Saying Goodbye

As a kind of closing post for the JVC chapter of my life, I thought I’d give you a few excerpts from my journal that I might have posted earlier in the year but just never did. Enjoy!

Friday, September 5, 2008

I believe I am learning that life requires courage—not just the lives of heroes and soldiers and world leaders, but everyone’s life, including my own. Life demands courage in everyday things. It isn’t the courage of martyrdom; it exists on a much smaller scale: it’s the courage to pick up the phone and make a call you’ve been dreading, or start a conversation with a stranger, or stand up for your principles when they’re not popular, or start a new job or move to a new place or try a new recipe or admit that you’re wrong. Life requires courage from me, and I want to live courageously. Sometimes this means that I have to force myself to do daunting things that I don’t particularly want to do. I have to face the fact that a lot of things worth doing in life aren’t necessarily going to be things I am absolutely thrilled about—I’m going to be anxious and apprehensive going into them. Making decisions and getting things started demands a good deal of courage, and then there comes a point where I realize that I CAN do it, I’ve left my fears far behind me, and it is very much worth it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I wish I had a quest—a quest like Frodo Baggins or Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter. I want a quest for something besides self-improvement, its success measured in something beyond my own happiness. I want to destroy the ring and take down the evil Darth Vader or Lord Voldemort to save the world, and I want to bring my friends with me—my Samwise Gamgee, my Han and Leia and R2-D2 and C-3PO, my Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. I don’t want to have to be happy about what I’m doing; I want it to be okay to be scared and miserable but press on anyway because I have to, because it must be done and I’m the one who has to do it. I want something to live for, that is real and concrete and unquestionably worthwhile, beyond my own personal happiness.

 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tonight I felt the urge for motion, the desire to lose myself in a sea of other people and just feel a part of this seething humanity for a while. Courtney and Lorraine are my only roommates left right now, and neither of them wanted to go out—so I ended up going out by myself and wandering up and down Valencia. I didn’t work up the nerve to go into any bars or coffee shops, but I did stop to peruse a cute independent bookstore called Dog-Eared Books. There were hand-written notes on many of the shelves explaining the organizing system and pointing customers toward specific authors. Out on the street I was stopped by a man and a woman who had been robbed and just needed $7 for the bus to Santa Rosa. “No one will help us!” he said, distressed. “Everyone thinks we’re bums!” I dug through my purse to find my wallet with my gloves on and pulled out a five-dollar bill; they thanked me and walked off to find the last two dollars. Did I believe their story? Yes. …Well, maybe. Why hadn’t I given them seven? I had it on me, and it wouldn’t have meant starvation by any means. I don’t know why I only gave them five. Maybe if I’d given them more it would have meant that I owed everyone else who asked me the same amount of money. Maybe I’m just a stingy bastard. Who knows, really?

I am twenty-two years old and my life is directionless and I have no friends my age in San Francisco aside from my roommates, and I am just beginning to begin to understand the world and my place in it. My experience is so small, when held up against all that has been lived. I want to live it all—I want to fill the skin of each person I see and feel what it is to live their lives, and take a look at my world through different eyes. I want to be shocked and disturbed and saddened and touched and inspired, and I want to know. I want to put all of that knowledge together so that we can begin to make some sense out of this crazy life-thing.

I am twenty-two years old and I am sitting Indian-style in the middle of the living room floor with pieces and scraps of experience spread out all around me like Tinker Toys, trying to figure out how to assemble them into this solid, cohesive thing called a life. I’m at a loss for where to start, and I seem to have misplaced the instructions.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The real reason I started crying during A Muppet Christmas Carol [true story, by the way, and to my knowledge this is the only movie I have ever actually cried while watching] is the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Future is showing Scrooge the following Christmas at the Cratchit house, after Tiny Tim has died. They show his empty place at the table and his crutch by the fireplace and his whole family trying not to cry so they can hold each other together and it’s just so fucking sad… Losing a child, or any family member, has to be just about the most painful thing in the world. But then Scrooge realizes that he can change things, that he has a second chance at life! And Tiny Tim lives! And Scrooge is a new man, and everyone is whole and full of love once again.

