Three Months In: Do I Feel Fine?

Maybe. Lessons embraced on the West Coast

“It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)” was playing on repeat on my phone as we sat on the tarmac waiting for the plane to take off.

FYI — I still find myself playing this at least 3–4 times a week since landing out here.

The Daily” and “Radio Atlantic” were downloading in the background so I’d have options for the cross-country trip.

A woman I know from the coffee house where I spend my Sunday mornings in Mountain Brook saw me as she walked to her seat.

“Today’s the day, isn’t it? This is going to be such a great adventure for you!”

The smile on her face led to an attempt to fight back tears from streaming down mine. I think I was successful.

The ease with which I’d said, “Yes” only thirteen weeks earlier to a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship seemed a distant memory. I didn’t know what I was going to find on the other side. I’d just spent a combined 24 years in a part of the country I’d only intended to spend five in, maximum. I’m only three months in and I’m still not sure yet, though I’m not supposed to know. My primary goal is to wrap my head around the latest iteration of my fellowship question and determine next steps. There was a lot to fear, but I wanted to feel fine.

I’ve had moments of clarity while enjoying coffee, burgers, or simple conversations. I’ve found a tribe to connect with and learn from every day. I try to fight back fear every day. Wandering “The Farm” most evenings looking for things to do helps. I try to push the fear out of the picture most days, though there are times I bite my tongue.

I want to learn as much as possible. I want to get out of my head so I feel fine. Living on campus has made it easier to seek pearls of wisdom from lectures and events. I hold those moments close and hope they lead to progress on my fellowship question and myself.

It means accepting Akram Khan’s advice from an appearance on campus that “dialogue is holy.” The biggest fear still remains being willing to say and do things that scare you. Hopefully the ensuing conversation takes you to a better place in terms of understanding and community.

It implies I must take Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond’s words to heart and “embrace the awkwardness” in life. Personal and professional awkwardness has become the norm while here, but it means I’ve been willing to learn and embrace new things. It’s also the ability to let those in who’ve decided to open their lives and families to me, even if it scares me (and them). I don’t know if I’ve embraced the discomfort as JulieAnn has this quarter, but I’m aware of the need to battle through.

It means recognizing the challenges in life and knowing you’ve found people who care, even if you wonder “Why?” early and often. I don’t know if it’s possible to think of others (and how they’re served by journalism) without compassion and empathy.

I arrived wanting to embrace the gift of time to explore and to experience trust. A recent post by cohort member Tim Regan-Porter sums up what I arrived with the hope of finding:

“I want belonging and significance, connection and contribution.”

I’ve gotten the phone calls and text messages from old friends elsewhere checking on me. I’ve had the surprise visits for lunch and the emails saying I’m working the front door of Memorial Church as an usher. I’ve gotten tugs and pulls to embrace a new community as my own. I’ve taken a long walk just to clear my head and taken in reminders of why this is such a precious gift. Plus, there’s football season…

Don and Kara photobombing my attempt at capturing the 50-yard line inside Stanford Stadium.

I’ve barely scratched the surface or had the types of conversations I’ve wanted with everyone, but I know there’s still time. I know it’s my experience and not anyone else’s that matters, though they are all somehow intertwined. The fact I know I can smile probably says more than anything else about life right now.

2018 JSK Fellows and affiliates at Graduate Trivia Night. We did alright. Credit: Don Day.

The fear isn’t gone, but I have to hop on the plane for a quick trip back to Birmingham soon. If I see the woman at the coffee house on Sunday morning (weather permitting), I can say, “I feel fine. At least, I’m getting there.”

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