Finding Home: Selma, 2016

This week, I was serving on an alternative spring break trip in Selma, Alabama. I know, it may seem random. But there is actually an extreme amount of history in Selma, especially in relation to the Civil Rights Movement. On this trip, I met some of the best people in my entire life. The group of students I was with, my co-advisor, the people and students in Selma…literally every. single. person. Y’all are just incredible people.

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Usually, I process through writing. I’m the guy that’ll say, “Okay, I’ll be over here in the corner,” while I pull out my journal or laptop to sit and process my thoughts for the day. But on this trip, I didn’t do that once. In lieu of that, our group had four hour debriefing conversations that went until two in the morning. And I loved every minute of it. But because of that, I’ve been having a difficult time putting my thoughts into written words. But, Sunday means a new blog post, so here we go.

This week, I have learned so much about myself. I have grown more than I have this week than in entire years of my life. I was given a new perspective. I began to release my own freedom from within. I connected with like-minded individuals. But most importantly, I found a home. I found a community of people who felt mutually supported, cared for, and loved. And although it is so incredibly difficult to condense all my lessons from this week into one post, I’m going to try my best. Because even the smallest snippet of what I learned might be useful for all of us here, no matter your age.

  1. Deconstruct Walls
    • We all have walls built up around us. From previous experiences, people we’ve met, etc. But in Selma, I felt as if all of our walls were gone. There was no reason to have walls in such a loving, caring community. And by the end of the week, with walls gone, we were all able to say that we loved each other, and we all genuinely meant it.
  2. Free Yourself
    • In many social justice trainings, we talk about eliminating stereotypes of other people. But what about the stereotypes that have been placed on us by society? This is a silly example, but this week, I learned that I love to dance. But before, I was always so reserved about it. Maybe it’s because I was trying to be “a professional” or maybe I was “too uptight” to let loose and have a good time through dance. But we have the power to free ourselves of those stereotypes. Liberate yourself from society’s expectations.
  3. Plant Seeds
    • Some of you may know, I tend to get frustrated with some folks who believe certain things. I get especially frustrated with people when I think that their eyes will never open, because I feel like there’s nothing I can do to help them see the truth in this world. But here’s the thing: you never know when you are planting a seed. You might say something that doesn’t make sense to them in the moment, but days, months, or even years later, they might call you in tears in a moment of finally understanding what you were trying to say. Or maybe they won’t. Either way, you never know when you are planting those seeds.
  4. Love All
    • A man I met this week said, “I love Donald Trump. I don’t love his ideas, but I love Donald Trump.” I was confused. I thought Donald Trump’s ideas were Donald Trump. But that’s not necessarily the case. Trump comes from an environment that leads him to believe what he does. Principle three of nonviolence states, “Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil.” In other words, hate the sin, not the sinner. We are all deserving of love, and because of that, we have the ability to love all.
  5. Have Courage
    • Everything I’m saying here is terrifying. It’s not easy. As written in Hamilton, “Dying is easy, young man; living is harder.” Living is harder. It takes courage. The first principle of nonviolence, “Nonviolence is the way of life for courageous people.” This blog post is not a check, check off my list. It’s a process that I will be working on for a long time. But finding that courage and inner strength will help in that process.

And although there is a sense of heaviness with me today while I process leaving a place I grew to love so much, I am high-key excited to begin this journey, and learn to live out these lessons.

 

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In which I relate to the Leaning Tower of Pisa

I can say, with an estimated guess, that most people who read this blog are loyal Facebook friends. With that said, most of you reading this probably know that I spent the past ten days in Europe. And for those of you that didn’t know or aren’t friends with me on Facebook, I spent the last ten days in Europe!!

And as much as I want to blog all about my trip, I have to stay true to the twentysomething theme of this particular blog. However, there was one day in particular that really stuck out to me. Docking in Livorno, Italy, I knew we had a full day ahead. We were scheduled for a driving tour through Pisa and Florence, seeing some of Italy’s biggest and most famous monuments. Two in particular were the Statue of David and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Since some of you might have clicked this link just to see some beautiful pictures of the trip, here you go!

But in my journal that night (yes, I kept a travel journal), I found an interesting comparison between these two monuments. I wrote: “The Tower of Pisa is not famous because it’s the most beautiful, most adored, or even biggest monument in Italy. It’s famous because it leans—because it’s unique. Because it does something that no other building is known for. It makes me wonder…shouldn’t it be like that for all people? For me? …especially in comparison to the Statue of David, which is known for being the best, most beautiful sculpture from the very best artist, Michelangelo.”

I continued: “Are you more of a Statue of David? Or the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Not everyone can be the Statue of David, and to be honest, as great as that would be, it’s a lot of pressure to uphold such a high standard all the time! The Tower of Pisa is much more relatable, anyway. Everyone leans a bit off course, sometimes. Goes a bit off track from the original plan.”

