On Friends: Clive Staples vs. Ernest

“Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?” – C.S.Lewis

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.” – Ernest Hemingway


The above lines reveal tension. Though incomplete, it is palpable enough to bear fruit upon contemplation. For the first author, friendship (particularly that of Christian friends) is an experience worthy of rhetorical awe and thanksgiving. The other argues that even if community can temporarily alleviate our islandhood, the best writer will refuse such pleasure for whole-hearted devotion to his work. There no difference in the object of reflection, and hardly one of context as both are prolific writers, so the true divide must come from the interior orientation of each. The second author sees himself and his work, while the first is most concerned with sharing a marvel. There is a difference of focus.

The question then remains: What is the best thing to focus on? The clearest way to answer this giant question is to put it into perspective– universal and inescapable perspective.  The answer arises from another question, the one that I firmly believe we will hear in the stillness of our last day: How much did you love? If loving is primarily accomplished through one’s writing and work, then very good! However, it is only as good as it is true. Every moment we get closer to the day when we can no longer comfortably deceive ourselves about how efficiently the scarcest resource has been spent.

Lewis has chosen the better part.

This is quite heavy, but I like to remind myself of this very, very often because I’m a natural Hemingway getting caught up in my books, and work, and solitude, and coffee, and melancholy stormy nights. But fortunately, with good friends and twinkly-eyed writers like Lewis, I usually come out on the other side, laughing at myself.

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Flowering Forth (For When Prose Fails)

How deeply do the rivers run

In each impassioned soul.

When twins revealed in books begun,

It’s homeward bound we flow.

~~~

So join with mine,

Thy powerful tides,

In seeking Wisdom’s sacred sign.

To wrestle on high,

Hope shall always prevail;

Come, take delight in

Thy sweet surprise again!

~~~

Finally at night, the chaste, cool rivers

May gardens overflow.

Peace to you who firmly plant;

Flowering forth you somehow know.

~~~

Silently looking into your heart,

Hush and receive unanswerable Love.

For in the High Secret

Of head on chest,

The mystery supper’s antiphon sung;

“Find thy rest, for

Now our Gardener has come.”

~~~

Sacrifice praise to our forever Friend,

Beautiful Goodness Ever-True.

At last, when resounding harmony marries:

Behold! He will make all things new.

Living Abroad Brought Me Home

When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences—their insignificant, everyday experiences—so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others—and how many there are!—are driven through surging waves of destiny, the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much. —Nietzsche

Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end. — Pico Iyer

It has been a full week since I kissed my studying and service semester in La República Dominicana adios, flew smoothly through a 10-hour travel day, and crossed the threshold of my good old Wisconsin home for the first time in five months. I had told myself earlier that I would resist the urge to pen one of those “How Studying Abroad Changed My Life For Ever & Ever” posts, since the Internet (or at least just my Facebook feed) is overly indulged with them; all preaching essentially the same “carpe diem” thing. Yes, you should go study abroad! Your life will never be the same (obviously)!

But these next few paragraphs will be about something quite distinct: how spending five months in a beautiful yet developing country turned out to be just what I needed. Because I didn’t find what I needed there.

The central question that made itself at home in the depths of my mind throughout the entire five months was “why am I here?” And before I am misunderstood, I must emphasize that Encuentro Dominicano was an incredible opportunity that I continue to be 100% indebted to for revealing to me the beauty of service and community. Even more, these past few months could be viewed as a rapid succession of thrilling adventures, in which the Comunidad 19 accomplished feats we had scarcely previously imagined, while doing our part to leave our temporary home better than we found it. I was inexplicably drawn to the service-learning program in La República Dominicana, but it continually bothered me that I could not quite put my finger on why I was there.

Seeking out the answer relentlessly, I stumbled upon the “little” reasons. I was here to learn the patient art of living in community with 15 to-be-friends; I was here to be an older sister to Caoli and Carelin, my siblings in the campo; I was here to belt out “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with the bright smiles of our Haitian school and teach them the English words for their favorite animals while a cuddly 2-year old was cradled at my hip; I was here to revel in the glamour of the open, glittering sea and to fail miserably at salsa dancing.

