Learning to Be

Learning to Be

There is a tattoo on my left foot that says “be.” Tiny little letters, inked into my skin when I was twenty years old, at a (well-researched and highly reputable, mind you) Spanish tattoo parlor, with two of my best friends getting their own ink beside me.

I’d heard there might be a little bit of regret. I’d heard I might wake up the next morning, see my new mark in the mirror, and think, What have I done? I’d heard of the minor panic that accompanies permanent, tangible change. So when I woke up the next morning, those two best friends and I texted each other to ask, “How are you?”

I glanced down at my tattoo, and I suddenly caught the strangest, clearest image of myself years in the future: I am trying on wedding shoes, stressed and cranky and overwhelmed. I tug the umpteenth heel onto my foot and glimpse the word “be” as I do. I take a deep breath. I knew that ink would be with me in every moment ahead, good or bad, big or small. A tiny little reminder.

I smiled. And I texted my friends back: “I think I’m okay.”

***

My tattoo means “Be where your feet are.”

A friend of mine used this phrase as her New Year’s resolution. “Be with the person who planted her feet on the ground today,” she had said. “Don’t walk away from that person…[This life] goes fast. And it’s unpredictable. And it can be cruel and graceless and then the next day remarkable. Choose to feel all of it.”

I’ve had a lot of feelings lately. I started a new job last week. I work for a children’s book publishing group in New York City, and it is an absolute dream. I love my colleagues, my assignments, and the mission of storytelling and imagination that I get to live out every single day. I am so lucky and so happy.

But this new chapter is hard. Commuting adds hours to my day. I am terrified of making my first inevitable professional mistake. I still don’t know where to sit at lunch. On weekends, I am torn between wanting to spend all day catching up with friends and family, and wanting to sleep forever.

The amount that I miss college has grown vast and visceral these days. The new school year started on the same day that I started my job, and it felt wrong to be running to catch the subway when I should have been running to class. I don’t have my friends around to ground me, to remind me of our four-year and forever home. I used to find God at nighttime Mass, on service trips, in philosophy discussions; without those elements at my fingertips, I’m restless. My nostalgia is beyond what can be prettified by an Instagram filter; it’s heavy, and lonely, and I have felt inexplicably and irrationally isolated in bearing its weight.

But I know, without doubt, that the weight of change is lifting day by day, and there’s a whole sparkling life underneath.

To be where my feet are means carpe diem and living in the moment and all those beautiful good things, yes. But that’s the short version. Every time I look at my ankle, I think of more words than those clichés. I think: Patience. Breathe. Feel.

To be where my feet are is to allow myself to feel everything and feel deeply. To laugh out loud in the quiet car of the train over a funny text. To let myself learn, mess up, and try again. To tear up over the Misterwives cover of “Same Drugs” because it’s that beautiful. To remember that God is probably laughing at my attempts to neatly organize my world, and inviting me to laugh with Him.

To be where my feet are is to trust that the future I envision is getting to me as fast as it can—or perhaps is already here, in all its flawed perfection, right now.

***

I’m in a new stage of life now, and I’ve heard there might be a little bit of regret. I’ve heard I might wake up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror, and think, What am I doing? I’ve heard of the minor panic that accompanies the arrival of permanent, tangible change. But when I wake up every morning, and come home from work every night, and when people ask me how I’m doing in this weird world of post-grad, I know how to respond.

I’m smiling. I’m being where my feet are. I’m choosing to feel all of it. And I’m okay.

[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]


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