I’ve been living in Portland for almost eight years. I live “the good life” here, as far as my definition of such goes. I bike everywhere, have incredible friends, have a laid back job(s) and, like many fellow Portlanders my age, I focus mostly on my intellectual development through reading, art and writing and generally just having a good time. I serve coffee and gelato to rich people who don’t think they are rich. I get dirty looks when I tell them the gelato cups are not recyclable. I pay twice as much for organic fruit at my local grocery (Whole Foods). I live 2 blocks from the local bike co-op and am surrounded by local coffee roasters, bars and cafes that I can easily afford and feel comfortable in. My friends are smart, positive and supportive of each other. They hail from every state in this nation, all coming here for the same thing: the promise of the good life, our kind of good life. Sustainable, intelligent fun.
So now I’m leaving this place in June to join Teach for America in Philadelphia. I know that the coming months (years) will be incredibly difficult and life changing, and as a reflective learner I want to put down my thoughts before this experience as I know that by mid July, the life I lead now will seem incredibly intangible and foreign. I left my hometown at twenty years old for a better life. My whole life and everyone I knew growing up was oppressed by poverty. My “escape” from this environment has inspired me to make changes. I don’t really know how these changes will take shape exactly. I thought I had it all figured out in May 2008 when I was 26, a few weeks away from finishing college, when my sister called to tell me that mom died. It’s been a year and a half and I’m still trying to build up the confidence and strength I had before before that phone call. Since my acceptance into the corps, I honestly keep thinking of this crazy gorgeous drunk girl I met at karaoke a year ago. She was there alone and I ended up ignoring all my friends and eventually engaging in a conversation with her that actually took place on a napkin where we wrote to each other to combat the noise of the bar. I still have that damn thing somewhere, it’s not too profound really except when I wrote:
“My mom died last year. I am broken.” and she shook her head, emotional, and wrote:
“Fractured is not broken. Honor your mother by being amazing.”
Oh, the heavy advice of strangers!
So getting into the corps now is like getting back on track for me: I am not broken. I have Things To Do and it’s not about my personal success, it’s about providing enriching opportunities for people living in poverty. I watched the welfare system suffocate our family growing up, my mother’s resilience and pride stretched to the limits…
Living the good life in Portland is a privilege for me. However, I honestly feel that it has blinded me from the things I want to accomplish and shielded me from the harsh reality of life, from pursuing and understanding a balance I find necessary to pursue. As I begin the many challenges in my life, I want to remember that I am not broken. I want to do whatever it takes to find my old confidence and build on it. I know that that is what will get me through all this. Empathy. Perseverance.
I am thinking at this point that I may go back east early, at the end of May. Go to my sister’s wedding in West Virginia, visit fam in New England, hang out out on the Atlantic coast, incidentally the Best Coast. Ha.
Until then I’ll be studying and stressing out about all these Praxis exams, eating a lot of vegan pastries and riding my sweet bike around in the mild rain while I can. A part of me does feel that I am not good enough for this opportunity. I am not a fresh-out-of-Ivy-league-22-year-old. I am insecure a bit and am scared about failing the Praxis. But I am always stressed about something. I know I need to chill out now, while I really can.