Running Without Arriving

“If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

The weather gods have been good to little Omaha, Nebraska this week. We began with classes called off for two “ice-days” in a row and have closed up the weekend with three days that reached the high 40s. Spring broke the rules to speak to our sun-deprived faces. Do you ever sit back and wonder at the weather? Truly miraculous, I tell you.

So, there I was on my jog today, carried away in the game where I imagine where each person is going, and what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. Perhaps you’ve played it before as well. The sun began to set, and my exuberant thoughts turned to where I was inevitably going, formulating a vague gameplan for the evening. I didn’t get very far though, because as I explored the mental catalogue of potential delightful activities, I began to wonder at why I enjoy my hobbies so much. (And now you know why I’m so absentminded 90% of the time.)

What is it about running? What is it about writing? Why music? Why painting? Why reading?

Five strides later, the answer came to me as clear as day: at the end of it all, I never truly arrive anywhere. Whenever I lose myself in my hobbies (a welcome loss indeed), there is a lingering sense of “almost, but not yet.” That’s precisely why I always reach for more– one more beautiful jog, one more enlightening book. Prolonging the runner’s high is like begging that gloriously orange sun not to set, trying to escape the inevitable swallowing-up.  “For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinth. 7:31). All races, essays, songs, artworks, books, hours, years, and even lifetimes must come to an end.

Ernest Hemingway has said it thus: “For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment.”

That is how I found myself bumping into yet another paradox of our humanity. Though I cannot (yet?) enjoy the perfect jog or write the perfect essay (and goodness knows every five-year-old is closer to the perfect painting than I am), the fire inside still urges me to pursue these things.  My hobbies cannot teach me perfection, but that can teach me about beauty and goodness. The higher builds upon the lower. As nearly always, St. John Paul II fulfills my reflection by guiding me to the things I knew that I was missing, but couldn’t see clearly enough to name:

“Saint Bonaventure, who in introducing his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of ‘reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God‘ ” (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio)

In other words, I’m not running for nothing. I’m doing it so I can be a better gift.

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Hurrahing in Harvest

As Creighton’s campus was prepared in celebration of our new President’s inauguration this week (welcome, welcome Fr. Hendrickson!!), verses from Gerard Manley Hopkins–a Jesuit priest and poet–were flashed across the screens of the business school. I was happily reminded of one of my long-time favorite poems, which in turn never fails to remind me to gratefully behold all of the beauty enveloping us:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil…

And man, did I need that reminder. It’s funny how easily we forget the things that we once knew, and I had surely forgotten that amongst my other whirlwind of duties, I have a duty to myself and others to simply take delight in the wonders of this world. We are given our days and our daily bread; truly the only thing that God allows to be overflowing in our lives are His blessings. Therefore, this fresh Sunday morning, I’ve decided to pen a humble little “thankful list”:

The Culprit Cafe

As I watch the bustling streets and looming buildings out this large picture window, steamy soy cappuccino in hand, Omaha actually feels like a real city! And this lull of coffeehouse melodies warms the heart just the same. They say it best in their own words: “our mission is to provide a place to feel a sense of community, and a healthy amount of indulgence…” Amen to that!

Confirmation Class

Each Saturday, I do my best to teach ten 8th graders about God, the Catholic Church, and the powerful sacrament of Confirmation. I do my best to keep it interesting with field trips outside, healthy snacks, and fascinating stories about saints. What they probably don’t know is that the whole time, they’re the ones teaching me about God.

Cooking

So we girls had a jolly potluck on Friday night, and as I conquered the (super simple) recipes for Glazed Mexican Chocolate Popcorn and Pumpkin Popcorn (because pumpkin is KING this time of year), I was reminded of the simple joy of cooking. I may still burn the toast from time to time, but you can bet that this is a skill I will be practicing relentlessly. 🙂

My people

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We like to spend our nights exploring the little town of Omaha on bikes, discovering the best friend-date spots, cooking and arguing over who gets to clean up after, and giving inspirational speeches to each other. They act as my mothers, guardian angels, and my best friends simultaneously, need I say more?

Driving

There is something about the exhilarating sense of freedom that comes from zipping from one location to another, always with the option to take a spontaneous detour. So much taken for granted, the ability to go where I want, when I want, is a power like none other.

Flowers

It may not have been the most manly gift, but with all the good autumn deals, I simply could not resist sending the Head of the Jace Household a lovely bouquet of fall blossoms and chocolate for his birthday (it may have been two for one…so our lovely cottage may have a delivery in store as well…). Also, please notice the cover photo of this post– the community around my cabin takes it upon themselves to plant an entire sea of sunflowers each year, encompassing a vast stretch of country highway. Now that is something to be thankful for!


Though my personal role in actual fall harvests are confined to exuberant visits to pumpkin patches and apple orchards, we can all hurrah in the harvest of the fruits of our labors and be thankful for the opportunity to devote our time and efforts to meaningful learning and work. Please enjoy another Hopkins poem below, as fall, in all her crisp glory, is coming fast upon us!

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Taken from Bartleby.com

Happy Birthday, USA!

My family has a wonderful birthday tradition where we take turns going around the dinner table to speak about why we are thankful for the birthday boy/girl. Today, it looks like it’s my turn to talk about America.

There is a reason that I sit here today in front of my laptop, trying to scribble this out. There is a reason that the stretches of highways are populated with more families than usual today, trying to gather in celebration. There is a reason that so many people want to uproot and move to the United States, trying to forge a better life for their young children. There is a reason that we all can go on a drive and pass cheerful Little League games, mirror-like corporate office buildings, fresh farm stands selling sweet corn, vibrant art museums, libraries, malls, concert venues, hiking paths…the list goes on, trying to figure out how we ought to pursue happiness. There is a reason that, over the ages, countless men and women have looked death in the face and decided that yes, this is a sacrifice I will make, trying to protect my country. That reason is so colossal, so historical, and so profound that no words exist to fully grasp it’s essence. I’m stuck with the next-best option:

America is great.

She was built upon the firm foundation of God-given values, she is served and preserved for posterity by her faithful children, and she joins states, peoples, and families to become better in unity. America is not perfect, but greatness commands both respect and love. It can (and should) be a tough love sometimes, like when we speak up to caution her against something that we believe is not good for her. Or when we look at her actions and have the humility to say, hey, that was a mistake. But such an opinion is secondary, it flows from our hearts that beat knowing that America has done more for us than we could ever hope to repay. And for that we are truly grateful. As her happy children we will do our duty to repay, to preserve, and better her with each coming day. Happy birthday, USA!

Little brother Sam stole my outfit ;)
Little brother Sam stole my outfit 😉

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