I’ll start by saying that I realize that this may already reek of smug. There is a fuzzy line between true gratitude and faux-modesty, and most of us, including myself, often have feet in both camps. But the scrutiny of one’s personal motivation comes with the territory of public speech. You can take what you will from what I say; that’s the risk I take when I ask you to listen to my babbling.
Enough pitter-patter. I’m writing this because I’ve been given an opportunity that I feel wholly unworthy of, and I’d like to capitalize on the knee-buckling humility and shock of it all before I manage to contrive it into some bogus sense of entitlement. As some of you know, I studied abroad in Orvieto, Italy in the spring of 2012. It was a culturally immersive, creatively rigorous semester, with a focus on the intersection of art, words, and faith. It changed my life in more ways than I can count. I formed meaningful, unique friendships and got to study under incredible, inspiring people. I gained a confidence in my creative abilities, if only because I was given the opportunity to fail over and over again for 4 straight months. I saw some of the world’s greatest, most timeless art and got to talk and write about it afterwards. I learned the subtle power of participating in a worship service in an entirely different language. But those are the obvious things.
And now, I’m going back. Just when I thought I’d finally closed the door and moved on from all that nostalgia for espresso and cobblestones and ancient frescoes on ancient walls, I was asked to come back as a Teacher’s Assistant, and it all comes swirling back. Cue the Fiats and Carbs!
But really, this is an opportunity that is entirely different from my first trip abroad as a student, and, thankfully, it’s not about indulging old nostalgia and delaying the necessity of closing doors and moving on. Of course, it’s an opportunity to give back, to share my unique perspective as a person a couple years removed from a program that, at the time, felt a lot like a beautiful dream. It’s a chance to share what I’ve learned about coming back to the states and wondering what it was all about, and to help students as they navigate some very unfamiliar turf. But what I’m most grateful about is that it’s a chance to learn again, but in a new light. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the two years since leaving that place and stepping into the dark, scary world of life after college, is that I know very, very little. Two years ago, I stepped into that medieval city sure of very little, and yet I carried with me a regretful weight of self-importance. Now, I’m sure of even less, and hopefully that weight is a bit lighter. But I’m still in the process of unloading it, brick by brick.
And so that’s why titled this post “To Begin with Gratitude.” Because, in going back to Orvieto, I’m hoping that thankfulness can be my creed. Again, I hope his doesn’t sound like lip-service, because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about creativity and faith and friendship, is that without true humility, true on-your-knees vulnerability, true wide-eyed awe at the vast beauty and complexity of this world, it’s, well, nothing. Art without honesty is propaganda. Faith without vulnerability is ego worship. Friendship without depth is networking.
On top of the opportunity to engage with the students and the community as a TA, I’ll also be given significant time to do my own work. More knee-buckling gratitude to heap on the pile. I’m hoping to devote a good portion of that time to short fiction and poetry, but there’s always room for something in between. So, consider this little prelude my promise that I’ll keep you all in the loop. I’ve never been a huge fan of your typical “My Adventures in so and so exotic locale” so I’ll keep the selfies of myself eating Gelato to a minimum. And by minimum I mean none at all—I promise. You can count on Binding North to be a regular, diverse reflection on faith, art, stories, and how they happen to collide in this little city on a hill called Orvieto.
Thanks again to all of you. Thanks again to whoever decided to make words a thing, because I just can’t get enough of them.