Updated: Jan 2
"I walked across an empty land I knew the pathway like the back of my hand I felt the earth beneath my feet Sat by the river, and it made me complete"
If I were magically teleported to the upstate property most Marists call home, I could easily find my way from the entrance to the pond where generations of Molloy Campus Ministry Leaders came together that one time.
Or I would know the way to the outdoor chapel like it were muscle memory.
And if I were to sit out by the river, near the little waterfall complex where I've taken endless photos with the 7 best leaders I know, I would remember how it does make one feel complete.
The wind hits a little differently out in Esopus. The sky looks brighter and it doesn't take long to be able to feel calm, to feel safe, to feel at home.
"I came across a fallen tree I felt the branches of it looking at me Is this the place we used to love? Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?"
August 31st I stepped out of a New York plated Honda and into a brand new life in Hanover, New Hampshire. Excitement washed over me because I was finally able to live the life I was dreaming of. I sported my Marist necklace as I walked along the Dartmouth Green like it was a shield, assurance that although everything was changing I still identified as Marist.
Fall term was amazing in so many different ways as I made memories I don't think I would trade for the world. I learned, even through the failures, things that I didn't know I was capable of. Through the people I've met who have taken a chance on me and guided me, I found a new place to define the word "home" and everything was complete for a while.
In fact, I had it all planned out:
1. Arrive on campus
2. Make amazing friends and grow closer to the ones back home
3. Be an active part of Marist Youth and be a YA at all the events that exist
4. Come home for Winter break like it were a movie and feel at home in the house I grew up in alongside the people I grew up with.
That's how college works, right?
You do it all.
"Oh, simple thing, where have you gone? I'm getting old, and I need something to rely on So tell me when you're gonna let me in I'm getting tired, and I need somewhere to begin"
Week 4 hit me. I received a text message from one of the best friends I've met through Marist Youth, Jamaal.
He said, with an almost tangible excitement, "Diana I'm going to be leading for LaValla Weekend!"
Beneath my pride and excitement for him, it hit me in that moment how my "simple thing" was now gone. To go from leading in Esopus 5 times in one school year to not at all for months felt like everything I knew and held close to me was slipping away.
And academics were knocking me down as I felt my faith weakening. I felt tired, overwhelmed, and I desperately wanted to be back, to remember the way to the outdoor chapel and to be able to sit near that river again. I wanted to be part of the family I was lucky enough to be accepted by after the community that was supposed to love me unconditionally in high school, simply didn't. The struggle of being present in my faith when its source was so unobtainable to me slowly started to break me as I smiled for photos and walked a lap around the Dartmouth homecoming fire. I felt like I was losing my identity even though everything was still there and I was thriving on campus.
I tried to tell myself, "Marist is everywhere! You can feel God's presence and bring it to wherever you are!"
But I found that so unrealistic when I felt closest to God during my weekends in Esopus. I needed Esopus to revive me and get me through the term because I can never find myself doing something more meaningful than leading and being part of the Marist community. And with very few other Marists on campus, it felt like I was alone in trying to pick up the pieces of my once strong identity.
Powerlessness was never a feeling I could handle well, so as each and every event kept coming up and I found myself being unable to attend, I became angry and frustrated and lost. I couldn't drive to LaValla weekend because I had class that I cannot miss during strenuous 10 week terms. I required an invitation to come up to Molloy encounters which I never received. The weekend of Sacred Heart Camp Friendsgiving I came down with the worst cold that rendered me unable to go. Why the hell was it all so out of reach?! It wasn't fair anymore and I didn't know how to reconnect the parts of me that were becoming vestigial. I even felt like my blog posts didn't hold any substance because I wasn't living my life in college as a Marist.
"And if you have a minute, why don't we go Talk about it somewhere only we know? This could be the end of everything So why don't we go Somewhere only we know?"
At Dartmouth I live in the Interfaith Floor Living Learning Community. The space is designed for students of various different religious and spiritual backgrounds who all want to explore the same themes and explore meaning in our lives at Dartmouth. The floor is tied to the Tucker Center for Spiritual and Ethical life and during my first few weeks on campus I went there once a week to participate in their Multi-Faith Conversations. Though it's not the "talks" we hear on encounter, and we don't sing Prince of Peace the way my heart wants to, the Tucker Center slowly became something special to me. A place where, like in Esopus, people talk about things that are important and reflect on how they see the world through their faith lens.
The theme on our floor this year is home. Every Sunday, a student would give their spiritual autobiography centered around their interpretation of the word home and our floor advisor, Khalil, sent us a TED Talk about home in order to inspire our reflections. In it, Pico Iyer says that
"For more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than, you could say, with a piece of soil... And home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born. It's the place where you become yourself."
Esopus will always mean the world to me. Whenever I get the chance to go back, I will still know the pathways like the back of my hand. I will still walk past the canvas that has the Campus Ministry Leaders' picture on it and my heart will leap because of it. I will still stand in front of the river and tears will fill my eyes as I remember the happy memories with my friends at the time.
But by the time fall term ended, I had let go of the idea that my faith, my home, was solely rooted in Esopus. I needed to realize that I could find home at Dartmouth, through my best friends on my floor who inspire me to think differently about the things that hold me back. Who understand the pain of being rejected from the group of people that were supposed to love you the most.
I needed to realize that I could find home in the people like Khalil who believe in my ability to lead in a different environment, in a place that needs it. I needed to realize that home could be a common room with orange couches filled with people who want to listen to the stories of others and through those interactions, make a home within ourselves.
But it still isn't easy. As I returned home for break I realized that now home changes its definition once again. But being able to find places at Dartmouth that want to be home for its students gives me hope that someday in the future all the different transitions will be easier as well.
Every Tuesday, as I waited to go inside for MFC, I noticed a picture on the wall. I'm pretty sure it's part of a Buddhist Plum Village song and the full lyrics read:
I have arrived.
I am home.
In the here.
In the now.
I am solid.
I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.
I don't have a set definition for home. I don't know when I'll go back to Esopus. I don't know what will happen when I'm not at Dartmouth. But for right now, I have arrived. Everything else will fall into place until each place I encounter can become a piece of my soul. Until all the places that feel most foreign can become somewhere only we know.