Saturday, June 13, 2009

Looking Back: Clean Place Moot 2008

I can remember very clearly where I was exactly a year ago today.

We were driving. I had my face close to the window, staring at mountains outlined in fairy traces of snow. It was like a dream. I was in a van full of friends, girls who had been my constant companions for the past two years. My mother and my friend Kalmiel sat in the front seats, as they were taking turns driving. EveningStar sat on my row. Emerwen and my sister Telpe sat in the row behind me. My older brother Maranar sat in the back row with his small white mouse, Trillian, who was along for the ride.

When we finally turned onto Mangy's street, I looked at the street sign and remembered all the times I'd seen and written that address. I couldn't believe I was actually here, after two long years. It took us a few moments to maneuver our bulky 15-passenger van into the small parking spot in front of Mangy's house. We went around to the back door; I still don't remember why. Emerwen and I were walking ahead of the others. I was wearing my blue cloak, knowing that that would make me very easily recognizable. I remember walking around back and hearing screams of excitement from inside. My very first impulse was to turn around and run.

I had waited for that moment for two years. I had been part of the online community Clean Place since three weeks before my 15th birthday in 2006, and I had managed to meet a few members in person. Nothing like this though. This was the second annual "Clean Place Moot," where members from all over the country would gather in Colorado Springs for 10 days of fellowship and writing. Last year I hadn't been able to go due to financial issues, and it had been very hard for me to be so far away when so many of my friends were together. This year twice as many members were going as had before, and my family and Texan friends were among those new "Mooters." There was a sense of excitement, and yet at the same time I felt nervous - afraid I wouldn't live up to the person they thought I was, to the person I should be. Afraid I wouldn't be able to talk to the right people as much as I should.

Those first few minutes after the door opened are a blur in my head. I remember hugging Mangy, and I remember that Shalana was the only one I didn't immediately recognize (we only had one or two pictures of her at that point). I remember that there was a pavilion out back. I remember Mar bringing out Trillian to break the ice. I remember going in, and Nia making me sit down and drink water (I was coming out of the worst illness of my life, and my endurance was next to nothing at that point). Silver bounced over and gave me some Korean candy to eat. I kept looking at Mightimidget to assure myself she was actually there.

The Ferns arrived pretty quickly. I was very nervous to meet them, because I had known them fairly well for some time and I didn't want to disappoint them by who I was in person. I must have seemed very quiet and cold when I said hello to them.

We headed out to Yellow Leader's that night. I don't even remember the drive to his house anymore; I was so overwhelmed. Someone went down to call the boys up from the basement, and soon Wolfsong and Kryos came dashing up the stairs. I remember shaking Wolfsong's hand and thinking he was friendlier than I expected. For the next thirty minutes, Wolfsong was trying to teach Kryos everyone's names.

We all got sticky note nametags, and before long were eating. I was on the back porch with EveningStar and the Ferns. I was trying to make Telpe drink water, while trying to make myself eat. Soon all the name tags got switched - I remember seeing the dog run past with my name tag stuck to her, and then later sitting down on a couch and grabbing a pillow to find that my own name tag was stuck to it. I was wearing Yellow Leader's for much of the evening, though I don't remember who I got it from.

When the van with the TN and GA crew arrived. I stood flattened against a wall, watching everyone get out. These were some of the people I'd known for longest - Warrior Maiden, Lissi, Elya, Legossi. I wondered if any of them wanted to say hello to me. I walked closer and stood on the outside of the ring of people. No one noticed me, so I went back and stood against the wall again. Eventually Legossi (who I had met before) came up and said hello and gave me a hug. I don't know if I've ever been more glad of a hug in my entire life.

There are so many scattered memories of that first evening. I remember Child playing "How to Save a Life" on the piano, and I remember working up the courage to talk to her briefly. I remember that I talked to Warrior Maiden briefly, and wanted to talk more but was too afraid to keep trying.

Those first few days were basically a continuation of that (though somewhat improved). I enjoyed the activities in small groups best - my favorite memory from the first five days is going to get Caspian at the airport on Monday with Mangy, Lissi, Midget, Child, Mar, and Eowyn. Afterwards Child, Caspian, and I got the lasagna in the oven at Mangy's and we all stood around talking. I think that was the first time I actually enjoyed myself at all.