It’s a wonderful story—which brings to mind It’s a Wonderful Life, another classic Christmas tale. I haven’t actually watched it in years, so I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but basically George Bailey loses a lot of money and it looks like he will have to close his business, so he gets really depressed and wishes he’d never been born. Then—poof!—it comes true, and then everything gets even more horribly depressing as we see how bleak his town would be without him. But in the end he is able to unwish his wish; he is reunited with his family and now thoroughly appreciates the life he has.

Why do we love these stories so much? Because they bring us so close to the edge of death and total collapse, and then they pull us back from the precipice of the abyss to where we were before, only we appreciate it so much more because we have been so changed by having faced terrible things and been snatched back from them at the last minute. Redemption narratives. As Teresa’s friend Eron said, life is made up of redemption narratives. Maybe that’s why these stories are so timeless: in dealing with the interplay between life and death, they reflect something essential about the human condition.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I’ve been skeptical of hope for a long time, since it’s kind of like a drug: gets you high for a while but there’s always the inevitable letdown, as very few things in life can meet the expectations of an idealist. Hope isn’t a lasting source of happiness because I’m just setting myself up for disappointment; therefore I haven’t seen a whole lot of value to it.

But then I started to think about it differently, based partly on points that other people made when I talked to them.

Maybe hope doesn’t bring lasting happiness, but what does, really? That’s just not the way life works. Happiness never lasts, but sadness doesn’t either. Everything is a cycle. …So why not just live accepting that? (I asked myself.) …Acknowledging that sadness and happiness come and go no matter what, and you can’t have one without the other?

So maybe the object of hope is not what determines whether or not hope is worthwhile. (To a certain degree, I mean. This doesn’t extend to being completely delusional. Not because it fits with my theory; just because I can’t buy the value of hope that totally obscures some crucial aspect of reality. Example [spoiler warning for Cider House Rules]: whatever hope the orphans gained from Homer’s coverup of Fuzzy’s death in Cider House Rules.) Even if the thing hoped for never comes to be, maybe that hope is worthwhile regardless. I am at my happiest when I have hope: I love more easily and live more fearlessly and tap into forgotten stores of enthusiasm and motivation. Maybe hope really is good in itself–maybe it’s okay to throw myself into it wholeheartedly without focusing solely on the eventual outcome.


So it’s 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, and I’m leaving for the airport in about eight hours. No matter how long I have to prepare myself for endings, I am never, ever ready. I’ve known that August 7 is my last day of work for over a year, and yet it still managed to creep up on me… and I basically knew for my whole life that I was planning to graduate from college in June 2008, but that one caught me by surprise as well. One friend I mentioned this to suggested that it’s because I don’t detach—I stay fully present and try to make the most of where I am right up to the bitter end. I think that might be giving me too much credit (the explanation I had in mind was more along the lines of “denial”), but if that’s part of the reason endings catch me off-guard, I’ll take it.

What bothers me the most about leaving are the remaining things I still want to do here but haven’t had a chance to, and the people I haven’t said goodbye to. I never made it to Alcatraz, for instance, and I never went to Yosemite or swam in the ocean (albeit for a good reason—it is FREEZING!). These are all things I’d been meaning to do, but time just crept up on me. On the bright side, unfinished business is all the more reason to come back someday. Goodbyes, though, are strange. I no longer try to drag them out as long as humanly possible—a change which other people seem to appreciate—and instead, I seem to be becoming a quick goodbye person. Part of me knows that leaving is the hardest part, and once I’m gone things will be okay, so I kind of just want to get the leaving over with. (Sometimes I think I miss people more before they leave than when they’re actually gone.) But that doesn’t mean that saying goodbye is less important for me. Even if it takes five seconds, I feel immeasurably better having said goodbye to someone than not.

So for now, I will miss you, San Francisco, and I will miss you, Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I will miss every inch of this apartment, the freak show that is 16th and Mission, and everything that drove me nuts this year. I have eight more hours to sit here with my goodbyes, and then I’m going to try to make my peace with this.