reverence

This post was written over a year and a half, from October 2015 to April 2017.

Reverence is defined as deep respect for someone or something. In a world that highlights only the highlights, I wanted to understand how we express reverence for the memories we come upon that aren’t as joyful.

Berlin, Germany | October 2015

Our destination in Berlin was the Wall. Peering through cracks a couple of bulletholes wide, we took in a narrow view of the death strip, where East Berliners were gunned down by border guards, their footsteps on the loose gravel impossible to miss. We wandered into the memorial, where a few college kids had unfolded their legs and blankets and books to capture some of the early October sun. Stunned comments escape from our mouths:

“Is it normal to do your homework on the lawn of the Berlin Wall?”

I joined the caboose of a memorial tour, listening as a lanky tour guide in his late twenties gestured to portraits of those killed at this very site, explaining the conditions behind each death. He was compassionate, if a little jittery, because who wouldn’t be jittery if this was your 9-to-5?

When the tour group moved to their next stop, I noticed an empty Diet Coke bottle resting atop the victims’ portraits. I got mad. I usually get sad before I get mad, but when I do I can feel myself turning into my mom, filling with righteous anger for when things are disrespectful. It wasn’t right that some oblivious tourist left a Diet Coke bottle, a piece of trash that didn’t even make it to the nearest recycling bin, to block the precious human lives that had been tossed aside: eerily similar to the way we discard trash.

Manhattan, New York | August 2009

New York’s hottest tourist attraction was our agenda for the morning. Nearly eight years after the attacks, we visited the World Trade Center Memorial.

“We” was my parents and me, a newly-minted 14-year-old. Our family vacations have always been dotted with historical visits, taking us to the Lincoln museum in Springfield, IL, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a reservation in Santa Fe. As Americans, visiting the World Trade Center while in New York seemed necessary. The full museum won’t be open for another two years, but we made our way around the lobby anyway. I gazed up at the piles of rubble behind glass and down at building-sized holes in the ground.

Holes that sat, significant only in proving the absence of what used to be– occupying heaps of valuable space in a city where a square foot of apartment space, barely enough to sit cross-legged in, costs over $1,400. Holes that demand reflection: when all our eyes want to do is drag the original buildings back into their foundations, we can’t. Something new is here now–but faithfully existing for the promise that we will not forget.

The gift shop wasn’t open while we visited. It will open in May 2014, to criticism as some claim the shop operates in poor form, as funding inflated salaries from the sale of such a tragedy is heartless. But what about the understandably practical logic of selling merchandise in order to simply turn on the lights in the museum? To employ the people who guide grieving families and curious tourists alike through the harrowing experience of reliving this day? The question is an critical one, its answers indicative of how we revere tragedy. I have no answers, only the tangential musings of a suburban 14-year-old.

Krakow, Poland | November 2015

I stood in Auschwitz I, the camp with the iron gate reading “Arbeit macht frei”–“work makes you free”–in twisty letters arched above my head. There were heaps of schoolkids running around, matching sweatshirts designating their class trips coming from Israel, America, everywhere. They giggled and crowded in for a group picture under the haunting gate, smiling and avoiding contact like teenagers who “like-like” people do.

As we walked through the camp, kids started pulling out iPhones and Snapchatting footage–amateur documentary filmmakers, they–presumably to their friends not as lucky to be on the world tour trip.

The whispers started from my classmates:

“How rude.
I wish they were mature enough to respect this place.
Maybe when they’re older.”

But our professor inserted himself, empathetically, gently: “Who knows–they could be sending that to a grandma who survived this place, a grandpa who isn’t strong enough to make it back.”

Memphis, Tennessee | March 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The National Civil Rights Museum has since taken over the Motel, allowing visitors snake through the third floor and peer in at the famous Room 306. As I shuffle by with the other visitors from a rainy Sunday, only a few yards and a glass divider separate me from the spot where King was assassinated.

There are signs a few feet before the spot on the hotel’s balcony asking visitors to be silent in respect for the events that occurred here. While we’re shuffling by the rooms, a mother and her daughter, about my age, strike up a casual conversation about the weather.

