Reflections on my twentieth year of life

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As with any milestone or new era of my life, I tend to become overly nostalgic and reflective of the past. I dwell in the past because it reminds me of all that I’ve have accomplished, who I was, and gives me a sense of reassuring hope that I am moving in the right direction.

I’m turning 21 in less than 2 weeks and it’s caused me to think about where I have been the past year of my life. I don’t believe this birthday is any huge milestone (although I can say I am looking forward to finally be able to drink wine legally in the U.S), but I believe a year of life is worth celebrating.

I believe we are all capable of change and growth at any age. Growth that is so deeply painful in the moment, but transcends into admirable character.

And hey, we have all survived our worst moments, so there is always hope to be found in what lies ahead.

I began my twentieth year of life in Amsterdam. Then I headed over to Paris and ate many glorious baguettes and picnicked under the Eiffel tower, which was an actual dream that it sometimes doesn’t feel real.

I headed back to Rome, found myself anxious and homesick to be with the people who deeply knew and loved me. I don’t remember much of the beginning of April except that I spent a good deal of my free time alone wandering through Villa Borghese or Torilina, talking to God and waiting for time to pass.

Then miraculously, I went on a trip to Switzerland for a weekend, which seemed impossible to plan, given the expenses of the country, but figured it was worth it. A flight and a long train ride later, I arrived in Interlaken. We stayed at the Funky backpackers hostel, actually I think it was called Funny Farm, but I liked to call it the Funky Farm.

I went winter kayaking on a lake and it was there God met me and cast aside all my anxiety. The moment is clear as day to me: the clear still blue water, grey clouds, the mountains surrounding either side of me, the silence I hadn’t heard for months living in Rome. I felt my soul exhale, a deep sense of relief and peace. It was all going to be alright.

And it was alright. My family visited me shortly after and I was elated to have my home at my new home. It was funny to watch them struggle with the language barrier and the cultural differences- the things I had become accustomed to without even realizing it. I showed them around Rome, giving them all the insider details and showing them how to navigate public transportation, which is no easy task when you don’t know Italian.

We traveled to the Amalfi Coast, staying in Positano, spending the days marveling at its beauty and the nights around the table together. We would open a bottle of wine and drink it on our porch, overlooking the town’s Basilica, and from a distance, hearing the waves crash into shore. I can remember stopping to take pictures every square inch of the town, because there was beauty to be found everywhere you looked.

In May, I visited Ireland on a whim, which is a decision I’ll never regret. Ireland is another country I immediately fell in love with. Maybe it’s because the locals were so friendly to Americans (and had amazing accents), which is something highly unusual in Italy or France. It felt like they wanted us to come to their country, to be apart of their culture. I tried Guinness beer and you know, I don’t feel sorry to say I don’t like it.

I went to Galway and fell in love again, which is a reoccurring theme here. And you best believe I was singing ‘Galway Girl’. Then there were the majestic Cliffs of Moher, the perfect sunny day in Ireland, which is hard to come by.

And finally the semester came down to it’s last two weeks. Somehow, time had passed and my feelings were conflicted as to whether I was happy or sad to go home.

At first, I remember crying about leaving Rome. Then, I remember crying because I missed my family too much.

I mourned leaving Rome because the city had unquestionably transformed me into a stronger person and left its mark on me. I had never been out of the country, let alone across the Atlantic, and I moved to a place not knowing anyone.

And four months later, I lived to tell the tale.

I learned how to survive living with interesting roommates. I learned Italian (sort of). I learned how to really be alone with myself and be okay with it. I learned to stand firm in my beliefs, even if it wasn’t what everyone else was doing.

I traveled to 7 other countries and quite a bit around Italy, hoping on trains, hoping on the wrong train, cramming on crowded buses, stinky metros, taking cheap flights, and sleeping in airports (okay only once but never again).

Leaving felt impossible because I knew I would never be who I was at that moment in time again. I wouldn’t ever be the same after I went home and it was hard to let go of a semester which forced me to dive straight into the unknown and uncomfortable.

The last day in Rome felt like any other day in Rome. The bustling noise of mopeds, sirens, and cars all day. The perfect blue skies as the warmth of the sun danced on my skin. The usual 25 minute walk to school passing by each store on Nomentana, which I knew by heart. Stopping at D’angelo’s on the way to class, where the Barista already knew my order when I walked in.

That afternoon I went to Villa Torilina for the last time and brought my journal with me. I sat there and poured my heart out in a prayer, telling God how ready I was to leave, but how scared I was to face what was next. Who was I at home? Who would I be when I wasn’t the American trying to blend in with all the Italians?

I knew what hard questions awaited me at home, but I was ready to head back to the familiar, to have myself be at ease for once.

I got on the plane and came home, which turned out to be the easiest thing I did all semester.

And nothing could compare to coming back to my family surprising me at Whole Foods at 10 p.m. at night.

I fell back into the comforts of being in America painlessly. It felt good to be home. I realized the world is wonderful and I want to see the depths of it, but the grass isn’t greener at all. The grass is green where you are rooted down in. Where you pour love and life into people and where those people pour love and life into you.

Two weeks later, I shot my first wedding, fulfilling a dream I had buried deep inside of me.

The next day I flew out to California, leaving home for another 2 months. I was welcomed with such a warm embrace and I immediately knew it was where I was supposed to be.

I spent my second summer as a photographer for the middle school and high school camps. It was different than the first, but in a good way.

I rekindled friendships from the past summer while making some new friends too. The days were filled with sand beneath my toes, acai bowls, coffee runs, sunsets over the ocean, and watching God do what he does best.

And after the whirlwind of the past 7 months over, I returned home for good.

No more traveling. No more moving. Just me learning how to find contentment in a place I had never imagined myself 2 years before.

It’s where I’ve been since August, and it’s something I am continually learning.

Along with contentment, I’ve found I am also learning about courage- having the courage to plant my feet down in one spot, to stop moving long enough to let myself be seen and known by others.

This courage, the courage of being vulnerable and open to the world is harder for me than the courage to hop on a plane to move to a different country.

The quiet subtle courage is often more daring than the bold risky moves I’ve taken.

I’ve kicked and screamed and resisted and wanted to stay hidden, but I know on the other side of my fear is deep connection and great joy.

So I’ve been trying.

And it’s hard. Each day I have to decide and give myself permission to risk showing myself to others.

I’ve been learning to have grace on myself and to relish in my messiness, because the messy and imperfect is where I live.

It’s where I still am. I’m still working up tiny bits of courage each day.

And I’m taking a step forward, even with my hands shaking and my feet unsteady.

So 20, this is for you.

Thank you for the courage you gave me to go far away from anywhere I’ve ever been or anything I’ve ever known.

Thank you for the strength I’ve gained, which has prepared me for my next steps of bravery that are ahead of me in this next year of life.

Here is to 21 and to showing up for life, despite all fears.