Yes! Damnit

The Strains of Starting Over

It’s November and the leaves (of what are not palm trees and cactus) are still green. I must be in Texas. For the first time in four years, winter is closing in and I am not in Iowa–the place where I went to school. Leaving college means not only climate change and nostalgia for the scene at the bar on Wednesday night, but deeper dislocation as well.

My friend Marcy used to say that she could tell who had just come into our house while she was sitting in the living room by the different noises we all made: kicking off shoes, sighing, singing, slamming. If community is a group of people who are custodians of one another’s stories, I do not see the custodians of my stories every day anymore. Instead, I talk to them on the phone once every few weeks.

Other parts of my inner life are missing. I used to run out along the farm roads and let my mind wander into the cornfields and let all stress leave my body. I live in the city now. The loss of sacred space, familiarity, and intimacy is disorienting.

At this point, letting go is twinned with starting over and all the ugly things that brings. Doubt sets in, and I wonder if I have chosen to invest myself in the right place and the right job. It is hard to have patience when I do not yet know all the procedures at work and keep screwing up. Unlike being a student, more depends on the work that I do than just what I can learn from a class. I wonder whom I can trust among the people I work with, live with, and continue to meet. The emotional risks that I take are sometimes scarier than the geographical and financial ones.

This is not the first time I have experienced all this. I am a veteran of moving around by myself. I have been lucky enough to go away to college, to study abroad, and to move places for summer jobs. I have grown in independence and can better accommodate impermanence in my life. I understand myself better. I know that I will make good friends here, become a part of a community, and find what makes me happy. It is dying to be reborn and going hungry to be fed.

My parents have a mantra for all rites of passage in their life together. Like good children of the sixties, they painted it on a rock. It reads: Yes! Damnit. The rock was on the altar at their wedding, in the hospital room when their kids were born, and on the dashboard when they moved cross-country. They give rocks to friends. I got one when I went to college. I have heard my mother say a thousand times: “‘Yes’–because there will be new life; but ‘Damnit’–because it’s hard.” That damn rock is on my desk now.