By know I know what will happen. When we leave the area for the gift shop (a recurring theme in memorials, I’ve found), the first thoughts to our lips are: “Why were they talking? Didn’t they see the signs? Don’t they just know that’s rude?”

The question I have no idea how to answer is this: Why do some expect reverence, and some try to normalize? Which will make our society better–can we even come up with an appropriate response to history’s tragedies?

In visiting places of horrifying loss, I have continually needed to remind myself that I will never understand.

Although I stand at the door to 1968, I will never understand, like Coretta Scott King, what it was like to lose both a husband and a national figure of hope at the exact same time. Like Yolanda, MLK III, Dexter, and Bernice–I will never understand the pain of losing a father.

Although I look into the holes where two towers once stood, I will never understand, like family members and loved ones of the 2,753 people who died on September 11th, 2001, how it felt to watch planes crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, where their brothers, mothers, aunts, anyone worked.

And although I stand at the kiln, I will never understand, like the children and grandchildren of those who were dehumanized, humiliated, and ultimately burned to death, how to exist in the world without searing anger that one group of people made it their mission to obliterate yours.

I will never understand and I must stop co-opting my reverence for tragedy as a marker that I do. Reverence means nothing without my acknowledgment of just how much pain I’ve escaped–it’s negligible even with that acknowledgment. Because I can never understand, I can only ask: How has this affected you? What are you willing to share? What have I done to further it?

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newness

Last January, I wrote a post about 2015 where I wrote down what I learned from each month of the previous year.

Now it’s 2017, and this April will mark two years since I started writing here. As a college student, I’m better for having forced myself every few weeks–or months–to cull the running commentary in my mind into what has felt, to me, one of the most accurate representations of my actual growth as a person. In my life, writing as a method of meaning-making is second only to the growth that happens in real time, in hard conversations and long conversations, with myself and with the Lord and with others.

When I was walking to our library this afternoon, I was struck by the raw feeling that happens when the actions of your life weave themselves into an overlay that somehow seeps into a physical place, once just infrastructure. I’d love for you to take a look at this picture (and the illustrator behind it), because it visually describes a lot of what I’m feeling. I’m imagining some interactive map of campus created with technology that doesn’t yet exist, one that I can swivel around and zoom in on, with lines drawing my most walked routes and tags reminding me of both the memorable and mundane moments. The huge imposing structure of Wilson, our psychology building, is where I cried in a bathroom stall after getting a D on a test sophomore year. The tables of upstairs Commons remind me of nightly study sessions freshman year with friends I barely knew, desperately seeking to be needed and thinking that desire would somehow be fulfilled if everyone I knew was clamoring to spend their study time with me instead of others.

When I leave Vanderbilt, I will not remember the beauty and splendor of campus as much as I remember messy dorm rooms and cooking in low light and the silence between people who understand.

Last New Years, I flew down to the Dallas area for a week to see three friends who were going abroad that spring semester, two to Italy and one to Bolivia. This New Years, when the three of them in Dallas sent pictures of their celebration to me in Chicago with “wish you were here”s, I realized just how sweet it is to be on the uphill climb of creating traditions. I think a lot about how short college has been, how recent some of my favorite memories are–how insufficient it can feel to say that I’ve only known my closest friends from college for three and a half years.

But that’s a dangerous game to play, right? Once graduation comes, the next comparison is that: I’ve only lived in this city for a year compared to your several, been in a relationship for this many months to your marriage, just started a new job while you’re basking in a promotion. In the looming race of “most established college graduate,” I want to take myself out of the running.

Instead of the “most-established” race, I want to recognize the beauty of a season that allows us to create new traditions and relationships, embracing the transient quality of all that’s around. Traditions are full and joyful when they’ve been around for years and years, but I never want to forget the value of that healthy nervousness that comes with starting anew.

o holy night

One hundred and ten years ago, on this day, the first experimental public radio broadcast rang out through a young America. Reginald Fessenden’s voice rang through the radio on Christmas Eve 1906, reading the story of the birth of Christ from Luke 2. After reading, he played the classic carol “O Holy Night.”

