For Thanksgiving, I flew to San Diego to visit two of my closest friends from college, Anya and Erica. While this meant being unable to spend Thanksgiving at home with my family, I needed to get out of Raleigh, because unlike the other Fellows, Raleigh is my home. After four years 1,000 miles away for college, I am unaccustomed to so much time at “home.” So, while I would never ever live in California, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when I climbed into Anya’s car at the airport and fell into the arms of my two best friends. Many thoughts ran through my head, but I think the most prominent ones were “Finally,” “I can breathe again,” and something akin to “This is familiar and safe.”
Let me explain. When I’m asked what I’m doing in the Fellows program, I often feel an urge to say, “I’m fighting to keep my head above water.”
There is so much we as Fellows have to do, and I’ve noticed there is quite a double-standard in regards to what is expected of us. While we are encouraged to grow, learn, and experience and manage conflict, there seems to be this assumption that these things will not interfere with everything else we have to do; we cannot stumble, but must take every new growth and discovery in perfect stride. We have to be lights for Christ in our workplaces, do good work, and be joyful in it. We are known by pretty much everyone at Apostles, and have to be engaging, kind, and mature when we talk to these people, most of whom we can’t remember meeting because we met everyone in the span of a week. We have to build relationships with host families, small groups, mentors, buddies, co-workers, teachers, and not to mention each other. We have to plan service projects, come up with capstone projects for our workplaces, schedule lengthy and deep interviews with family members, and meet with prayer partners. We have to show up to Neighbor to Neighbor ready to give 100% as mentors; we cannot have bad days even if our mentees do. We have to do blog posts and readings for classes, and then we have to engage when we are in those classes. If that’s not enough, we also should probably exercise, have a quiet time, eat well, and get at least eight hours of sleep. So…when are we supposed to process what we’ve learned and become aware of how we’re growing? When are we supposed to figure out what we’ll do when the program ends? When are we supposed to be honest and vulnerable when it’s almost a guarantee that, within an hour, there’s something we have to be ready to go for?
This all settled on me pretty heavily over Thanksgiving break. Anya, Erica, and I were sitting in a diner in a little mining town outside of San Diego. As they talked about their future and how they lacked plans just like me, I found myself thinking about everything I would have to do when I returned to Raleigh. It crossed my mind that I wanted to stay in that moment, in that diner, and to never leave. I voiced these thoughts to them.
“Well, we still have a few more hours before we have to leave,” Anya replied.
“No, I mean I wish we didn’t have to leave…ever. Never have to leave and never have to worry about the future.”
And as I said that out loud, I realized it wasn’t true. It was something the old Calley would’ve said, but I was not old Calley anymore. No, I did not want to stay in that diner forever. I didn’t want to stay safe and comfortable with my best friends anymore. I missed the Fellows. I missed the community. I wanted to be pushed into discomfort. I wasn’t fighting to keep my head above water; I was swimming a long-distance race with ten close friends. Sure, a boat had come along and was giving me a breather, but there was no way I wasn’t getting back in the water and finishing that race. So, when Anya dropped me off at the airport to fly home, there was a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. But I didn’t let myself look back. Come Monday, I’m ready to jump back in.