Forever and Always

Truth - Saying goodbye may be one of the hardest I ever end up having to do. I guess it's the finality of the statement that signifies a severance, a disconnect, and an indefinite end. It's the ambiguity of not knowing when but even more if you will ever see someone again in person that makes it so difficult. I can say all I want that this is only see you later, but the actuality is that if I do not make the effort to visit or stay in touch with people, goodbye may be the last parting words some hear from me. There's a big difference between goodbye or farewell, and see you later/soon. No matter what some connection make it through it all - that's forever and always.
"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." C.S. Lewis

It's so easy to come into situations with this attitude or mindset that you're there for one reason only. You can accomplish your goal but it becomes apparent quickly if life has other plans for your experience and your connections with other people. Sometimes it's subtle in the ways in which you spend just a little more time with the people around you and then all of a sudden you're inseparable. Even there are times where you just click with people and they're just in your life with you have no recollection of how they came to be there. That emotional investment is where we see our best selves show up for others. We learn and grow to care about them sincerely. We cultivate friendships and nourish community. One day you look around and you notice you're surrounded by a legion of folks that you care for and that care for you. It's an amazing process but where I run into trouble is leaving that environment and venturing out on my own. I know I will forever and always hold them near and dear to me. 
My soul hurts. It's been through so much the last few weeks but especially the past few days. Leaving college was already difficult when I did it six weeks ago. I said goodbye to the majority of my friends who had become my chosen family in my time at UVM. I cried and cried in the airport headed home. Four days later I returned to Burlington on a summer mission to serve as an orientation leader. It was one the best decisions I have ever made and also the biggest mistake. Let me explain. Somehow I naively thought I could come on in, welcome the class of 2019 and their families, and leave unattached or unaffected. That wasn't the case. I fell hard for the university again but even more so the people I worked with and even the new students. I became everyone's big brother or makeshift dad and they my younger siblings/kids. They made this so much harder - this whole leaving thing. They made me care about them. They built up my love for them only to be separated so soon by my impending departure. They gave me the best six weeks I have ever had but also the most tumultuous because I didn't want to leave them. I don't think I have sobbed, moaned, and wallowed so much as I did the past three days where we said our goodbyes, gave hugs, and spoke powerful words of encouragement. My eyes were red, my face was wet with tears trickling down my face, and my hands shook because this couldn't be. How did I end up loving so many people in such a short time and they me? To that question, I know the answer for once but it doesn't matter. They will be part of me for the rest of my life. They were the triumphant end to chapter of my life story saga. They were my forever and always reminder that I really did love college but more so the people that made my college.

From our first two in-service sessions, straight on through our three-day retreat and week and a half of training, I knew this orientation staff was unlike any other group I had ever been part of. It just worked and clicked. From the start I saw people demonstrating extraordinary kindness to one another and that showed up all the way through our six sessions of formally introducing students and their families to the university. They just cared so much and went out of their way to not only let you know but proved it in their actions and words daily. After years of writing about how it was never enough to just know in your heart that you loved people but that it had to come to the forefront in outward expressions, they did exactly that. I was amazed  day after day with the kind words, the thoughtful sentiments, the selfless service, unrelenting work ethic, and the warm hugs that were shared between people. It's exactly the kind of work environment I had always wanted - safe, comfortable, and interdependent with room for self-care, social justice self-work, and self-sufficiency. Everyday I was energized, sustained, and given new hope with just how I saw everyone interacting. That empathetic kind of care is not something that can be taught but comes internally, and to see it from 50 different people was nothing short of amazing.
Through the sessions I had time to connect with not only the staff but others who were around. My first orientee from last year's orientation, Ronan, dropped by on his way to ROTC training and spoke some powerful truth in passing that just stuck with me. He's still one of those people who just know will be part of changing the world just by the reality of who he is. My first group of "Joeys" were wonderful and it was uncanny how lively they were especially as stereotypes would dictate that they would be otherwise. Nope they were silly, talkative, and highly engaged. I made a strong connection with Trevor and his older brother who joined him that was just so seamless. From there I found myself having candid in-depth conversations with parents and family members session after session. It's funny because I often found myself making even more meaningful  connections with other OL's students like the classy Charles and Harry who surprised me for the better with their maturity, relatability, and insight. Hands down my favorite people that I encountered were these brothers, Anthony and Matt, who were exactly who I had wished I was coming into college - intelligent, goofy, personable, and refreshingly compassionate. Along with another orientee, Cameron, who was so gracious, humble, and funny  - I was perpetually surrounded by people who I know will be an impactful part of the communities they are part of. I wish I wasn't leaving just so I could be in the presence. What a true gift it was to cross paths with them. They're like me only better, and different in the best ways possible. Always and forever I will carry their light, laughter, and hope with me.
Of course there's the staff which I cannot say anything but wonderful things about. They taught me lessons each and everyday. They let me know that I can always do more, give more of myself, and extend a hand. They made sure that I knew that I mattered, was valued, seen, and heard. We had these orientation teams - mine was rightfully called "Two Shades." If I tell you I love them I mean it with every fiber of my being. They had me rolling on the ground laughing, crying big wet tears, and getting fired up to show up in the ways in which they needed me too. I couldn't have made it without them all  Caroline, Amber, Danielle, Rayelle, Genesis, Camilla, Connor, and our grad supervisor, Rob (aka Orb). I spent so much time with it and always left our discussions feeling energized even after 16 hours where I should have been exhausted. I just felt like they got me and also let me be vulnerable. They didn't just hear me but really listened. Out of everyone I gained another beloved little brother in Connor. I don't know what it was but from the first time I antagonized him I knew he would be someone I loved unconditionally. I saw his fiery passion, unwavering loyalty, and powerful love and it resonated with me deeply. Leaving the whole staff, but even more so my O-team, but most of all him was almost to bear.  It was like I was losing part of myself. Add the returners, Megan, Heather, Alex, Sam, and James who were y rock, fallback, and support plus my homegirl, Isora with everyone else like Cheyenne, Rose, Emily Grace, Chad, and Aaron among others and I was overwhelmed with love and affection. It shouldn't have been possible for so many phenomenal people to come together. It's exactly what the world should be like always. What a blessing. My final days were nonstop tears and nostalgia, for the best of reasons.
It's only know that I'm leaving and on my way to the next part of my life story that I realize that this was all so purposeful. This is how my life is going to work especially in higher education - either I'll move on or the people I get to know will. What stands out about it is that I get to have them all written on my heart. No matter where I go or what I do, I will always love them, forever and always from the depths of my soul. Ferene, Dani, Annie, President Sullivan, and Leslie with so many other people who defined my experience will remain part of me so long as I live. X


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