I fought with myself so much those first five days, trying to learn to talk to people, to smile, to laugh, to hold a conversation without feeling terrified that they'd see through my disguise and realize how incredibly insecure I actually was. I went back to our host's house and cried myself to sleep four out of those first five nights. One night I locked myself in the bathroom and cried and threw things until I felt better, even though I knew it was childish. I felt stranded, and stressed, and alone, and like there was something terribly wrong with me for feeling like that.

The turning point of the whole trip for me was the car accident on Tuesday. We were in a van with 9 girls, and another driver pulled up right into our blind spot as we were turning. There was a bump and everyone screamed. We'd scraped the front of the other car. We lost a hub cap and took some minor scraping, and the front of her car was dented a little.

Most of you who know me well have heard the story of the next two hours many times. Something weird happened in the two and a half hours I spent sitting by the road, helping deal with the other driver and the police officer when he arrived. I forgot myself. I remember praying and giving those hours to God, trusting Him to work things out according to His perfect will. I focused on helping the others around me, at that point particularly the friend who had been driving the van. By that evening I was stressed, sunburned, exhausted, and dehydrated, but something had changed.

The next few days were better. The play was incredible - I found the courage to get up on stage and perform for the first time in years. This was a huge milestone for me. One of my favorite memories is the night I got to sleep over at Mangy's. Mangy, Silver Eagle and I got snacks ready for the next day, Midget crashed on the futon, and Child and Eowyn sat on the living room floor watching Monty Python while Rasi RPGed on her laptop. I loved driving up Pike's Peak. I'll never forget the crazy conversations with Wolfsong and Kryos, how helpful and kind Caspian was (even when our van broke down for the third time), the way it snowed (in JUNE). The insanity of organizing a group picture, eating grapes and crackers and cheese in the cold. Then there was the camping trip. To this day I have no idea why I chased Wolfsong over the mountainside because he stole the marshmallows, but I don't regret it. We all went out and howled at the moon together, and we talked until past 1:00 a.m., even when the fire died down and we were standing shivering by dying embers.

It was the last two days of the moot that I actually felt completely accepted and at home (yes, it took me that long). For the first time I hated to be separated from the group, and I would beg my mother and my roommates to move faster every time we had to go back to the house for something and be away from the action for a while. I don't want to detail the last two days much for personal reasons, but I guess the most important events of the moot really happened then for me.

I remember saying goodbye - hugging everyone, climbing into the big gray van. Sticking my hand out the window and holding onto peoples' hands until the van's motion pulled me away from them. I put earphones in and listened to "Say Goodbye" by Skillet.

It's been a year now. Since that moot I've seen relationships change drastically. I've been through one incredibly difficult and painful year of college, and I have survived. I've seen some of those CPers again, and it's meant more than I could express. Some I may never see again. But there's something I carry with me from those ten days, and it's something I never, every want to lose: the concept of unconditional love. The moot totally changed the way I interact with other people. You know my whole concept of everyone being fragile on the inside? It was the moot that originally started that. It was the moot that taught me that no matter where someone's coming from, what habits or beliefs they have that conflict with yours, no matter how far away they live... no matter how much they hurt you, they are beautiful and worth being loved in spite of all the ugly bits. That's what God did for me. That's what I want to do for other people. That is the legacy left in my heart by the Clean Place Moot 2008.

With time and distance separating me from those ten days, someone might ask me now to sum up what I feel about the Moot. I think I would say something like "It was one of the biggest milestones of my life. It was also overwhelming, exciting, fun, chaotic, stressful, moving, painful, beautiful, and absolutely terrifying." I would have to pause for a moment and smile before finishing with "and guess what? I'm doing it all over again in two months. I can't wait."

If you're an 08 Mooter reading this? I love you more than words can express. God bless.
- Elraen, the Wandering Star




1 comment:

MangyCat said...

Oh, Elraen, you moved me to tears. (And that's hard to do with words for me.) I can't even express how incredibly happy you just made me. *hugs tight*