John and I have been geographically blessed in our relationship. We grew up in pretty much the same town, and our parents still live there and likely will for many years to come. We both went to school in Boston. We both studied abroad in Germany (though at different times; this is more of a fun fact). And after school, we both got jobs in New York City. For about six months we were working directly across the street from one another . . . in Manhattan. Now we live in the same place, too, but I suppose that bit was to be expected.
What I believe really got us to where we are is not the geography that kept us together, but a couple of things I learned in the time when we were physically apart. We never put a hold on our relationship (minus the three-day “break” at the beginning of college that I suggested and then quickly nixed. If you know anything about my near obsession with Friends, you know it’s insane that I ever thought that was a good idea). Any time we spent apart was because there was something one of us needed to do. We’ve each readily supported the other when those times came, as hard as the few days leading up to the separation always were/are.
When I was a junior in college, I traveled a lot. After a semester in Boston, I traveled to Belize for two weeks as part of an international immersion/service/mission program, before spending a semester abroad in Berlin, during which time I also traveled to Ireland, England, and France. It was a wonderful year, and I have the scrapbooks to prove it!
The program in Belize was inspired by Pedro Arrupe, S.J., and it was intended to give students a unique opportunity to learn about other cultures, to serve others, and ultimately, to explore our own faith. It was hands-down one of the best things I did in college.
The philosophy of the program was centered on these words from Pedro Arrupe:
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
While we were in Belize, we spent some time with alumni who were in a program to serve internationally for a period of two years. I really enjoy volunteering, and I expected to come back from this trip certain that I would spend some time abroad after graduation. I was there to fall in love with the people I was meeting, the places I was seeing, the experiences I was having. And to some extent, I did.
But the real fruit of this trip, and it took a few months to figure this out, was that what I am in love with is my home—being with my family and my friends, being in familiar places, and being with John in particular.
A few months after I came home from Belize, I traveled to Berlin to study for a semester. In many ways, my lifestyle there was not dramatically different from that in the U.S., so it was not at all like what I’d experienced in Belize. The struggle in Berlin was that I had a couple of really lonely days. I didn’t make too many friends, and a lot of time was spent on my own, which I learned is only really fun when you want to be alone, not when you have to be alone. Through that experience more than anything else in my life thus far, I learned that being grateful for the good and the bad every day and in every situation is one of the golden tickets to true happiness.
By the time I was back home from all my gallivanting, the travel bug was out of my system. I knew more certainly who I was, what I wanted, and where I was needed.
And the really amazing thing was that I realized I had known it all along.