They say that, in order to be the one to write the end to your stories, you have to tell them first. Until do you, you will let others tell your stories, and you will let others write your endings for you.
They usually say this about the stories of our hard times, but I believe this is true of all our stories.
It’s an odd liminal space, being back. I left so sure I could control everything about my future, but now I know I can’t.
So much of my life has followed an understood pattern—school, work, university, travel. To be clear, I chose it all, gladly. Even knowing I wasn’t cut out for the usual linear path I knew would have welcomed me with well-worn tracks, I wanted the steps I chose.
For a year, I went away to experience everything I never thought possible, and as I’m sitting here writing this, I see now that, big as this dream was, it wasn’t always what I wanted it to be.
I heard a criticism of my generation years ago that likened us to the iPod we were disparaged of liking: we want to be unique the same way everyone else was. We wanted our custom library of music, housed in the same casing everyone else had.
Valid a generational criticism or not, I see its echoes in me.
Since I turned twenty, I’ve published five books, received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with distinction, completed a certified TESOL course with one of the highest marks possible, taught English in Japan for six months, and travelled the globe for a year. So much of what I’ve been working for, I’ve achieved. And I thought that, in achieving it, I would earn the permission to be free.
I rewatched Moana on my birthday and during the scene where she decides to return to Te Fiti, with Maui or not, I realized something:
We cannot follow our call while tied to retaining others’ approval.
My hope in my heart for this year of travel was that I would know who I was. I’ve seen being myself as being helpless to who God created me to be. I’ve considered being myself as deciding who I want to be and becoming that person. And, while the line between self-as-inherent and self-as-chosen seems thinner at some times than others, I am reminded of what my dad once told me about destiny.
We all have a God-given destiny.
Whether we choose to follow it is up to us.
Months ago, I knew that, coming back to Canada, I’d have to go through a period of re-evaluation. Now here I am, a whole landscape behind me, facing a wall of water through which everything wavers.
I wanted to write a story about my whole trip. Tell you what happened. Make you laugh.
But I find myself staring at a mirror of my face in the water and I don’t know whether to step in.
People don’t talk about this part.
The part where you come to the end of everything you’ve planned and discover that the future is wide open. You haven’t eliminated uncertainty; you’ve only postponed it.
And you don’t know what to do.
All the goals I’d had that aren’t writing—graduate school, doctorate, career—have become wisps when I wasn’t looking.
After a year of travel, I still don’t know who I am. Isn’t that scary? Everything I’ve done, the situations I’ve been in- I’ve spent years trying to know myself and, after the thing I thought would bring it all together, I’m still searching.
A naturally cautious person, I tried to hedge my bets. Writing while in university, because the former was my dream and the latter would save me if it failed.
I don’t regret what I did, mind you. But the strategies which served me in the past will not serve me in the future.
I spent a lot of time this year worrying. Would I miss my bus? My plane? Would they lose my luggage? Would I hate the food when I arrived?
Mostly, I worried if people would like me.
If I would like them.
My response to worry has been to try and control the situation so it will turn out favourably. In the case of this trip, saying yes to far too many things until I couldn’t. Managing my struggles on my own until I couldn’t. Doing things on my own until I couldn’t.
In taking myself out of my normal context and going to many different places, among many different people, I was applying the principle of “wherever you go, there you are” and discovered not who I was or what I could do, but who I wasn’t and what I couldn’t do.
I’m not an island.
I can’t thrive without the help of people who care about me.
I thought, the more people I let in, the more obligations I would have. My dreams would be trampled under the feet of those who wanted me to clean up this space and not have so many softly glowing things when I could have electricity. And, while some people are like that, I’ve found that the sky gets bigger when I let people in.
The gorge I built to protect my crystalline phosphorescence relaxes from claustrophobic to boundaried.
I’ve found people that tread gently, kneeling down to the softly glowing things to breathe on them until they shine with colours I never knew they were capable of. But those people did.
There are people that don’t tie you with lines of obligation.
And there are lines you tie all by yourself, without the help of anyone else, to people who don’t want from you the things you think they did. You don’t have to hold on to them.
Consider this your invitation to let them go.
I travelled around the world and now I find myself in the blank end-pages of the book before the next is opened.
In my heart, there is a voice, a song calling me forward that I have never seen so clearly as I do now.
I still don’t know where it’s going.
I still don’t know what it means to follow it.
But I know I’m going to have to give up a lot to walk it.
(Like my own expectations, and how I thought I could avoid sacrifice by choosing two futures at once.)
Lord, may my next story be as bright as the waves that brought Moana home.