Graduation, Loneliness, and Thanksgiving

grad

In one week, many of my friends from SPU will gathered at Key Arena celebrating their amazing accomplishment of finishing their college degrees. Some will be nurses, some teachers, others will be continuing to more education, like I will be in the fall. Anticipating this week has been hard for me, even though I am so excited for my friends. For those of you who’ve read my introductory blog, you might’ve read that I finished my undergrad in 3 years, instead of the traditional 4 years that most American colleges require. Not being able to attend the last year of college was incredibly hard for me. I adore learning, especially learning theology, and I deeply appreciated being in a mostly safe and supportive space to do that. And to add to that, my amazing friends, who were my rock in college, did get to finish all four years. So, this year I am celebrating those amazing people, but in the back of my mind, the experience of my graduation still lingers.

I remember going to the ceremony that celebrates the Theology graduates, looking around and being stunned by how few faces I recognized, and the even less that I knew personally. Going to commencement was even more jarring. Instead of being surrounded by the people who I went through those terrible introductory and survey courses with, who were familiar and comfortable, I was surrounded by a sea of strangers studded with a few familiar faces. I went back to an empty apartment that day, which had spent most of the year full with the laughing, singing, and cooking of my wonderful five housemates and our friends. I vividly remember just wanting to hug someone and cry, but not having any time to- I had to move to the house full of near strangers and start work in two days.

Not surprisingly, going through this difficult transition triggered my depression and anxiety- two mental illnesses I have been working with since I was a kid- which by the way, does not make it any easier. They began to manifest in the weeks before graduation, but their blow was softened by the support system I had around me. One manifestation of my anxiety is panic attacks. One episode happened at night in the middle of the quarter, which I think was triggered by our fire alarm going off randomly. I woke up, heart racing and shaking. I lied in bed trying to go back to sleep, but my heart wouldn’t slow down and muscles just shook more violently. I got up and grabbed one my housemates, and she held me and cared for me for a couple hours until I finally stopped shaking and could fall back asleep. A similar circumstance happened the day before I started my first day of work after I graduated, except this time I was alone. I had a panic attack lying in bed again, but this time there was no one around to comfort me. So I climbed down the bunk bed I was on and curled up on the floor in the closet, so I wouldn’t disturb my then-roommate, and waited out the night for my panic attack to subside.

As I was writing down these memories, I remember a fun bit of Bible trivia that I first learned from one of my music professors, Dr. Newby. There are generally three kinds of psalms that are present in the book of Psalms; psalms of praise, psalms of lament, and psalms of thanksgiving. Each follows its own unique structure, but the one I want to focus on is the psalms of lament. These are the psalms that do not shy away from expression of anger, resentment, questions, and misery of their psalmist. What I find fascinating about these psalms is that every one of the psalms end with a little bit of thanksgiving. Psalm 22 is a great example of this, with it’s opening verses, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest”, and ends with a proclamation of the goodness of God’s faithfulness.

Even though all the loneliness is still so real for me a year later, so is the goodness that I’ve seen since then. My coworkers, at that job that I began with like two hours of sleep, were so amazing and supportive of me, even when I acted like a social hermit (which I have a bit of a tendency to do). They made me laugh, talk to them, and taught me so much, like how to pair wine and cheese (I work at a Trader Joe’s) but also how to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community and what covert racism looks like. Through such a hard time for me, they cared for me, each in their own individual ways.

Even remembering the difficulty of graduating, I am forced to remember that it was so hard because it was so good. I loved my professors, and each one of them were perfectly human and perfectly saintly to me in their own ways. When I think of how I want to be honest and direct, I think of Dr. Spina- when I think of how I want to be kind and gracious, I think of Dr. Koenig- when I think of how I want to be curious and inquisitive, I think of Dr. Leong- I could go on forever.

I am still so excited for my friends to continue their journeys of becoming. Whether it is despite my pain, through it, or because of it I want to celebrate them and shower them with love in a time that was lonely for me. In a small way, I think this epitomizes what I hope to do, and what I think Christianity teaches us to do. In the eternally beautiful words of St. Francis-

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

P.S.- The band The Brilliance does an amazing rendition of this prayer, which I use in my meditations quite a bit. If you’re interested in liturgical music, check it out!

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