You know the words, right? A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices? It’s a beautiful picture. That big star in the sky in Bethlehem, pointing us in present-day Chicago and Nashville and all the other towns and cities to an eternal hope. I can picture the entire tired world, eyes lifted, let out a collective sigh–“we can’t do it alone,” they all think.

I’d like to think that Fessenden had high hopes for the message of his radio broadcast all those years ago, that it would sit in the still, small part of hearts and then grow, grow, grow, like a soul only can when it knows the love of Christ.

What I do know, though, is that 1906 was not the freest of all the years in American history. Blacks and whites were racially segregated under Jim Crow and separate-but-equal under Plessy v. Ferguson. On September 22, 1906, riots broke out in Atlanta after a play promoting Klansmen premiered and headlines were published falsely claiming a black man had sexually assaulted white women. For three days, the riots raged. People died. On October 11 in San Francisco, the Board of Education ordered Japanese immigrants to attend racially segregated schools–with internment to come decades later under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

So where’s the happy medium between being grateful for a message of peace in a hurried, tired world and understanding that almost no one can just drop all the baggage and be free? What’s the difference between being free in Christ and living in a world where who you are doesn’t measure up?

On this Christmas Eve, I am grateful for the promise of hope in Christ and uncomfortable with the severe gashes left torn open in our world. If you have the time, I often think back to this post from Erin Taylor Green’s blog that talks about how Scripture has been used to justify hate all throughout American history.

My favorite excerpt is this:

“…while Christ walked the earth, we took words of scripture and skewed them to persecute him. For centuries we have perverted His words and turned them into our own.  We have taken His words and picked and chosen the ones that fit our current agendas, the ones that help to prove our points.”

Not long ago, people used Scripture to justify the Trail of Tears and the African slave trade, and I’m sure they could have used it for our Japanese internment camps as well. These days, Scripture is often used to justify a stance against gay marriage, or immigration status, or generally anything that would be a perceived loss of power in our evangelical Christian stronghold on the country.

The last verse of “O Holy Night” is as follows:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His Holy name!

Those third and fourth lines–those are music to my ears. I feel like everyone’s just clenching their hands, hoping for a not-tone-deaf Christmas message, and those lines remind me that both our Lord and people who love him know that there are people who aren’t free, who aren’t okay, who can’t just will themselves “free” as defined by a conservative Christian. It validates the yearning in my heart for us to realize the hurt we as the church have done, consistently, to other groups of people and to recognize the ugly power we have in controlling the freedom of others.

On that first radio broadcast in 1906, Reginald Fessenden relayed his message of Christ’s hope into a hurting world. This year, the message still falls on ears that are preoccupied, burdened, hurting.

The world is a big place, and there are a lot of reasons to be outraged. But it’s also a small town, and your act of grace in a hurting world does more than you might think. Our country is still young–we shape history each day. May I ask one wish of you this Christmas? This year, let’s not be people who use the Lord’s name to justify hatred when we know his law is love and his gospel peace. The gashes in all of us are wide and deep, and so often created by others. He can heal them, and I want to be a part of that.

penultimate

When I came to college, each day I teetered precipitously between being wildly insecure and a raging people pleaser. There were to be no bad days in college, because just one would send me into a self-loathing tailspin–and then everyone would know. They’d know I didn’t have everything figured out, that I second-guessed myself and daily thought I was a burden to any friend I had. What I like most about myself now is that I like myself.

In high school I often felt left out for two reasons: first, because I had no siblings, my family had little lasting relevance to the rest of my community, and second, because we didn’t (and don’t) have the same amount of wealth that so often surrounded me in the halls. I worked on making myself relevant in high school, crafting a person I decided other people would want to be friends with: a girl who always wore a smile, willing to help, and hid her long, mouthful-of-marbles last name from others under nicknames and grand gestures of kindness and “please just like me please don’t make fun of me.”

We didn’t belong to a country club, we didn’t have a pretty hearth to take our Christmas card photo in front of, we had a black and white printer, we still used the air conditioners that went in the window during the summer. This is all normal for lots of families around America, I now understand. What we did have was love, and humor, and goofiness. That is what I now treasure about my family and our little home, but is harder for a status-conscious 17-year-old. For the community I grew up in, I was sure that the other kids tiptoed around me: my lack, my plainness evident.

