Tomorrow, I will turn in my master’s thesis on the subject of female spiritual autobiography and feminist theology. It is the longest cohesive piece I have ever written. I have pushed through my exhaustion. I have poured myself into the work. Labor and love. And so, with the bound copies released, I will be one step closer to finishing this chapter of my still relatively young life. As the days grow longer sweetly, as other paper deadlines loom, I will be navigating the paradox of ending and beginning, of longing and regretting, of missing something fundamentally intangible while it is happening, all at once.
Spring is a beautiful time on the East Coast, not simply because of the things that bloom, but because of the way the earth shifts just slightly. The few extra minutes of twilight. The few extra degrees of warmth. The incremental changes that make life more bearable. It is enough of a shift toward life and away from the introspection and loneliness of winter, to make anyone excited about the new, the life waiting patiently beneath the surface of mud and bark.
I have waited for the trees to burst, the grass to grow, the bulbs – lovingly planted – to break open, the mountains to become washed in total green. That sudden green flush is magnificent, so comforting and astounding and humbling. But spring is not just about expectation; it is also bittersweet. The cool mornings, the fickle wind, the pastel twilight, the bear branches with knotted buds will soon fall away, quicker than we remember. And suddenly, we’ll all be bathed in the hot, bright repetition of summer days, when the sun looms constantly high and the humidity wraps itself around us like a blanket. Spring is a time of transition, a time when the changes are small enough and steady enough, to perceive when the sacred and the mundane meet.
I remember vividly a May evening I spent alone during a spring in college. I had just gone through a breakup, which felt more like whiplash than heartbreak. I’d been suddenly very disappointed; my reality revealed to be instantly very different than I had imagined. When people show you who they are believe them? Yes, I learned that discomforting truth the quiet comfort of the spring change that year. Believe them, bless ‘em, and move on. Moving on for me, this time during the precious post-relationship time when some colors and lines become sharper and clearer, meant slowing down. I took steps back from my social engagement and focused on the beauty in front of me. That night, I listened to music, washed my sheets in lavender detergent, and allowed clean air to pour through my open dorm room, my life lit only by dusty blue of the disappearing day, I could feel more concretely the edges of my heart. I could breathe again.
Since then, spring has been a sacred season for me, a time when new and old truths are revealed, when new things bloom and old things come back to life. But…when we are working toward something, like a master’s degree, it can become easy to miss these quieting moments. In fact, it is nearly impossible to dwell in the sorts of transitions that offer clarity and comfort. In the last several years of my life, I finished college, met the love of my life, gained my first significant work experience, moved for the first time to a major city, began graduate school, began commuting, got engaged, got married. And now I am about to graduate from graduate school. I’ve been caught in the necessity of doing that I have lost the sweetness of being. I’ve felt too exhausted to discern the difference between my true self and my polished self. I’ve felt too caught up in the next assignment, the next worry, the next notch on the to-do list to fully enjoy my life, the paths between A and B and C and D.
This has had the accumulative effect of making me feel alienated from my own life. I have said to Jack on more than one occasion, “I don’t want to keep postponing my life!” To any outsider this may seem disconcerting, I’ve had a job, moved to a new city, gotten married, finished graduate school. I have done a lot of “living” in the last several years. I have taken many steps, made important commitments, and examined in deeper ways what I value most. However, some sort of integration has been lacking. I have felt too swept along by the currents of my life to cultivate the presence of mind to be present in the movement, to know whether I feel like my life is a true reflection of who I am, to experience true joy in my work, and to honor the changes and disruptions that would help me become more whole, less frazzled. Spring, with its strong and patient urging, reminds me to begin again. To pour water over everything and find new ways of being.
Last weekend, Jack was away in Iceland. I missed him. And yet, I was grateful for the uninterrupted silence in our apartment. The hum of the refrigerator and our cat climbing onto my lap only puncturing my thoughts. My books and papers were strewn around my desk. Post-it notes covered the walls, as I made my way steadily through pages upon pages of edits. Writing is arduous work. It is not physically exhausting, but rather, creatively exhausting. There is only so much on any given day that one can give of oneself to a page, to thinking in a flexible enough way that can rearrange words and uncover new insight. It is depleting to the stuff of the soul. Only when the well of one’s spirit is refilled can one begin again.
Having realized this with my partner-in-all-things away, I was left with time in between my marathon edits. I could only stare at words so long before my mind felt like melted ice cream, so reading only a few chapters of Michelle Obama’s book was possible. With this new perspective, I found new pockets of my day to restore myself. For the last three years, I have lived in the same city and the same apartment. Suddenly, I walked in between places I’d been traveling to via the Subway for years, enjoying my life, not rushing, actively trying to help myself recover from intellectual overdrive.
With a coffee in hand, I walked through the West Village, noticing the new buds on the trees, appreciating the newly enlivened spring air. These moments that we so easily miss comprise the interstitial fluid of our lives. They are as much a part of our human experience as the chapters we highlight on our resumes. They keep us sane; they change who and how we are in the world.
The next few weeks, for me, won’t be easier than the last few weeks. More deadlines, more writing, more public speaking, more traveling. As I make another big transition, out of graduate school and back into a world obsessed with the question, “So, what do you do?” I will be paying closer care to the interstitial moments, trying to cultivate more joy and more ease, to find more space to see what that reveals about my true self, apart from racing thoughts and to-do lists.
Living in integrity is more than living one’s principles, it is living from a place of integration, from attempted wholeness. Spring reminds me of how all the parts fit together, how what seemed like had been lost forever returns again. All this life had just been waiting for a little more light and a little more warmth to start, to grow, again.