Important Question. I curiously clicked on the title of the email and began to read its contents on my phone as I walked to my next class:
My heart skipped a beat and I quickly reread the email to make sure we were on the same page. Not super urgent. Sooner is better. Important Question.
Talk about vague and anxiety-inducing. I emailed Chad back immediately with a time to meet after my class, and spent the whole 50 minutes wondering what would prompt such an abrupt and mysterious email. It was the Wednesday before spring break and Chad ran the Mission Team program at my university. Each year he sends groups of students and faculty all over the world to do a week of service work. Interfaith service that is--not in the tradition of the conversion-driven missionaries I fear you are picturing at this moment.
I assumed it must have something to do with that. The teams would be leaving on their various flights and long car rides in the next two to three days and maybe he needed some last minute help getting ready.
I had been a team leader for two trips in the past and had been involved in the program since my freshman year. I couldn't apply this year, my senior year, because I was studying abroad in India that fall (a disqualification for applying and a serious consideration for me not to study abroad at all). In the end, I realized it was silly to pass up the adventure I would surely have in India and had stopped by Chad's office around this time last year.
I had told him regretfully the year before that I wouldn't be applying to the program again because of India. I said I would help out in any way that I could because I couldn't imagine being without it entirely my final year of college.
When I stepped into the office later that afternoon, as per our correspondence, I couldn't have guessed what was coming.
"I know this is last minute," he said. "You can take a little time to think about it. Remember when you said you would help out this year however you could?"
He explained that one of the faculty advisers for the team to New Orleans had dropped out at the last minute. And here he was, 3 days before they left, without enough 21-year-old drivers to get the team to Nola. He said he had been praying the night before looking for an answer, because as it stood, the New Orleans team wouldn't be going anywhere.
"A name popped into my head," he said. "Rachel."
I looked at him for a moment in disbelief as my heart soared but then dropped suddenly.
I had made other plans. I was supposed to begin an internship that week.
"Okay," I said, distracted. "I mean, yes, but hold on. Just give me a minute. I'll have to figure something out. I'll be back this afternoon."
I stumbled in a daze down to the cafe to talk the situation out with friends. They spent half an hour talking me off my ledge of indecision before finally getting through to me.
"What does your heart really want to do?" they posed.
I nodded and calmly visited the office that had given me my internship. I explained to them the situation, and before I could finish they replied:
"You have to do it! That's a fantastic experience, Rachel. We'll call your internship right now together."
I sprinted back to Chad's office and froze as all heads in the room turned to me, one foot in the door.
That night I packed for what ended up being an incredibly impactful week and a definitive next step in my life. And one week later, on the drive back from New Orleans, with everyone asleep in the backseat of the car, that impact didn't escape me. In a way, I had said "Yes" to my life by going on this trip.
I was afraid, distraught, confused and flustered the day Chad sent that email. Change is scary. Plans are safe. It wasn't until my friends pointed to what was in my heart that it made sense to me and I knew I had to be open to that.
Open to what my heart compelled me to do. Open to not planning. Open to opportunity and change and fear. Life is about that. Living life fully is entirely consumed in being open to it.
To be open to life at its most kaleidoscopic and consuming is to be truly alive. When you live life on the precipice of your experiences, you are right on the edge of your fear, your feelings, your love at their most intense. You are at the place where you are willing to take what you encounter at its most guttural level and react and respond with yours.
I never want to live in a place that is safe, that is closed. I don't want to push my feelings down. I want to let them drive me to my fullest life.
I think only when you allow yourself to be in that place, on the precipice of your experiences, are you truly living life at its most intense. And that doesn't mean picking up and leaving for New Orleans for everyone. It doesn't mean traveling to India or Haiti, or anywhere for that matter. It just means be open to listening to yourself and letting what drives you, drive.
Maybe that means taking a day to be open to relaxing and reading a good book on the porch. Maybe that means selling everything you own to travel somewhere new and start fresh. Maybe that means living the life you've always led with more openness in your relationships.
Whatever it means to you, I hope you find those moments when you are in that place: open to your own life at its grandest and most consuming.
Rachel Vinciguerra is a recent college grad living and working at an orphanage in Haiti. Rachel took every opportunity she could to travel in college and has been from Nepal and India to Haiti and Argentina in just the past year. She keeps a travel blog called The Penniless Traveler which she promises to update more faithfully this year in Haiti. She loves reading, nature, and long conversations with good friends.
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