Sometimes I felt whole, though. The problem was always gathering all the different parts of my life together. After my sophomore year of college, I realized fake Kendall was showing again. In a lot of ways, Vanderbilt is similar to my high school–keep up appearances, show your wealth in a socially sanctioned way, be the benefactor, not the recipient. But there was one place I could always go: the people I’ve come to call my cargo pants squad.

The cargo pants squad used to be more youthful and more childless than we (they) are now. It started with my mom and dad, Kate and Jeff, and two other couples: Rick and Julie, and Mary Beth and Andy. All newlyweds back in the early 90s, they have stayed friends through job changes and cross-country moves and the births of five children, collectively. Two summers ago, we rented a cottage on a lake in Ohio, the halfway point between two of our families in Illinois and Wisconsin and the third, the rogue ones in New York. We slept a bit haphazardly all over the house, sat around eating hot dogs off of paper plates, without worrying about what we looked like. The moms wore their cargo pants (of course).

Do you have any family friends that are more like family than friends? That’s your cargo pants squad. Maybe yours wears Barbour instead–that’s cool, some squads are way more stylish than others and we could probably learn from yours. Wherever you feel like yourself instead of a campus persona of yourself–that’s your place, and I want you to continue creating and fighting for that space.

The cargo pants squad is where I feel completely myself, with people who had known my little infant self all the way to me now, at 21. They’re a place where I didn’t have to be a skinny and tiny and smart and funny Vanderbilt girl, but since my experiences with them weren’t looped in to my daily life on campus, or heavily documented on Instagram just like most things are at school, I kept telling myself over and over: “That’s not what’s real, Vanderbilt is what’s real.”

The funny part is, they’re both real. In deciding that my no-frills family clique was the most real part of my life, I suffocated any real connection to other people here. Even while being a student here, Vanderbilt to me was the Vanderbilt I saw in all the girls with expensive branded clothes and going to tailgates at the frats–I didn’t know how to replace my surface level analysis of my school with a more nuanced understanding.

Today I turned in my last final paper and finished my second-to-last semester of college. If I had to tell anything to the Kendall starting her first semester of college in August 2013, I’d ask her to not fight the bad days. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a room with about a hundred other people, and looked around to find the faces of all the people I’ve known throughout these past three years. If I think about it long enough, I can think of both good and memories with each of these people, joyful ones that felt like parts of movies you want to rewind again and again and terrible ones that I felt like we couldn’t endure. But our lives are sweeter for knowing each other and for not forcing bad days into good ones, for just letting them be and learning from them.

So back to what I said–what I like most about myself now is that I like myself, most days, after so many years of not. I hope you’re getting there too, or are working on getting there somehow.

 

close

This is what 1 Corinthians 13 tells me:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

I put a lot of effort into knowing the right way to respond to outside situations: not too conservative, not too liberal, grabbing the thin in-between of “I have thoughtfully reasoned out my argument” and “I care for everyone involved.” I live in the gray. But whether I care to learn about another person or to learn just enough to respond in a self-complimenting way, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t pray enough for love to not sound like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.

On this day, and every day, that’s not enough. Today I pray that my desire for love is greater than my desire for a well-reasoned word.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

I love knowing–knowing anything. Information is a commodity at Vanderbilt–information about ancient literature or who’s going to what date party this weekend or how the electoral college works or who’s devastated because they didn’t get that exec position they wanted.

I firmly believe that the story of each person walking around me on campus today is more interesting and more worthy of being known than short quips of information that only make me feel better about my status of “someone worthy of having information.” Those stories aren’t told when we’re more concerned about amassing wells of information, echo chambers that leave us with no relationships to show for ourselves when it’s all over.

It hurts me when people claim that “if only people would just focus on God instead of the election” because that doesn’t address what anyone’s actually crying out for. For a lot of people, the personal is political. Disregarding that disregards who people truly believe themselves to be, and it’s hard to know someone if you don’t care to see them.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I don’t know what a Donald Trump presidency will look like, and I truly want him to surprise us. I pray for the Lord to lead him in a presidency that does not bully, does not call names, does not tell people that they do not matter. I pray this because I believe God is in control.