But by the time I had about three-fourths of the semester under my belt, I found in myself a desire that shocked me beyond belief, truly. Clara Elizabeth Jace just wanted to go home. This was astonishing because up until this summer, when someone would ask me where home is or where I am from, I took pride in explaining that I have moved a lot in my life and don’t really feel right calling just one place home. I was the independent, free-spirited wild child who wanted to discover and possess every aspect of life, intimately. And we all know that those kind of people are bitten by wanderlust and were made to explore the wide world rather than end each God-given day by watching Netflix at home in their suffocatingly comfortable beds. What was wrong with me? I became haunted by this aching desire to return home in order to carry out my unfinished business, business that was nothing more than a resolution to be a better person, both professionally and personally, to those who were ordained to remain in my life for longer than just five months. I especially couldn’t wait to start being a better daughter and older sister after relearning the value of family through the campo immersions. There is no denying the marvelous natural beauty of the Dominican Republic and of Misión ILAC (please believe me that some of my favorite nights were going on jogs around their tropical plant-enveloped trail) and it’s friendly culture. But while I was happy, my restlessness kept my thoughts turned homeward.

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Living abroad taught me how to be thankful.  I had this intellectual sense of thankfulness before, where I knew instinctively that I needed to practice thankfulness in order to be happy, but it was only habituated for the obvious things– I was thankful when I had a major victory in school, pushed my limits on those evening runs, or enjoyed a fabulous night on the town with friends. When not only those things (which did actually appear in their Dominican form), but the general order and cleanliness I was accustomed to in the United States, every single one of my friends, and most of my material possessions were stripped away for those five months, I had to discover newer, “smaller” things to be thankful for. My list (yep, actually a note on my phone): the lull of the fans, yuca, the rocking chairs, the spiral staircases to reach the rooftop terraces, plantains, la bandera, the characters of the campo, Sunday mass in Spanish, the comunidad and our awesome teachers/friends, familiar books, bachata and merengue dancing, the powerful sun, childhood songs I had nearly forgotten, technology such as Skype and handwritten letters, spontaneous adventures due to the gauguas…the list is extensive while not nearly exhaustive. Currently resting on my peaceful back porch in the States, it may be said that my thankfulness count has increased exponentially. I notice the birds, plants, and whistling wind as if I were encountering them for the first time. We truly aren’t aware of how good we have it here.

Living abroad taught me how to understand beauty. And that is absolutely, inextricably linked to practicing thankfulness. My individual aesthetic ascribes beauty to a certain sophisticated elegance, for example, on the rainy days my heart wanders back towards the seductive wisdom, history and art of the museums in Rome, the lofty cathedrals of sacred Israel, and the rolling French countryside in which I picnicked on white wine and fresh bread last summer, surrounded by my family and friends. Though the Dominican Republic undeniably possesses an intriguing history and abundance of culture, our service-learning program revealed a novel kind of beauty to me. In particular, I was returned back to the basics. Though I was admittedly out of my comfort-zone in the simplicity of the campo, I only had to raise my eyes to admire the sublime mountain range that watches over the houses. Though the road was not paved and we didn’t have running water, I soon began to see the beauty in the careful manner in which my campo mom, Olga, thoroughly cleaned her house every day. Though there were no books to be found, I saw how the kindness and piety that was displayed by countless members of the community is purer than any worldly knowledge. I could continue on with precious pearls of experiences, but let it suffice to say that the gift of simplicity revealed itself to me. All the while, I still did not lose sight of my more learned loves and made it my personal mission to leave Carelin and Caoli with their own petite, classical library.

Living abroad taught me what home is. With my renewed understanding of thankfulness and beauty, I could not wait to rush back and behold the familiar as if it were magical once again, to treat my family and neighborhood like we were a real community. Though far away from our homes proper, our experience had been saturated with experiences of community and family. I have long held that one ought to practice the ability to cultivate a home wherever one is planted, no matter how transiently. I had not legitimately put that belief into practice until taking up residence in the Dominican Republic for those months, and I now realize the poverty of that view. What makes home “home” is that it’s irreplaceable, unable to be replicated. Sure, enough time might suffice to reconcile the disparity between strangeness and familiarity, but the object of the majority of travel is to return home. With new eyes, a rejuvenated perspective, and a new treasure chest of memories and friendships, yes, but nevertheless to return home. I profess that never have I been more enchanted with my home, more thankful for my country, or more in love with my family. I have my thrilling, difficult, interesting, uncomfortable, crazy and refreshing semester abroad to thank for that. Living abroad brought me home.

