What to Expect When You're Expecting (to Graduate), Part II
PART II: WHEN THE BRAVE THING TO DO IS STAY
In the first post I wrote for this series I talked about not wanting to leave Nashville after I graduated at the end of this semester. I talked about my fear of losing comfort and the home that I have built in a city I didn’t have to be convinced into adoring. I even emphasized the point by writing three times in italics—I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave. When I went back to read this post five minutes ago, I almost laughed out loud into my mocha.
Since I wrote that post I have decided to stay in Nashville and the voice of fear that screamed loud about not wanting to leave screams even louder about not wanting to stay.
I don’t want to stay. I don’t want to stay. I don’t want to stay.
The idea of staying seems really easy when you’re looking at it through the lens of leaving—through the lens of packing and saying goodbye and giving up your favorite coffee shop—but when you’re looking at it through the lens of mending relationships and planting roots and building community, it is terrifying.
My current train of thought reads like a laundry list of bold, highlighted fears. What if I can’t find community and spend every weekend drowning under a pile of cats? What if I never figure out what I want to do and become a housewife and regret not spending my first year after college gallivanting around Europe or teaching English in Haiti? What if, at the ripe age of 23, my life has reached a plateau with no hope of peaking again? Right now seems like a really great time to buy a plane ticket and jet set to a place that has a strict vetting process for fears like these.
When I was a junior in college, at the end of a semester abroad in London, I spent two weeks solo backpacking across Ireland. When I got back to the States and recalled the stories I picked up along the way, I almost always received a wide-eyed “you’re so brave” response. I would call my time traveling a lot of things—adventurous, worthwhile, challenging—but I wouldn’t call it brave. When you are by yourself in a new place, nobody knows you; nobody knows your story; nothing gets messy because you don’t stay long enough to plant any sort of roots. It feels really easy. You hop over to one place and then before anyone thinks to ask you a deeper question than “What type of cider do you prefer?” you’re off to the next.
In a world where I am the female protagonist starring alongside some European hunk like Matthew Goode, who I just happen to run into while sewing my wild oats in a foreign land, I would say something like, “My heart yearns for newness and excitement.” As a self-aware 23 year-old I can recognize that the reality of the situation is that my heart kicks and screams against the entanglement of commitment. These last couple of weeks I have felt the weight of commitment plopping down heavy on my chest, and it feels like the consistent string of dreams I have about marrying the wrong man. I want to run. I want to turn away from the altar and take off through the front doors of the church, a getaway car waiting to cart me off to some hip new place where nobody knows my name. But instead I feel the words “I do” rising up in my throat, and I am powerless to stop them. This is not where I want to be, but something deep within me reminds me again and again that this is where I need to be.
I need to be here because sometimes we learn to be courageous through moving to a new place or traveling alone or climbing a mountain, but sometimes we learn it by staying. Sometimes we learn it by investing ourselves in people and a city when every fiber of our being screams out to run. Deciding to plant yourself in a place is brave. Tending something long enough for its roots to bury deep down into a sturdy foundation is messy. It requires dirt and weeding and the gardener getting her jeans gritty with grass stains. It is unglamorous, un-Instagram worthy, necessary grunt work. And it is brave.
I have a tendency to bolt from the mess, to want to tell a good and conflict free story, to delete pictures off my Instagram that don’t fit with the theme—but I am learning to embrace the dirt and stains and weed pulling in order to grasp onto something like a solid foundation. Staying doesn’t feel like taking the easy way out or sticking firm to my comfort zone or giving up carefree twenties in order to become a stay-at-home mom—it feels hard and uncomfortable. If in this season of your life you are learning to stay, when maybe it feels like everyone around you is learning to leave and travel and explore new and exciting places, I want to give you permission to believe that what you’re doing is courageous and worthwhile. If you’re anything like me, you have to look at your restless, feeble heart and remind yourself that the bravest thing you might ever do is decide to stay.