Six hours and thirteen minutes left until arrival. Or so says the screen on the airplane seat in front of me. Early this morning I left my daily world behind and in a few hours, tomorrow morning in the Middle East, I’ll be stepping foot into the world I never really left behind when I stepped on the plane to head back to Chicago last summer. I live in divided yet inextricable worlds: one of which I can never truly leave behind no matter where I am. To be completely honest, I haven’t let myself think – really, truly, deeply think – about what this summer means and what it will bring.
The truth is I can’t let my mind go there, to feel it fully, while I’m in the other world because I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to return. I don’t know that essays and term papers and finals will get done because I’ll be too caught up in thinking about experiences that have shaped my identity or will continue to influence who I become. It’s difficult to immerse myself in Victorian literature (which I love, by the way) when I’m thinking about now. What our world looks like now, and what we can do to make ourselves and our world better.
But I’m on the plane now. The rest can melt away as I think ahead to all the hearts that will be changed in the coming weeks. My own included. I feel my eyes begin to light up even though it’s been hours and hours since I slept and I’m sure they are tired, red, bloodshot. I feel a weight start to lift off my shoulders because even though the work we do is heavy, it is uplifting. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t be at peace unless I’m actively working to make connections and learn about others and put myself outside of my comfort zone.
My favorite musician, Jason Mraz (those who know me well, or maybe even know me at all, will know how much of an understatement that is), tells us to “be love.” He gives countless songs and blogs and sayings about what it means to “be love,” but I didn’t understand it in full until the past couple of years. I’m not sure I can explain what it means to me, exactly, but I’ll give it a shot. To “Be Love,” for me, is to become what I believe. It is not enough to give love, or to receive love, or even to live with love. It is enough to become it, to allow it to fill me up until it becomes a part of me so fully that I can’t imagine living without it. Here, though, I don’t just mean the “love” (and I don’t think Jason does either) that signifies the bond between partners, families, friends. I see it as a universal connection we all, as humans, share. We are interconnected and it is only when we can become that which we wish to see that we can bring harmony to our lives and our relationships. It is not enough simply to act on it.
In fearing letting myself think and feel too fully about Ultimate Peace, I have failed. We had an amazing, amazing time when the CITs came to Chicago – I missed a week of classes to spend time with them and attend our events – and while I’m very proud of what I committed to that week, when I returned to school, I feel as though I failed. I never wrote about our experiences. I never put a blog up to tell anyone who wanted to learn about the panels and fundraisers and TV/radio broadcast and Millennium Park snowball fight. I didn’t write about it because I was afraid to let myself go there. I didn’t think I’d be able to come back.
Ultimate Peace is a slice out of another world: one where we can come together and even though we faces challenges of all sorts, from schedule changes to prejudice, it is a place and a time unlike anything else in the world. Ultimately, it is a place of connection: on every level. Connection, that thing that we as humans all crave stronger and harder than we crave food and water, is what can bring us together. Political and cultural tension only make that perpetual need grow perpetually stronger.
I’m nervous. I’m nervous about camp this year. I’m nervous because there will be so many opportunities and I know that I will miss some, even if it is because I’m taking advantage of another. I’m worried that I’ll miss out on connections that could be made because I’ll be writing blog posts but I’m also worried that I won’t blog enough. Honestly, I’m worried about being able to keep up; camp is so busy and so exhausting and I fear that I won’t always be able to power through.
I can’t make those fears go away, but I can take a step back and realize that they are the right fears. That they indicate I am here on this plane on my way to camp for the right reasons, and that because I have those fears I will take advantage of every single opportunity for growth and connection that comes my way, whether it is my own or whether it belongs to campers. I take a step back and I understand that while I am afraid of not “being love,” what better assurance is there than knowing I will continue to give everything I have in order to get there? David Foster Wallace tells us in his speech “This is Water” that everyday interactions are “not only meaningful, but sacred. On fire with the same force that lit the stars.” If everyday interactions are this important, vital even, to our very own human nature, then what happens if we look to extraordinary interactions? Like those between the campers, CITs, and staff we have at camp?
No wonder I can’t let myself go there in thought and feeling all the time. It’s too big. But with camp as all that is on my plate right now, well, here we go. I can’t wait. Five hours and twenty-one minutes until arrival.