And in this journal entry/blog post, I confess that on my trip to Europe, I found myself relating with an inanimate leaning building. Awesome.

It makes sense though, doesn’t it? Think about it. If I think about all the people that I know, there is only a very small handful of people that can equate to the Statue of David, metaphorically. This one guy in particular, we met during college. He is absolutely gorgeous now—and was then, too. Perfect amount of scruff, tousled hair, built, literally a model traveling all over the world. We shared one kiss in the rain and I will never again forget that one moment with my own Statue of David.

The reality is, though, I idolized him more than anything else. The Statue of David is a perfect representation of man, literally known for being the most proportional marble statue in the history of the world, epitomizing this perfection. I wouldn’t want the pressure of that reputation, and I definitely wouldn’t want to be with someone who I saw in that way, because I would always feel inferior.

So, if we’re speaking in metaphorical Italian monuments, are you the Statue of David? Or are you the Tower of Pisa? The Tower may be leaning a bit, off the course from its original path, but still standing tall and proud. What’s interesting about the Tower of Pisa is that without its “past” of going off course and leaning to the side, it wouldn’t even be famous at all…just another building gracing the ground of Italy.

And fun fact about the Tower of Pisa: Italian architects, once they realized how much the Tower was leaning, decided to dig underneath the Tower a bit and pour in concrete underneath and all around. That way, it won’t lean over anymore, to the point of falling down and hitting the ground.

I have to say, I’m inspired by that building a bit. In addition to being famous for its complete uniqueness (as opposed to its perfection), it also has the ability to concrete itself and keep itself from falling over.

So, question of the day: Are you the Statue of David? Or the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

The Importance of Finding a Mentor

Finding a mentor is one of the most important things in life.

I know that sounds like a dramatic statement, an exaggeration perhaps…but I dare you to challenge it. Mentors are kind of like the idea, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Except with mentors, it’s the opposite. You don’t know how valuable mentors are until you need one.

A mentor is someone who can guide you through those not-so-great experiences. Someone who is there to validate what you are going through and help you work through it. I used to think that a mentor was someone who provided guidance for all aspects of life, but as I’m getting older, I’m realizing that’s not necessarily the case.

When I am feeling musically inclined, I email my piano teacher for Chopin suggestions. A musical mentor. When I am feeling stuck in a writer’s block, I email my writing coach. A writing mentor. And when I am feeling discouraged at work, I can walk into my supervisor’s office and ask her advice. A work mentor.

A mentor is someone who has most likely gone through your experience and is able to offer helpful advice. Someone who has been there before. But because we all have so many different experiences, it’s hard to have one “life mentor.” But it’s easier to connect with people who have similar interests and similar experiences.

When going through any kind of difficult twentysomething period, I’ve realized that I can’t really rely on my musical mentor, my writing mentor, or even my work mentor. It’s nice to hear about their perspective, but it’s even nicer to hear from other twentysomethings who are going through similar experiences in the same time period.

So, here are my tips and tricks to finding your very own twentysomething mentor:

  1. Find another Twentysomething
    • This may sound strange. Usually, when looking for a mentor, you want an older, wiser person who is able to give you their words of wisdom. But sometimes, especially as a twentysomething, I just need another twentysomething person to tell me that they’ve also had drunken encounters before and regretted it the morning after. Or that paying rent nearly cleared out their bank account. Or that grad school is completely soul-sucking. You need to be able to relate to your twentysomething mentor, and even more importantly, they need to be able to relate to you.
  2. Embrace the Vulnerability
    • If there’s one overarching theme that I’ve learned about being a twentysomething, it’s that vulnerability is a consistent feeling across all twentysomething experiences. The security of college is gone, the security of living at home or with friends is taken…hell, you may not even have a secure job, relationship, friend group, etc. There is no stability at all. Hence, vulnerability. If you go about your whole mentor/mentee relationship skirting real-life adult issues, nothing is going to get any better. Take a risk and be vulnerable. If you feel you have no friends, it’s okay to say that. If you hate your job, be honest! Be honest, take risks, and embrace the vulnerability.
  3. Listen with Open Ears
    • You can’t  have a mentor and not be open to at least hearing what they have to say. They might tell you that you need to get your life together, that you are having way too many one night stands, or that the number of Chinese take-out containers in your apartment is getting out of control. Take it in stride. Maybe your life is a mess, maybe you really enjoy meeting new people in that way, and maybe you just love Chinese food. It’s cool. Or maybe there is some truth in their advice. Either way, take everything with a grain of salt, but still be open to listening.

And when all is said and done, make sure to thank you mentor, because without them, who knows where you’d be?