This morning I lived the life I might have 10 months from now. I woke up just a mile from downtown little rock, in SoMa. Pulled on my running shoes and brushed my teeth. Started out.
Feet pounded the first mile to the Marriott, former Peabody, then turned right toward the Clinton Center. Smiled at the gift shop with Bill’s face beaming through the window like a movie star. Remembered what the teachers from Hope told me their students call their town, “Hope, land of the hopeless.”
Crossed the pedestrian bridge, passed walkers and was passed by middle aged white men with water strapped around their waists. Heard a whistle when I was ten yards past the Arkansas Rehabilitation House from the clump of men waiting for the white vans to take them somewhere.
Pulled my muscles to continue, and finally felt the easy robotic movements around mile five. No longer trying, letting momentum pull me through each curve of the beautifully paved Rivertrail. Saw the slightly overweight men-no-longer-boys trip over their boards while clutching the back of their not-belted cargo shorts at the meager Skatepark. Smiled at the casual bikers coming from the opposite direction, at the countless girls that looked just like me: shorts, shoes, shirts, ponytails, iPhone armband.
Made it the ten scheduled miles, showered, arrived at the tiny SoMa Farmer’s Market. Bought a pumpkin, some veggies for lunches, a gift for a friend. Walked to the coffee shop. Watched each couple enter: Coach shoes African American couple, hipster girl with the big sweater and heeled boots, older pair with newspapers.
I’m still here, in Little Rock, but at a new coffee shop. This could be my life. This could be my life. So easy to slip into a new transition that won’t feel new at all, but more a regression back to what I thought the world was before. Before teaching. Before Teach For America. Before the Delta.
The hot topic with every young professional I know is, “Have you thought about what you’re going to do next year?” This ever present question. This ever present certainty that yes, we love it. Yes, we are passionate. Yes, we are working so hard at what we do. But yes, there is going to be an end. Yes, we are going to leave. Yes, we are just like everyone else… just prolonged the inevitable a little bit longer.
If I had acid reflux it would be burning up now, rising into my throat and making my eyes water. The life I have built in Dumas is secure. It is consistent, it is gratifying and fulfilling. It is something I love. But even if it is my final destination (which it may eventually be), it is not the place I will take every step of my journey. I know I will leave. I know I must grow. But I can’t yet admit that this is my last year.
When I’m in this neighborhood, I make too many assumptions. All those people at the Farmers Market, with their adorable clothes and beautiful music and kind faces selling me fresh produce, I assume all of them are ignorant and sheltered. I assume all of them are manufactured and snug in their homes. Surrounded by people like them. I feel uncomfortable because of how comfortable I feel. It terrifies me.
I have grown so accustomed to the norm of sacrifice. My best friends live hours or states away, all of my running trails are farm roads (and I am often the sole runner, and often told to stop for my own safety), I do not patron big box stores or coffee shops, my only yoga classes I lead with students or get from youtube, grad school is on-line, meetings must be scheduled weeks in advance to ensure we are available for the drive, the closest interstate is an hour away.
All of these things I have turned into beauty and blessings. All of these things I love every day. But they are still sacrifices to the comfort I used to have. To the comfort I could have, if I become full time for ATC and move here, to Little Rock, next year.
Sometimes I forget that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Sometimes I forget that it is okay to feel comfort in familiarity. Sometimes I forget that no matter how long I live in a place that is not where I am from, I will never be from that place. No matter how long I immerse myself in a culture different from how I was raised, I will still have the roots of my learning deep within me. Sometimes I forget that my future is not yet defined, that it is okay to leave, that it is okay to let go.
Not just because my closest friends have already told me, not just because I know it is the best professional move I could make, not just because I will be 27 and already have a summer job lined up that pays literally a third of my current salary, not just because I am in the process of the best year I have had since my teaching year began and know I want to walk away on top, not just because it is the end of the second round of TFA teachers in my town, not just because I am tired of living in a place too big and too dark and too unlike where I want to live– not just because of these things, and maybe working in tandem but separate from these things, my deep belly thinks one year from now Little Rock will be my home.
Sometimes I forget that even if what I am doing is meaningful and perfect and beautiful, it doesn’t mean I will stay. And in fact, it may be the precise indication that it is time to leave.