Over Memorial Day weekend, Ben and I went to a wedding. We drove to Kentucky, and with about an hour before we had to leave to go to the church, I realized I’d forgotten my (lovely, fits-perfectly, comfortable) dress in Nashville.
So we drove to CATO, the store I reluctantly shopped in as a middle-schooler looking for dressy clothes to wear to school on basketball game days (hint: those outfits were not cute), and I rapid-fire tried on about seven or eight dresses. We left (miraculously) with one, got dressed for the wedding, made it in plenty of time, and all was well.
I’m not the kind of person who runs into stores completely confident anything she puts on her body will fit and look effortlessly cute. It’s about a 50/50 shot on a good day. I thought about how my body is a particular shape and what-if-there-aren’t-dresses-that-fit-my-shape as I wandered the racks. I thought about how my body tends to be a bit narrow-minded as far as what fits well. I thought about wearing khaki capris to a wedding because I couldn’t find a dress.
By the time we were having crazy-good apple pie toward the end of the night at the reception, I began to think about how maybe my shape is a little more forgiving than I allowed it to be. I thought about how perhaps I was the one not forgiving it for not being something else. I thought about how it could adapt.
I’m in my office on my second-to-last day of my Curb Center fellowship, and it occurs to me that I started here with much the same attitude I did upon running into CATO last weekend – skeptical. Assuming I could not change, that things would stagnate, that I already knew how all this would turn out.
Among a million little things, this year, I have learned that we are more flexible and adaptable than we know, and we need to learn more than we think we do. This year started with a trip to France, and I remember, early on in the flight to Geneva, thinking that I was braver already, just by getting on the plane, than I ever allowed myself to think I was. By the end of that trip, I was just doing things – speaking French, taking a cable car up the side of a mountain, baking muffin-tin pies in an indecipherable oven – because I just decided I could do them.
The same thing happened as time passed at the Curb Center. I found new things to love, new ideas to consider, and new talents to develop. I had an idea for an event and made it happen. I stopped by coworkers’ offices to talk on the way to my own and ended up with true, lasting friendships. Something about that place made me just decide I could try, adapt, and learn.
I know my entire life would change if I started to ask myself What if I can handle it? instead of What will I do when I can’t? A third year in graduate school didn’t exactly promise what I now understand as the relative ease of undergraduate life, so it’s not that things got easier. It’s that somehow I decided to keep moving forward, to keep challenging myself, and to trust that I’d be okay. I carry around this Cheryl-Strayed-inspired belief that I’m probably annoying about when giving advice to other people, but I believe even more fully after this year that everything leads up to something else, even when we don’t know what it is.
For now, this year added up to a sense that I’m strong enough to handle those things in which I immediately doubt myself. It, so far, hasn’t added up to anything truly tangible – hello, hopefully-brief-period-of-unemployment! – but I trust that it will. And I trust that the intangible lessons are enough, even perhaps more important, than interviews and contracts. Because it’s there, in those deep senses of belief, where we feel our orientations to the world slowly shifting, where our lives are changed, grown, and quietly moved along.