There were moments after arriving here in DC from rural south Texas that I felt I was dealing with a different animal altogether. After all, I exited the Farragut North subway station in the morning watching well dressed, perfect-looking people carrying their shoulder bags and slurping their lattes while chatting on their cell phones, presumably planning thhe next power lunch of the day.
A long way from South Texas…
It was a stark contrast from the world of farmers, housewives, and runny-nosed children in which I had existed the two years previously while teaching at a small Catholic school in South Texas. My previous days consisted of “morning prayer” and role call; then lunch counts and bathroom breaks. My morning commute was a 45 minute ride through the edge of the Sonoran desert, and I frequently saw trash being burned, watched newly arrived immigrants carrying their belongings in grocery store bags along the side of the highway, and passed by neighborhoods which were highlighted in LIFE Magazine for their high poverty rates and lack of modern utilities like running water.
I then proceeded to exit from the subway stations and walk between the glass buildings and amongst the power lunchers who, instead of carrying their only belongings in a bag, were carrying their coffees and their morning croissant.
It was a nice change of pace—and I have to admit I allowed the out-of-sight-out-of-mind theory to quickly take effect. Soon the [Rio Grande] Valley was just a small place at the edge of our country that seemed to have little significance to me anymore. Not that it wasn’t important—I just had other thoughts with which to occupy my mind. South Texas faded away quickly in the bright lights of the big city.
And I am glad it did.
It had to for me to fully immerse myself here. For Washington DC is a grand place, with its museums, cultural options, diversity, and educational and work opportunities that seem always abundant. There is so much to do here—it’s almost too difficult to decide where to start.
The gift of boredom
But the times do arise when I realize that living in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas for two years has affected me more than I realized it was affecting me while I was being affected (got that?).
For it was in the quietness of my 45 minute commute through the desert that I began to appreciate the “gift of boredom.” The gift that was available in the form of nothing to do, nothing to think about, and nothing to look at.
At first it seemed like a curse. It seemed like God had dropped me off the face of the earth, and I would never find my way back. For I would return to San Antonio—SAN ANTONIO for God’s sake—and I would hear music played and hear about topics that I did not hear discussed in the Rio Grande Valley. While the Valley endeared itself to me in many ways—its earthiness, creativity, and funkiness—there seemed to be a larger worldview in San Antonio that I found extremely comforting every time I visited.
I soon realized that the gift I received from the Valley was that it taught me to turn off my mind for a while and just be quiet. It was in the immersion of myself into a quieter, slower-paced world that I began to process so many of my life’s previous events that needed processing. The discussions I had in college—the fights, the dramas, the things that seemed so important at the time…they all seemed so miniscule as I glanced at the vast barren landscape dotted with a few mesquite trees or some short desert growth.
Checking with the old crowd
When I would occasionally return to San Antonio, I was surprised at how much things had changed between my old friends and me. Much changed very quickly, and all of us found ourselves in situations we had no way of foreseeing earlier. Some were raising children, some were changing their careers already, and some were struggling to establish a career, and others had found their way clear to the other side of the globe. One friend found herself in Korea, and another digging in the Belizean earth for hints of a previous culture.
It is now when I reflect on the things that seemed important to me during college, that I realize how temporary and transitory life is—and how situations and people change. Whether we believe they will or not. Situations change.
The cycle continues…
Mine did. I would have never guessed that stepping out of the subway in downtown DC would be part of my daily routine. Theoretically our situations should be different a year from now than they are today. That is sad, yet comforting. Sad that we will have new problems, but comforting to know that we will also have new solutions.
As I head further into this year, I am painfully aware of what my biggest challenges are at the moment. I hope to rest in the knowledge that my challenges won’t end in the next year, but at least they should not be the same ones I am facing now.
Now that I am in Washington DC, every now and then I will catch myself and remind myself that there is so much here to see and do – and that the majority of the people with whom I shared my daily life a few years ago will never experience half as much as I have the chance to experience while I am here. I try to remind myself that a few years ago, my worries were about getting my lesson plans finished and getting up early enough to get through the 45 minute commute to arrive at school with 30 minutes to prepare.
Now I am trying to decide what size latte to order…and if I want soymilk.