But I think the social damage caused by Trump’s words is deep and wide and feels insurmountable. We don’t understand each other, we of the blue cities and you of the red towns. I want us to, though. I wonder how much of this election was an echo chamber–of how much we as students actually sat down to think about why rural towns believe what they do, and vice versa. I’m guilty of not engaging in those kinds of conversations, but today shows me their importance. Instead of jumping to my first thoughts–how could you believe such things? how are you so ignorant?–I hope to ask questions, to take a deep dive into what life is like, before sharing why we may differ.

College has shaped me by introducing me to people who I would have never met otherwise. To you, then: I’m thankful for your stories and that you entrust me with them. Relationships, even on days when I act like they’re a burden, are what I truly believe make this world go round.

I want to leave you with this, from Brian Andreas:

Life changes when you understand, all the way to the heart of you, that there’s only you and me, catching each other when we fall, and standing up again and seeing if we can do it better this time.

Please keep catching  me–I’ll try for the same.

my cup overflows

Right before I moved into college, I was forwarded an article about the danger in forcing college to be the best four years of your life. Always one for measured and moderately unpopular arguments, I felt smart agreeing with it. But something about living here makes it hard to imagine any other type of life, at least for now.

Very often when students on my tours ask of my favorite thing about Vanderbilt, I draw a blank. Of course, the people–but that feels easy. I usually answer by trying to explain the intricate way Vanderbilt is now sewn into my heart, the backdrop for my comings and goings, my joyful victories and bitter losses. My favorite thing about it is that it’s mine and it’s home. Of course, this is easier said than done, but there’s something special–enigmatic–about living in a place ripe for challenge and growth. When I visited Vanderbilt as a junior in high school, I imagined myself walking this place, taking fun classes and making friends and frankly, getting out of where I’m from.

What I got here was, thankfully, harder and better than my expectations. I’m thankful I’m not the same person I was the summer I turned 18 and drove down to Nashville. If I could tell my 18 year old move-in-day self anything, it would be first that the Lord is good and second that the Lord does not want you to stay as you are.

When people claim to have no regrets, I get a little suspicious because I believe regret is a real and healthy part of life, a part of life that the Lord uses to teach us in the way we should go.

If I could, I’d tell that 18-year-old girl to write down more of the parts of her days she loved. That she’d want to remember everything about the afternoons sitting out on Wyatt Lawn, or sneaking onto the roof of Hank, or doing dance routines and eating big cookie with a chorus of friends snuggled up all around the common room. I’d tell her to spend more face time with those fringe friends, the friends of friends who have something important to speak into her life if she’d only listen. I’d tell her to be honest with more people and be intimidated by fewer.

I’d tell her that she’d fall in love with Nashville in a strange way, one that will eventually push her out. Nashville isn’t home forever, and she isn’t a perfect fit, but one summer she’ll end up calling the Kroger on 21st “my Kroger,” making one-item trips for frozen pizzas and ice cream cartons, and living in Nashville will have snuck right into a sweet part of her heart.

It seems like every day now, the Lord does at least one thing to remind me of His provision for my life. Sometimes it’s a text from a friend asking if I want to come to a coffee shop or a play or just to dinner. Sometimes it’s a feeling of peace in the midst of job and grad school applications. Sometimes it’s a well-timed worship song to lose myself in, or a sermon that takes up pages and pages of notes. Sometimes it’s a book I get caught up in.

Sophomore year someone read me a quote that I want scrawled into the heart of every college freshman or freshman in life:

She moved about her days with wonder and ease, for her whole story had been told, and she was still loved.

These are the days, but so are all the other, not-in-college ones. How truly breathtaking to watch as the Lord walks me into wonder and ease for this final year, and then the rest of this life. My prayer is the same for each one of you reading this! I love y’all!

the heartbeat

My phone is dead, so I’m present.

“I have a thirteen-page paper due tomorrow and I just found my major source. And it’s due tomorrow.”

What are the scenes of a campus with a heartbeat?

