"The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Icebreakers and Plantations

One button. Just one little button. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to press just one, seemingly inconsequential button. “I Decline Offer.” They aren’t messing around with that button. It is simple, straightforward. But so hard to press. I think I have probably stared at that button for over an hour now. Not one hour straight, mind you, but a few minutes here and a few minutes there. It feels like some weird torture method, but it isn’t supposed to be like that—I just kept telling myself that I would just go on and press the button. It was going to be really easy. It was one of the last things I had to do before I left. But I still can’t do it. I buy stuff on Amazon all the time with one-click. But this one-click seems to be too much for me.

You would think that the fact that I am sitting in a dorm room in Massachusetts, tired from a long day of Teach for America stuff would make the button-clicking easier. It’s not like I am going to change my mind. In some ways, I feel like I couldn’t change my mind even if I wanted to. And I don’t want to, because I know I’m doing what is right.

Yet, officially declining the offer from Cambridge is harder than I thought it would be. I sincerely thought the hard part was over with that particular chapter, but apparently I thought wrong.
By the “hard part,” I mean the time when I actually had to make the choice. And I’m sure some of you are thinking that I probably should have just declined right when I decided. Truly, there probably would have been some wisdom in that. But you try telling Cambridge that you won’t be joining them after they send you an invitation to attend a “Week in Wonderland” where they will explore the works of Lewis Carroll! The owl-delivered letter was like, “We hope to see you in Wonderland, but if you cannot attend, we shall see you in the classroom the week after” or something like that. Oh, didn’t I mention that they send all correspondence via owl post? Okay, not really. But it basically feels that way. There was just something in me that couldn’t write the words, “Ope, sorry, I’m not coming to Wonderland. Don’t bother saving me any tea or crumpets.” I probably should have just operated by the band-aid method on this one—you know, rip it quick. But, unfortunately, I didn’t do that. And I don’t really know why.

At one point, I had even planned this super dramatic, over-the-top, perfectly melancholy moment to do it… I decided that once I was at the airport, waiting for my flight, I would pull out my computer and hit the button. It would be this bittersweet, super poetic, crying in the airport, climactic moment. And I would finally be able to hit the “I decline offer” button. Even then I couldn’t do it though. I will admit, however, to crying on the plane. I blame the lady at the baggage check who asked, “Is Boston your final destination?” Nothing like a perfectly normal, routine question to slap you in the face and remind you that you have no idea what you are getting yourself into… I managed to hold the tears back until I was actually on the plane, but I think the guy sitting next to me was slightly alarmed. Or completely oblivious. One or the other. I like to think that I cried delicately, but sometimes you have to sniffle a little bit…

But anyway. Still couldn’t bring myself to hit the button. The days kept passing, and still the button remained untouched. I got a few emails from Cambridge people and as I told them that I wouldn’t be coming, they all kept urging me to press the button.

And life moved on. We had our crazy TFA schedule to keep me busy and distracted—but not distracted enough to just give it up and decline. Also, for those of you who might not know much about TFA, the summer training that I am doing is referred to as “institute,” or “boot camp” and it’s basically like the MTC on steroids. For reals.

Then I found myself in a session on teaching English to English language learners and we were doing the typical first week icebreaker. Now, I don’t know if this just makes me a terrible person, but typically, I hate icebreakers. I get the purpose and point and all that, but if you ask me my favorite color, I will always answer that it is “black the color of my heart.” And let’s just say that the responses to certain icebreaker questions have way more “snark potential.”

By the by, I don’t actually know my favorite color, because I have answered “black” for so long and have never actually bothered to think about the real answer to that question. Maybe that is partly why I hate icebreakers. I can live my life not knowing what my favorite color is, so why should that be something that I share with you about myself? What does that actually tell you about me? Nothing. As most icebreaker questions are apt to do…

Anyway. Sitting in session, doing icebreaker activity. But something weird happened. This icebreaker made me actually start to think a little bit… We were all supposed to think about our names and give a little explanation as to where it came from and what it means to us etc.
And so I started thinking about my name. Tara. “What’s in a name?” Hmmm…

I feel like all little girls at some point in their childhood wish that they had a different name. Or maybe that was just me. But I kind of doubt it. Had I been given the opportunity of changing my name at that stage of my life, I should now be addressed as “Emily,” or “Samantha,” or some similar name. Instead, I have an American girl doll and a one-armed teddy bear that have had those names bestowed upon them, respectively.

I didn’t necessarily dislike my name, per se, but it just didn’t seem that great to me. As occasionally happens with names, especially when you have a name that isn’t super popular or familial in nature, you get asked where it came from. Obviously my name isn’t that unusual, but I also have not met too many of my people running around, and I do occasionally get asked that question. As a response to that, I share that it’s inspired by Gone With the Wind and then I throw in the additional tidbit that my older sister, Jordan, was named after Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. Now, I don’t think my parents had hopes that she would become like Jordan Baker, rather, they liked the name, just as with my name. The provided information is pondered upon for a moment and then I’ll get comments like, “I thought her name was Scarlett?” or “I don’t remember who that is…” That is when I get to chime in with, “Oh, Tara is the name of the plantation.” Nothing like being named after a plantation. (Disclaimer: my parents might actually have a different reason for the name, but since it is the name bequeathed to me, I have taken artistic license to share the story as I choose.)