When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences—their insignificant, everyday experiences—so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others—and how many there are!—are driven through surging waves of destiny, the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much. —Nietzsche

You’ll Be In My Heart

There is no stress, no anxiety, just this feeling of fullness. Perhaps that’s when you know you did something right.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

-Winston Churchill

Early yesterday morning, we had to kiss the Mississippi ground goodbye and embark on our 14-hr road trip back to good old Omaha.  I’d been dreading my return to the real world – throngs of emails, midterm grades, tedious assignments, the general organization required for living –  but I wakened today in my own bed with this prevailing sense of peace.  Instead of hurriedly checking my phone, I silently gazed out my window at early Autumn’s display of green and gold. There is no stress, no anxiety, just this feeling of fullness. Perhaps that’s when you know you did something right.

The pleasant aftermath of my service trip has reminded me of three important lessons:

1. Don’t worry about tomorrow.

It’s actually kind of embarrassing to think about how many times we have heard this, and still we continue to fritter away our time-allotment worrying and planning and stressing and talking about stressing and complaining about worrying… It takes a dramatic change of routine to break out of that vicious cycle. I attribute this newfound sense of peace in the present to the leaving behind of our cellphones for the entire week during our service trip. Hopefully you’ve heard it before, but just in case I will emphasize it again – life is much fuller when we don’t attempt to fill it with meaningless distractions. That week we did something different and uncomfortable, because we trusted that it would toughen us up for the better. We were reckless youth, but we were reckless with our kindness, openness, and joy, gambling that our time would be well spent in the service of others. We rebelled against the norm by staying up into the early hours of the morning – reflecting on our service, playing games, and baking cakes. We didn’t worry about what the next day had in store, because we knew we had more than enough in front of us, right then and there.

2. Reading will shape you into a more empathetic, understanding, and insightful being.

Oh, how I wish I could somehow fully convince the sweet kiddos that I tutored and hung out with this past week to take that truth to heart. As time goes on, I’ve witnessed more and more the incredibly forceful effect that good (also bad) books have on lives. I mean, how great is it that you can get an insight into someone’s head and have a shared experience, without ever having met them? Whether we like it or not, new understandings impact us. Literature give us a clue to the thought well thought, the word well said, and the deed well done. It is then up to us to make those noble thoughts, words, and actions our own; we must edify our lives into heroic poetry. I wish I could tell the kids that spending a summer day reading in a tree, and then consequently not being able to help but go out and hunt for the excitement you just got a glimpse of, is ten times more thrilling at the end of the day than curbing boredom by watching show after show on TV or the computer. Everything in moderation, of course, but I noticed a severe lack of enthusiasm for reading amongst the teachers and students, which I would dearly like to remedy. My suggestion? Read a good book. Think about that book, then talk about that book, then write about that book. I promise, you won’t be able to stop, and your life will be all the better for it.

3. Humble yourself.

There is an unparalleled power and beauty in the rawness of the human soul.

We nine of the “Calhoun Clique” have something real neat. We left our phones and our façades at home. We have a shared week-long experience that no one else will ever be able to replicate or to understand. And I tell myself, hold onto that feeling. But the truth is, I’ve felt like this before, and it put down roots. This past week gave birth to a peace that significantly deepened and heartened the stately tree of serenity that was already alive in my soul. It brought a renewed clarity to my life, improving upon the particular perspectives I had previously held and also forging new ones. Teaching ourselves to search out the beauty in the people and places we run across is a lifelong task, but I do know that we all grew by leaps and bounds in that area during this past week. I look back and think, how did I not know the beauty in the innocence and simplicity of waking up next to my new pals each new day? It is in the gift of a sleepy “good morning” to the occupant of the neighboring air mattress, while handing them that much-needed cup of black coffee. How did I not know the beauty in the wildly distracted student who could never sit still? It is in the gift of her endearing trust in me, as I later learn she is a foster child, yearning for care and comfort. How did I not know the beauty in nine wearied voices singing in unison on the last leg of our trip, just so that we may give each other one last precious, enduring memory? It is in the gift of the relationships that only open, exposed human souls can give one another. We left our comfort-zone to become humbled by each other, and in return we found uplifting peace.

The task now before us is to become a channel of peace for others.