As I settle into the overstuffed green-and-white polka-dotted chair—my spot of choice—an a cappella group’s dress rehearsal is breaking up. Goodbyes are sung as they sling backpacks and tote bags around experienced shoulders and sing Friday night teasers at half-volume.

I could exchange one boy in athletic shorts and headphoned ears for another, but I don’t want to. The girls, too—t-shirts and leggings, but I want them all to be individuals. All I can think about these days—never drilled into my head enough freshman year—is how worthy these people are. How worthy thousands of other kids at other schools in other states are, too. I feel honored. The numbers half of my brain knows that statistics and aggregate descriptions of “Vandy kids,” of how we dress and talk and act in similar ways, are not meant to offend but to ease the cognitive load on our brains. But I always want to keep thinking that the boy who just walked by me, with the carabiner hooking his water bottle to his backpack, polishing off an apple and checking his phone, easily just himself, is worth knowing.

Discerning a group project or a group of friends here is easy if you know what to look for. Friends sit strewn across a couple of tables or some couches, the volume ranging from murmured equations to loud laughter, disrupting productivity but something we wouldn’t change for the world. Group projects—a dime a dozen in Rand at nine—look at their computers, look at each other, look at their computers again. They’re brainstormed by hand-talking boys and nailed down by shrugging girls.

“We’re going third, so we can practice it before we go.”

“Yeah, and I have nothing else to do tonigh—

“Oh yeah, I was gonna practice a ton tonight.”

One boy, headphoned like I could have predicted, turns the corner, slapping a wrapper into the trash and bending below the frosted glass classroom windows to forage for a study room. Just as he makes the loop in defeat, another headphoned boy replaces him. Same goal, no luck, everyone always has the same idea Wednesdays at nine.

There are problem sets to be erased and rewritten, last-minute job applications to be submitted, Munchie runs to make. These scenes are common to every college campus on a US News list, but we don’t know anything else. It’s special for us.

I get up to go to the bathroom and grab today’s issue of the Hustler off the newspaper rack on my way back. Apparently they print one for every undergrad student at Vanderbilt, but there are always tons of extras sitting around until next Wednesday morning when they become old news. In the office this morning, we got a double delivery—so practically every family visiting Vanderbilt today at 10am could read about Vanderbilt’s year in review.

It’s becoming harder to answer the question of why I chose to come to Vanderbilt, maybe because it’s been 4 years since it was a choice and since then, Vanderbilt has strapped itself right into the most mundane and daily part of my heart. It’s my favorite place because it’s the backdrop for every day these days.

There are lots of ways for this place to make headlines. Sexual assault is probably the most salient reason. There are other, less grave reasons—we’re the happiest student body in the country two years running. An accomplishment for sure, but I’m more interested in the insignificant Wednesday nights. It’s someone’s best night tonight, and someone else’s worst night. Actually, at fewer than 7,000 students, I don’t feel totally comfortable with those odds. Tonight might just be an average one for all of us, but we get to practice for real life here and I dig that.

Right now you could probably find some kids out doing the things we brand Vanderbilt with: at indie house shows that just happen to happen, down on Broadway, in big important organizational meetings because we’re all so involved. But my favorite times to remember are the ones that could just fall short of a mention–sitting on a roommate’s bed procrastinating homework or sitting next to each other not talking, just studying. Those are the special ones to me.

I used to think that every day of my life had to be curated into the best day of my life and now I just know that my attitude changes everything. I love walks around Centennial and studying on the red couches and driving to get Chick Fil A or Cookout milkshakes and FaceTimes to another country and I feel like I’ll be forever indebted to this place that has given me a playground to learn and love for a whole four years. How ridiculously generous is the experience of going to college?

It’s pretty trendy to call people out when they don’t recognize the things they’ve been handed on a silver platter, but all I see here are kids that are just trying to keep going. And I love them so much for it. Even with all the flashy stock answers I can give you about the resources at school, learning about myself and learning about other people have been both my biggest confidence-booster and biggest drawing board here.

I really like that question–what are the scenes of a campus with a heartbeat? It reminds me that life is about other people and I should grab as many chances to feel that heartbeat as I can while I’m still here.