Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Streetcar Saint

     Since I will not be returning to Tulane in the fall, I am trying to explore New Orleans as much as possible, do all of my favorite things, and cram in time with friends before I leave. On Friday night, my lovely roommate Allison organized a little going away dinner for me with several of my Tulane friends, and it was such a treat to have so many people that I love all at the same table. I am lucky to have such a fantastic roommate, and I am grateful to have so many generous friends.

      Only a few days after I decided to enroll at Carolina, I went home briefly for Easter break. I was glad to go home and visit with family and friends, but overall it was an incredibly difficult period of time. I was struggling with my UNC registration and struggling to see myself there. I kept walking around campus, trying to feel at home, when all I really wanted to do was run back to the Tulane bead tree and watch the colorful blur of shotgun houses out the window of a university shuttle. I was doing my very best to get excited about all the opportunities Carolina has in store for me and I did not want anyone around me to have to deal with anything but optimism, so I raved about the positive aspects of UNC and was careful to follow up every one of my own complaints about transferring with "but I'm sure it will be fine once I get here."

      My parents were as sweet as could be. They picked me up from the airport around midnight when my plane reached North Carolina, and before I even went upstairs to go to bed I broke down and sobbed about the whole thing. When I finally went upstairs to my room, I saw a perfectly made bed with a brand new Carolina pillow neatly situated across it, along with a paper UNC pharmacy bag filled with prescriptions, and it just felt so appropriate given my situation. We went out to a celebratory dinner the next night, because I am still determined to make this sad occasion into a joyous one, and they very generously gave me another little gift bag filled with UNC items. That night, I found myself actually excited to start something new, but I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that the feeling was fleeting.

       I think one of the reasons that Easter break was so hard on me was that it finally occurred to me that even though I have friends at Carolina, I have missed an entire year of memories and laughter and learning with them. I barely understand how to access my university portal, so to say that I am behind would be quite the understatement. Lingo and inside jokes were casually tossed around and I missed the comfort of my own university, where I am "in the know" about these things (for the most part, at least). I feel like I could spend an entire year trying to catch up and still not get there. It seems like everyone has grown closer together while I have put down roots elsewhere, but now I am being freshly uprooted and I do not really belong anywhere anymore. How do you recover a lost year? And what do you do when you really want to be 850 miles away?

      I know the next few days will be full of heartache and, quite honestly, full of regret. Friends I should have spent more time with. Places I should have visited more often. People I should have loved more fully and more gently. A city I should have explored more thoroughly. I am hoping to become consistently excited about Carolina over the summer. Hopefully I can create some positive memories on campus and make some friends before the school year starts. Hopefully it will feel like home by August.

      Today I had the opportunity to go to my New Orleans church one final Sunday, and, as always, it was such a wonderful place to be. I am going to miss the rector, the sweet couple that takes me there, and the congregation, but I feel lucky to have met such amazing people and to be loved in two churches in two different cities. I learned so much in my New Orleans church and participated in so many joyous songs and prayers. What more could a girl ask for than to be widely loved and to be able to love widely?

     Yesterday, I decided to spend some time traipsing around the French Quarter, stopping to listen to every street performer and making an effort to be as gracious as possible to everyone around me. I want to leave this city with as much love as it has given me, and though I know it is impossible, I figure that I might as well try. Over the past week I told myself that I was handling the whole transferring thing well, given the circumstances. But as I walked into the St. Louis Cathedral just to see it one last time, I found a tear or two welling up in my eyes. I sat in a wooden pew, ignored all of the tourists around me, and found myself wondering why in the world my own body is forcing me to leave a place I have fallen so madly in love with. I did not receive any clarity or answers, but I am glad that there was a quiet place to sit with my sorrow for a minute before I reentered the lively streets of New Orleans.

      After shopping around a bit, watching a movie about Hurricane Katrina, and buying a NOLA snowball (which I ended up mostly throwing away because I just always feel like the flavor to ice ratio is way too heavy on the flavor), I boarded the streetcar again to head to an arts market a few miles away. The streetcar is always packed coming back from the French Quarter, especially on the weekends and when the weather is nice, and because I am a tiny human it is essentially guaranteed that someone will join me on whichever little bench I choose.

      A woman only a four or five years my senior sat down next to me right as the streetcar began to move. My eyes were locked on Canal Street as I vowed to remember the scene and smell and magic feeling in the air that makes New Orleans the mysterious city that it is. I did not intend on conversing with this woman, but we were wearing the same ring, so she struck up a conversation with me. Assuming that I was a tourist because of some New Orleans apparel I had purchased that day and was carrying with me, she asked me where I was from. I explained that I was a Tulane student from North Carolina, but that I was returning home soon. "Why?" she asked, frowning. She was a brave soul to venture into this territory.

     "I was really sick this year, and I need to be closer to home. But I wanted to get some things to remember New Orleans by and spend one last day in the French Quarter. I really love it here." Despite the absence of details, I was surprised at how forthcoming I was about the whole thing. I am usually pretty good at providing extremely vague answers whenever a stranger asks me anything that might relate to my health, so this was at least an improvement, even if it was still a bit ambiguous. She seemed to understand and went on to tell me all about her travels, as a student from Spain who studied abroad in Canada and has seen many corners of the earth. I was impressed by how outgoing she was and I quickly became engrossed in both her stories of underground malls in Toronto and fascination with daiquiris.

Photo from www.neworleanscondos.net

     A few blocks before her stop, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "I hope your health improves. Remember, there are always more degrees. There is only one of you." With that, we said goodbye, and unfortunately I do not expect to ever be able to see her again. It was a strangely encouraging encounter. There was something so powerful about being able to share such a delicate situation with someone who did not even know my name.
 
     Perhaps it is naïve of me, but I think I will always remember the saint I encountered on the streetcar yesterday. Plenty of people have said plenty of nice things to me regarding my decision to transfer, but she just seemed so at ease with the whole thing. There was no awkward scramble for words or fear of sounding condescending. It was one of the most authentically human moments I have experienced in a long time. I did not find clarity or peace in the cathedral yesterday. But maybe God can use streetcars as churches. After all, even saints use public transportation.

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