“The sun it doesn’t cause us to grow / It is the rain that will strengthen your soul /
It will make you whole.” -The Oh Hello’s
First of September and she drives forty minutes to meet me, to tell her story. It’s a Wednesday and I meet her after work, once I’d taken fifty calls for the day and sat in stop and go traffic for forty minutes. It had been a day, the queue crazy busy even with new agents on the floor and all of us helping prepare for open enrollment. And so, I’d been gripping my steering wheel, worried about getting the questions I’d left back home, and wondering how it would all work out. It was one of the first days where fall was starting to settle in, the breeze just barely starting to cool off and the skies that bright blue that always reminds me of those fall Sundays we’d skip church and go for a drive instead.
I park and walk in and she’s already sitting in a chair, waiting for me. She spots me and grins, greeting me with a big wave. It had been forever since we’d seen each other. I wave back and then head up to the front to order a pumpkin spice latte. The barista is one I know and he asks what I’m up to. I tell him about my project, mentally noting to ask him the next time I see him if he’ll do an interview.
“Wow, that sounds cool,” he tells me. I nod and swipe my card, thanking him and place my card back in my wallet.
We sit outside and chat for a few minutes before I tell her we’re going to begin recording.
She grew up in a small town in North Carolina–a place she looks back on fondly, where she grew up in a tight-knit community. She talks about how much of a gift it was to grow up in a community like what she did, something she’s just now recognizing. “Everybody just served each other and it was very warm and hospitable,” she says, speaking of the people who poured into her growing up. She explains that it was the sort of little town where you could just walk anywhere, her neighborhood being especially tight-knit. Her and the neighbor kids would run around the neighborhood from sun-up to sun-down, until someone’s mom called them inside. “We had our run of the place for sure,” she laughs.
She went to college out of state, laughing as she says that she’d thought her town was small but then went to a college that was even smaller. Majoring in counseling, she also met her husband while in college and they’ve been together ever since. They moved to South Carolina a few years ago and eventually found a church that became like family to them. She loves spending time with friends and talking, saying, “I feel like we don’t look in each other’s eyes very often anymore and so, getting to do that as much as possible is definitely one of my favorite things.”
“And coffee doesn’t hurt,” I suggest, laughing.
“No, coffee doesn’t hurt!” she laughs, adding, “Especially when it’s loaded with chocolate.”
Outside of spending time with her husband and friends, her family is really important to her as well. She loves writing, running her own blog where she strives to be real and talk about things that matter. She loves to read, only watching tv if she’s wanting to turn off and not have to think. Grey’s Anatomy is the one thing that’s the exception, her having watched every single episode multiple times.
Her days, she says, are simple. Right now she works as a nanny and her husband works in production and technology. They go to church every week and come home, do dishes, all the usual things, she says. For her, she says her work is something she loves but it also comes with challenges, explaining that it can be emotionally challenging to be with children who are learning to navigate their own emotions. She loves how her little charges are like sponges right now, noticing and learning everything they can. As far as writing goes, however, she doesn’t know if there’s a book on the horizon or not but she’s trusting God to show her the way.
I ask her why she’s here on this planet, one of my favorite questions to ask. She thinks about that a lot, she tells me, saying that one of the reasons she thinks she’s here is to see people. Being willing to see people even when it’s hard and messy and uncomfortable, she explains, is one of the most important things. On a day-to-day basis, she says that part of seeing other people is allowing yourself to be seen.
“It starts with me a lot of times,” she says, “Being willing to see myself, being willing to let other people see me.” To her, overcoming pride has a lot to do with being seen because it’s easy to not let even the closest people to you see all the messy parts. Loving and seeing, she thinks, are really similar. For her, to love someone is to see them and to go to bat for them in their needs, whatever those may be.
“Hey, I have skin in this game because we belong to each other.” In her opinion, this simple sentence is what loving your neighbor is all about–standing up for what’s right and fighting for those you love.
However, even that leads into one of the things that can be the most difficult for her to navigate. One of the hardest things about being her is how much she takes on. She explains that she’s always picking up on emotions from other people. She says she’s felt this way since she was a kid, feeling as if she were missing some type of protective layer. The official term for the way she carries emotional burdens, she explains, is empath. I nod vigorously because I’m one too.
“I’ve never regretted showing empathy for someone, but it is very heavy to carry that,” she says, “And so I think I’m having to practice laying some of that down and saying, ‘I can love you and be there for you and help you carry that burden and still maintain my own sense of strength and personhood and not let everything suck all of the life out of me,’ if that makes sense.” The whole time she’s talking, she looks past me, like she’s gathering up all her thoughts and trying to sort them. She smiles when she’s passionate about something, the emotion clearly seen in her eyes.
“That makes perfect sense, ” I nod, explaining that I know how hard it is to be an emotional sponge.
One of the things she’s been trying to do lately is to be more present, noting that she tends to fill up her time with a lot of things instead of slowing down. They aren’t bad things, she says, but she wants her life to be more intentional.
The recording scares the life out of me as it jumps and I quickly pause it, make sure it’s still there and start a new recording. Ironically, we start talking about seasons and the way she talks about the season she’s in reminds me of crisp January skies and the feel of late winter, right before everything starts blooming. She’s on the cusp of a lot of growth, she tells me. It’s something where she feels it’s hers as long as she can reach out and grab it.
I silently hope she gets everything she’s hoping for and wind down the interview, asking her about legacy. Loving her neighbor, really, is what she believes this is all about.
She laughs when she tells me what she wants on her gravestone towards the end of our interview, saying it’s bound to be an expensive tombstone but I know it will be worth it. Every word, every mile, every season.
And I hope she does too.