Two weeks ago, I graduated from Oberlin College. After four long years of reading, studying, writing, taking tests, living in dorms, sharing bathrooms and showers, listening to lectures, eating in dining halls and paying tuition, I have come to the conclusion that it all went wayyyyy too fast. In the moment, I know I dreamed of that day when I wouldn’t have to be writing this paper on Exodus or studying for my chemistry exam, and now I don’t exactly wish for those days to return. Certainly with the popularity of social media, I will be able to keep up with friends much more easily than past generations, but right now that’s really hard to be thankful for. What I miss is my community.
When someone knocks on my door, it’s not my friend bound for circus school who wants to go to the local bar and club. I can no longer walk over to my crush’s house just to ask him to come to dinner with me. I’m not able to be there for a friend struggling with anxiety, able to hug her and tell her that her life is going to be ok. Evenings don’t hold swimming in ponds and secretive bonfires in the woods and singing cowboy songs; instead I’m in front of the TV. The kids that I get to watch grow up will not be the adorable grandchildren of my pastors that I have colored, played, and danced with. When I go home at night, my friends and roommates are not there to cheer me up with dancing to Taylor Swift’s “22” song on the kitchen counter. Past are the days of singing Gillian Welch on a front porch with people far more brilliant than I am. When I’m overwhelmed with a complicated mix of joy and sorrow, my strong, intelligent, beautiful girlfriends aren’t here to sit on my bed and cry with me, exchanging stories of how they overcome internalized sexism every day of their lives. The people that I am used to lifting me up and holding me in the palm of their hand are not there. On Sunday mornings, I won’t be worshipping in a space where I feel completely at home and loved, having left behind the fear and shame of crying in public to embrace instead the beauty of being able to feel emotions in these wonderful peoples’ presence.
I have been more homesick in the past two weeks than I was my freshman year, when it physically hurt to be away from my hometown. Now there is an empty, dull gnawing in my chest. I long to fill it with cookouts with religious studies nerds, conversations about feminism and capitalism with my radical colleagues, and friends who make pottery, keep chickens in their dorm room, dance barefoot at midnight on the bandstand, cook home-style meals for upwards of 60 people a day, and who can quote lines of Rumi or Neruda on the spot. It’s safe to say that I feel landless—plucked away from the place where the roots that held me steady were those that I planted myself. My college town has become the only place that feels like home. Of course, I feel as if I’m home whenever I’m in the presence of folk that I love, but there is something definitely special about the geographic location of Oberlin, Ohio.
Fortunately, the past two weeks back in my hometown have been a time of rest and relaxation—something that I rarely did fully over my college career. I have been sleeping a lot and watching a lot of mindless television (though I do argue that since I am moving to Nashville, the new-ish show about Music City USA is “research.”) I have been spending time cuddling with my cat and laughing with my brother. I’ve been spending time reflecting.
This past weekend I was fortunate to be able to travel back to Oberlin for a dear friend’s wedding. This friend was the reason I made it through my freshman year of college. Upon a painful breakup with my high school boyfriend right as I was getting acclimated to college life 200 miles from home, this friend scooped me up and set me right. She cooked me dinner, sat me down with a box of tissues to listen to my story, and gave me a Jane Austen book. I love her so much, and it was a complete honor to be able to be a part of her wedding day. Her wedding so fully expressed the individuality of her and her partner, as well as the grace and unity of them as a couple. The bride and groom were fully embraced by our beloved church community, and there was an amazing envelope of love all around those of us that shared in that sacred time.
Also this weekend, I was able to witness a thoughtful and moving sermon delivered by another Oberlin alum, Kathryn. She is currently in Divinity School, and I’d heard many stories from our beloved pastors about her. Today was Pentecost, and her sermon was just what I needed to hear as my reflective and emotional post-grad self was overwhelmed with the situation of being back in a town that I had just left…and was having trouble leaving again.
Pentecost takes place several weeks after Easter, and is the official time when the Holy Spirit comes down among the people of the Earth, a little bit after Jesus ascends into heaven. This “little bit” of lag time is really important, according to Kathryn. The disciples, who had been through so much in three or four years, were suddenly plucked out of the world they had come to know and forced to reckon with a world they were not sure they were prepared for. They had listened to Jesus, confided in him, questioned him, traveled with him—they had stored up an immense amount of knowledge from his teachings. But when he was taken up into heaven and the Holy Spirit didn’t come down to earth right away in an easy switcheroo, they must have felt awfully lost…and awfully scared. They had entered into a strange limbo where they had to turn inwards toward their community to collectively remember the lessons and teachings of Jesus which they hoped had prepared them for whatever uncertain future was to come. They were in a holding space where they were not yet embarking on the path which they were meant for, but were waiting…but for what? The disciples had to strengthen and support each other before they could turn outwards empowered by the Holy Spirit to be God’s hands and feet in the world.
Similarly, senior week and commencement weekend were a time for us graduates to turn inwards before we turned outwards, hopefully towards what we are meant to do. I feel like I am in limbo just like the disciples, stuck between graduation with both head and heart knowledge and getting to a place where I can use them. I find this time between graduation and moving on to the adventures to come in Nashville scary and frustrating and sad—I’m used to being busy and so I just want to jump into more projects and preoccupy myself such that I don’t have any time to miss my friends and my church and what feels like a “real life” that I left behind in Oberlin. But the disciples must have used this sacred time to re-collect themselves, to feel and process the things that had come to pass between Good Friday, Easter, and the ascension. Reflection time is one of the best things that we can give ourselves, though it is by no means easy. But it is entirely necessary if we, if I, am to continue on this path—towards what, I can’t claim to know. I do know this: the Holy Spirit is not only waiting for me with tongues of flame that will help me speak the languages of peace, solidarity, and justice, but the Spirit is traveling with me every step of the way.