So, I know Gone With the Wind is usually thought of as a classic, but let’s be real—Scarlett is kind of awful. After my first few encounters with the story, I just really did not like her at all, even down to the “fiddle dee dee!” There was nothing redeeming about her. At least until I watched it again in high school. I think I was a sophomore and I don’t know which events in my life contributed to my different attitude/opinions about Scarlett, but as I watched the movie again, I still didn’t necessarily like her, but I had this growing respect for her.

I mean, I’m sorry, but have you ever seen anything quite as powerful as Scarlett picking herself up from the ground, dirt smeared on her face, hair a disheveled mess—the once-perfectly-coiffed and dressed belle-of-the-ball declaring, “As God as my witness, as God as my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” And then you basically see her doing all those terrible things to fulfill that promise. But wow. Talk about determination. Gotta respect the woman for that.

Anyway, as I kept revisiting this story, the ending was (and is) always so interesting to me. And insightful. After all the hardships and trouble, Scarlett is determined to win Rhett back (but frankly, my dears, he doesn’t give a darn and that might be hard for her to do!) after he leaves. Scarlett is crying on the stairs and you start hearing these echoes of the past…          


There are just so many great things in there. But the one that has been at the forefront of my mind the past few weeks was this line: "Tara! Home. I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get him back! After all, tomorrow is another day!" 

For Scarlett, her land, Tara, was this refuge and a source of strength. It was the thing that she loved most in the world and it was the solution to all her problems. The place that would make everything right. It was home--a safe place. 

In a lot of ways, Scarlett making that statement made me think a lot about a song from the broadway Beauty and the Beast. After Belle volunteers to take her father's place, she is led to her room and she sings this song... 

I feel like watching the scene is more impactful, but there are some truly terrible versions of that song online. So I went with a vocal version that I can live with. If you so desire, peruse at your leisure, but I warned you. I love this song and the reminder that, "Home should be where the heart is..." I also love the line where it says, "What I'd give to return to the life that I knew lately, but I know that I can't solve my problems going back." True dat. TFA people are super into snapping when they agree with comments. I refuse to snap, but if I were the snapping type, I would have snapped, cuz true dat.

With Scarlett O'Hara and scenes from Beauty and the Beast plaguing my mind, I probably (probably... haha! Who am I kidding?!) started overthinking things and I probably went way too far and things started getting really meta, because home for Scarlett was Tara, but does that mean that home for me was my name? Or what the name represents? The signifier? Or the signfied?! What is the significance of this for personal identity and identity development? Does that mean that if I am me anywhere, I am always at home? Does that mean that in each new place, I need to find the new me for that particular place? What does it mean?! I didn't draw any strong conclusions and the icebreaker activity ended and I was left with all these undeveloped thoughts. Cool. Another reason to not like icebreakers.

These thoughts, however, had to take a back seat as I was juggling all the TFA stuff. I couldn't press the button, I didn't know what my name meant, I didn't know where home was. I didn't really have any bosom friends yet. Things were looking super good. One might even say great...

And then I went to church. There was nothing all that remarkable about it, or rather, nothing out of the ordinary. It was a fairly typical church experience. But people were nice. And people went out of their way to say hi. They offered help and assistance and kindness. One might even say, "a cup was shared...." I might get struck down for that reference, but if you got it, you might too! (see this clip for more info on that... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDPi4buduY0).

I felt at home and I felt the peace that is a manifestation of God's love. Actually, I felt at home because I felt God's love. It wasn't in a big way. It wasn't anything overwhelming or earth-shattering. It was a gentle reminder of who I was. Who I am. A child of God, our loving Heavenly Father.

It was a reminder that I had done the right thing and He would take care of me, that He knows what is best for me. I think a lot of times when we are asked to do things that we don't really understand, understanding comes along the way. It's like this awesome treasure hunt, where you find the clues and the little hints. And one day we will find the "x" that marks the spot.

I'm still trying to figure out my new life here and figure out what I'm supposed to do, but I have learned that the idea of "being home" is just remembering who you are as a child of God. Our strength comes from recognizing that identity. Scarlett got her strength from Tara, from her land, and I will get my strength from not just my name, but remembering who I really am. As Wordsworth wrote, "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream? Our birth is but a sleeping and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home."

After I got home from church, I pushed the button. And, you know, things might sometimes not be looking great, and sometimes you have to merge from the 3 to the 495 and you just don't understand how the numbers work. I mean, 3 to 495?! One time I saw an exit that was 32-31AB. I'm not even going to attempt on that one. But I digress... Sometimes your phone dies when you are driving from New Hampshire to Wellesley and you have to stop at random gas stations to get step-by-step directions. And sometimes you are teaching summer school in a new place and you only have like five students. Some days only two of those students show up... but then you go kayaking on the Charles River and watch beautiful fireworks with great company. Or sometimes you laugh on a school bus at the end of a long, non-air conditioned day of teaching and classes with your fellow teachers while questioning the bus driver's choice of music--which in this case is country. Sometimes you meet up with your newly returned missionary brother at the JFK airport. And sometimes you push a button and start to move on.

Sometimes things don't work out so nicely, sometimes they do.

But it doesn't matter. It will all be okay and we can worry about the bad stuff tomorrow--"after all, tomorrow is another day."