Yesterday I went for a walk with my mother, and Heidi. The neighborhood changes in subtle ways. I feel as if I am gazing at a slideshow every time I come home – the family on the corner has a new roof, another has landscaped their front yard, there is a new coffee shop down the road – and the details of what used to be fade quickly.
Mom asked me last night if I missed being in China. I evaded the answer, talking about being busy in Durham, having much to keep me busy, appreciating the fact that I can see the blue sky on sunny days. On our walk though, she pressed me again. She said, “your writing isn’t as excited as it was over the summer. What’s going on?”
I’ve been wondering that myself. Later, I get out of the shower and stare at the wisteria outside my window, wondering how people become depressed. I think, my best writing is done when I am full of joy. I am no Wallace. I am not fit for the wrenched gut of a life struggling against my own psychological darkness. I don’t want to be depressed, I tell myself fiercely.
Home is always such a gentle place. I sleep my deepest there, on my narrow twin bed with Heidi a warm crescent against me, the layers of blankets snuggling my body into the old mattress. I wake up to a pot of coffee, and the gurgle of water in the walls as my parents shower their way to wakefulness. My incredible family – brother, grandparents, parents, and aunt – come out to meet me for dim sum. We pick up my grandmother and she is laughing at herself: When you get old, you get slow, she says. My half-hour walking route now takes 45 minutes. Look how slowly I buckle my seatbelt! And she talks about taking care of my grandfather in a voice full of deep understanding. Robert emerges from Apple, working on a deadline that he can’t tell us about. And Auntie Linda drives all the way from Fremont, full of her beautiful smile, and stories about my cousins and uncle.
When I was six years old, my sweet friend and I would chase lizards in the yard, collect garden snails and watch them mosey across each other’s backs, tease (and name) the mosquito larvae flipping in the cool puddle of my backyard fountain. She grew up independent and beautiful, an incredible musician and the most creative mind I’d ever seen. Last night, she married the man she was meant to be with. He is a jazz musician of his own reckoning. They have full lives, and big dreams. Sometimes they spend more time apart than together. And yet their eyes, already so full of life’s fire, sparkle with passion and deep love when they look at each other. They come home to each other, and will for the rest of their lives. Last night, I sat with people from my childhood, many of whom I hadn’t seen for a decade or more. All of us who have loved Ashley, or loved Taylor, and now certainly love them both, celebrated their marriage and gave our deepest gratitude that these two incredible people were given the gift of each other.
In the morning, Dad gets up to drive me to the airport. We’ve both only slept four hours. He goes home to work on a proposal. I get on the plane and put edits on a colleague’s paper. I munch on gingersnap cookies, made lovingly by Ashley’s mother as wedding guest gifts (she baked 700 of them over the past weeks), and drink lukewarm airplane coffee.
So let me tell you about freedom. Freedom, said Wallace (and I paraphrase), is sacrificing for people in little ways every day. Freedom is being able to get on a plane so I can be there when my best friend from childhood weds the love of her life. Freedom is, yes, being in another country and owning my own time completely.
Freedom is choosing.
The past two months, I’ve chosen to let my responsibilities hem me in. I made the choice to take on a backbreaking number of projects, to say yes to 95% of the social invitations I receive, to travel to Charlotte and New York for dance. I chose to cut off a special friendship because I refused to let it evolve from the relationship it used to be. I said I wanted freedom, and then I took it away from myself.
In last week’s dance lesson with Dima, we spoke a lot about what kind of dancer I wanted to be, what I wanted my dancing to represent, philosophically, and how a dance partner’s style or outlook might complement or contradict my own development.
This third year of my joint master’s degree has been very much about mentoring, leading and teaching. And though I am a lifelong student, I am no longer just a student. It is no longer sufficient, at the Nicholas School, to sit and absorb. It is my time to begin shaping my own philosophies about conservation, how business and conservation intersect, how students ought to become leaders at Nicholas and at Fuqua. It is my time to become a mover and a shaker in my own right.
The world has changed below me. Lacy webs of civilized lights gave way to the last snow-crested peaks of autumn, and now to the crop-circle patchwork of Midwestern farmland. I am on my way.