Monday, August 24, 2009

Sunshine and Rain: The CleanPlace Moot 2009

[reposted from facebook for those who don't have an account there]

I unpacked the suitcase I took to the moot yesterday, at long last. Maybe that's the sign that I've finally moved far enough away from the experience that I can actually look back at it clearly-- I don't really know. Regardless, I'm going to try to write this now, before the memories fade too far away. I shared some of this the last night of the moot, around the campfire, but this is the full story... beginning, middle, and end. It's a long story, as is to be expected, so if you're short on time it would be acceptable to skip towards the ending. It is also a very honest story, which makes it hard for me to post, but some words need to be written and shared.

There was a rainbow waiting to greet us when we reached Colorado Springs. Not the fragmented kind you catch through the trees in Texas; this vibrant rainbow stretched over the city, making full use of the wide horizon. I thought it was probably a good sign. Rainbows are symbols of faithfulness, after all, and when facing something that I felt incredibly uncertain about, I needed the reminder. As we drove through the city, rain pelted the windshield, but sunlight made it glitter. Sunshine and rain. I wrote in my journal later that I found it significant. I didn't know why yet.

The first few days with Mangy and Midget were good days-- days of settling in, days of smiling, days of Skillet on the radio, days of too little sleep and too much Mountain Dew (courtesy of Legolas). But I couldn't take it in yet. I kept wondering is this what it feels like to be happy, maybe?

A week later, when staying with a couple my family grew close to during the 2008 Moot, I would say that the 2009 Moot was the best week of my life. Mr. Jon asked me if that was because it was really that good, or because the rest of my life was that bad. I answered that it was a bit of both. Those first few days with Mangy and Midget, my school came up a lot. Every time I didn't really know what to say, because I've never known how to talk about it. All I knew was that the thought of going back made me feel trapped and desperate.

I learned a lot, my first year of college, and not just about calculus and biology and psychology. I learned how to be completely numb. It was a self-defense method, at first, because I knew I couldn't keep getting up in the morning if I kept feeling the way I did. The depression screening I did at midterm my first semester told me I needed to see a counselor, that I was dangerously depressed. The screening I did in psychology told me about the same thing, in addition to the unnerving fact that the section on depression in my textbook basically described my life at the time. But this didn't bother me much. I'd fought depression on and off for four long, long years, and I had almost always chosen to fight that battle alone. It had been so much better, after the summer of 2007, but now it was worse again. And I have never been as alone in my life as I was my first semester of college. I didn't adjust like the other students, and they barely knew I existed. Because my situation was so unique and different from everyone else, I found it almost impossible to form connections. Every time I tried, it made things so much worse. After trying to ignore it for too long, I made a decision that I was not created to have close relationships. I would stop trying.

My entire second semester was spent running from the memory of the first, the unanswered question I just couldn't face. At the beginning of that semester I wrote the following on my blog: Most of all I'm trying to make a resolution to try to be happy. I have to try; it doesn't come naturally to me, nor does it come easily. It's a complicated maneuver I can never quite get the hang of, no matter how I try to figure it out. Maybe I would have done better on that particular resolution if I had actually allowed myself to feel at all. But I was too afraid.

In the days and months leading up to the moot, I could feel at least one thing: terror. I couldn't get away from it. One of the things I was most afraid of is that I wouldn't be able to feel, and so I wouldn't know if I'd enjoyed the moot or not-- I was afraid it would slide away like any other day, in the familiar haze I created to hide behind. But above all, I was afraid that I wouldn't be accepted there, wouldn't be wanted, because I was not good enough to be on level with these incredible people.

I wasn't ready for the lock-in. When everyone got there, I felt panicked. I went into survival mode. Too many people, too little safety, and too much noise. Noise everywhere, screaming in my ears as everyone else yelled and shrieked and laughed. The noise proved to me my own complete and total inadequacy. I couldn't be part of the noise. I was too quiet, just like at school. I wasn't good enough. Curling up in dark corners crying wasn't working, so I finally found a safe place in the dark sanctuary by the piano. Music has always seemed so safe to me.

Saturday was better, but still hard. I kept watching everyone else, seeing them laughing, and trying to figure out if I could imitate them well enough to start enjoying myself like they were. I remember that evening, after worship (which was incredible... I hadn't done anything like that in a long, long time), I stood in the kitchen and talked to Rivus, Daeriel, and Wolfsong before going outside to howl at the moon with a group of other crazy people. That was the first time I started to feel a little bit... safe.

The next morning, Nia sent us all out to be by ourselves and remember what it is to be silent. I was thrilled at the prospect, because being quiet is something I do rather well. I went farther than I probably should have, but I couldn't resist the perfect, smooth rock surrounded by aspen trees, beside a grassy clearing with white flowers dotting tall green grass. It was the first time I'd had a chance to really be still and quiet and talk to God since beginning traveling three weeks earlier.

After a conversation that I'd needed to have with Him for a long time, I simply asked God if He could show me what it was to be happy. And I didn't just ask; I actually really, truly wanted it, more than I wanted the numbness and the fear. Instantly, a deep, intense, indescribable gladness hit me like a breaking wave. I literally couldn't breathe at first. It was a feeling I had never imagined existed in such a strong, pure form. I felt so incredibly alive, my black and white world suddenly vibrant and colorful. And I knew that I was changed.

