Here was the represented community of a people that have loved me, that have carried me to the cross, that have laid me at the feet of Jesus and not left my side. I didn’t see it then, but I rarely do. My trip to Toronto this year was like a conclusion to everything I learned the year before, and tonight has been the conclusion to that first night five years ago. Shock. Disbelief. Certainty.
What am I certain of? Well, that I have been loved here. I am certain that this place has left a mark on me that will never fade, though the memories might. My heart is forever changed. I am certain that I have grown, that I have learned to live, to love. And I am certain that this is not the end. Because the end is where we begin, when we are gathered as one, rejoicing and singing praises to Our God–10,000 years and then forevermore.