The following days were more beautiful than I could ever have asked for. To be with so many beautiful, incredible people would have been enjoyable in itself, but that they wanted to share in my life, to listen to me, sing with me, laugh with me, and cry with me, was more than I could have comprehended just a few short days earlier. Looking back on it, the memories stand out in such stark contrast to the reality I'd been trapped in before.

I was welcomed to sit down at a table every meal time, to talk and laugh. I remember the day at school where I sat down at a table with two other girls, who immediately whispered to each other and got up and sat at the next table over, leaving me sitting alone.

I laughed so hard on Sunday night that my throat muscles were sore and exhausted. I remember that, my first semester of college, I would often go weeks without laughing even once.

At the moot, I played piano for others for the first time in six years, and Daeriel and Younger Fern gladly gave their melodies to share with mine. I remember all the times I was told I wasn't a real pianist, all the hours of sneaking in practice when most of the family was gone.

One night a group of us went out stargazing, and I lay on the cold, pale earth with some of the most incredible people in the world to watch shooting stars slicing the darkness with their radiance. I remember one night when I wandered around campus for a few hours, in the dark, on one of the coldest nights of the year, trying to find somewhere I would be welcome to do homework.

I climbed up a huge rock and stood there with Wolfsong, Rivus, Yellow Leader, Daeriel, Mangy, Blue Monkey, and Mylla, looking out over mountains and forests and valleys, standing on top of the world with friends. I remember sitting in small, quiet corners behind chairs, because I didn't want to be seen standing by myself again.

I stayed up late several nights, with a group of friends on computers, laughing about things that are only funny after 1:00 a.m. I remember hearing about other college students doing things like that, and wishing that sometime I could be good enough to have friends to do that with too.

The last night of the moot we shared laughter and tears around the campfire, and I felt completely and totally accepted and loved. I remember curling up in the lobby outside my classroom nearly every day after Biology, putting my head on my knees and crying; no one ever so much as stopped to say hello.

It was during the moot that I, for the first time in my life, claimed the right to smile and to laugh. Before I hated both, because I felt like it was lying-- like I shouldn't be smiling and laughing, because I'm not that kind of person, and because I don't deserve to be that happy. The mooters changed that. I couldn't not laugh. I had never been so happy in my life. Laughter seemed inescapable, but that was alright.

On the last afternoon I spent with CPers, we hung out at Mangy's for a while. I was so completely happy and relaxed by this point that it didn't seem weird to be hitting Rivus with a giant fish, or to bunny hop with the adorable and eternally energetic Julie, or to join Rivus and Julie in chasing Wolfsong all over the house for a ball. I felt like I was floating, a beautiful feeling of being suspended in joy that no one will ever be able to take away from me. Towards the end, I stood outside in the cold rain with Wolfsong, Anywhere, and Telpe. As I stood there, a thought came to mind. Rain must be met with open hands. And it is better to meet it when standing beside friends.

It was then that the phrase came back to me-- sunshine and rain. It is the contrast that forms the beauty of life. The moot was sunshine, almost completely, but I walked through dark and bitter rain to get there. The joy that God poured into me through those amazing people will never make the long, lonely year go away. It will always exist. But it is part of the reason why the moot was so beautiful, and I understand that now. They need each other, balance each other, like the sunshine balances the rain. The moot answered the aching question left by my first year of college, and left me feeling whole and complete. Because you see, it's when the sunshine and the rain meet that we find the rainbow-- the beauty, the glorious, breathing colors that make us feel so intensely alive.

I once asked (through a facebook status) how to move on from one of the most life changing experiences you've ever had, how to go back to everyday life. Nia told me to treasure it in my heart, to let it change me from the inside out. That is how I have spent the week and two days since getting home. I've carried it with me, letting it burn away the mists. And I'm not afraid of school now. I'm not afraid to try this thing again, to face the rain with open hands. The moot taught me to believe in beautiful endings, to claim the light on the other side of darkness.

My first night out of Colorado, we stayed in a hotel in Wichita. Our van was broken down 7 miles away, and I didn't know if we'd make it home alright. I had a dream that night, the most vivid dream I'd had in a long, long while.

I opened my eyes to find the hotel room full of light and sound. Someone had turned all the lamps on, and I could see all the mooters packed into the room. I could hear their voices, their laughter, the tiny things that I'd come to know so well. I could see their faces as they talked and joked. I was confused.

"Why are you all here?" I asked.

"Oh, just making sure you're safe," someone answered.

I smiled and curled up in the bed, ready to fall asleep. I carried that legacy with me, that simple truth that I'd come so far to find.

I'm safe.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Under the Stars

[Written July 27, 2009, under the stars in Yosemite. I felt like sharing it - I'm not really sure why.]

The stars open above me as I write tonight. Soon the sky will blaze with silver. Tonight is my last here, and I wanted to see them one last time. They remind me of hope.

Night is kind to the scarred ones. It hides them, grants them silence and space. The space can become terrifying, at first glance. That's because it looks empty. But when we walk through that darkness, the candle of love held high in shaking hand, we see lights opening above us, around us. We see the stars. We see the hope, the beauty, the peace, that never fails to shine in even the darkest sky. Clouds may cast a momentary veil over our view, but they cannot endure. Love is always strongest, and it never gives up.

God gave the stars especially to those who understand and have seen the bitter emptiness found in night. He scattered them as angels to watch over us on silver wings. He wanted us to know htat he hasn't forgotten about us, and so, even with our scars and fears and failures, we can be brave enough not to forget about Him - about love. About the hope in the stars.

- Elraen -