Discomfort & Awareness & Gratitude.
Being pushed outside one’s comfort zone often leads to heightened awareness, dependence on others, and increased gratitude. One of my more acute experiences of this happened when I was living in Australia. I was working at a high school in the foothills of the mountains northeast of Melbourne. During school time I lived on campus, but when school was not in session, there were no cafeteria meals and no work that had to be done. My two years of boarding school made the transition to living far from my family easier, but I had always spent school breaks at home. Now, New Jersey was very far away, and I wanted to explore, so I found myself in Melbourne. My first day I was totally overwhelmed - I couldn’t figure out how to pay for the tram, I had never stayed at a hostel before, and I didn’t really have a plan of where to find food. I ended up attending a service the Sunday evening at a large, beautiful Anglican cathedral. I don’t remember anything that was said, but I remember feeling safe, calm, and grateful for a chance to relax. After a few nights at the hostel, I went to stay with my friend Georgie at her parents’ house. So far from my own parents and family, it felt incredibly comforting to be welcomed into their home. I felt aware of my dependence on people who I was not related to, and I had never felt so much gratitude for hospitality and for unexpected places to relax.
Three weeks into my North Carolina life, I am definitely finding myself pushed outside my comfort zone. First, there is the new climate. I know, I know, I said many times that I was moving down here in part for the hot weather, but I forgot what it feels like to sweat the moment you go outside. I am quickly realizing that the answer is to take more showers and buy more clothes. The hot, wet, sunny climate does have many upsides. I can go on an evening walk around the neighborhood and smell flowering jasmine. There are so many beautiful Southern Magnolias with their elegant flowers. And, there is a moment after the sun has set when the heat drops just a little and a gentle breeze rises, and I am SO happy to be living here.
I also have a new living situation. I had a lot of physical space to myself the past nine months, and now I have less. My vulnerableness as I establish myself in a new place is also visible. Luckily, I have kind, thoughtful housemates. H was in town for my first few nights in the apartment, and she organized us to have dinner together and got me caught up with Ru Paul’s Drag Race All-Stars Season Seven so that we could watch the new episodes together each week. My other housemate, K, made me a flower arrangement for my sink when she returned from vacation. I don’t think religion can claim ownership over “small acts of kindness,” but it was a strong theme of my religious education. I currently feel keenly aware of the positive impact that receiving them can have.
The current goals of my day-to-day are “settling in” and “finding a job.” On the day before an interview, the goal of “finding a job” is very orienting, but usually my day-to-day life feels like a lot of decisions of how to spend my time. There is a lot of luxury and privilege to having the opportunity to take online classes, to weigh pros and cons when deciding to apply for a job, and to be able to last minute decide to drive four and half hours one way for a night at the beach with a longtime friend. But I also crave routine and a way to transition between work and play that doesn’t 1000% fall on me. Recently, I have started going to the Durham County Main Library. The building is new and beautiful, there are many places to sit and work (or read), there is an outside terrace, AND there is free parking. I have a library card(!), and this enables me to reserve a meeting room when I need to Zoom. Libraries are an invaluable public resource that I have never felt so grateful for.
I am also physically far from all the people that I spent the majority of my time with in my Boston/Brookline/Princeton life. Between isolation during the Covid pandemic, being in the same work environment for so long, having such an established social world in Boston, and doing very minimal dating in the past years, I am totally out of practice meeting new people. I luckily have pretty minimal social anxiety, so this is not a huge deal, but it does mean that I am constantly presenting who I am and what my story is. I try to be both authentic and appropriately confident in these moments, but sometimes it's exhausting. The good news though, is that I am getting to meet new people! Besides my housemates, the primary way that this has been happening is through an awesome group called Durham Queer Sports. Through this group I have started playing ultimate frisbee again, and I also went to the Durham Bulls (AAA baseball) Pride Night. I am really excited to be able to be in queer community so quickly.
I have also been reconnecting with friends and contacts from my Rice and Harvard lives, as well as close friends of my mother who she has known since childhood. Everyone has been incredibly warm and generous with their hospitality and time. I have even flexed the muscle of asking for assistance, and I have benefited tremendously from the generosity of my godmother. I am also grateful for the support by phone, text, and g-chat from my family and friends all over the country. Allowing oneself to receive support and help is an important part of relationship building and deepening.
I anticipate that faster than I expect the feeling of being outside my comfort zone will ebb. I’ll try to appreciate the upsides while it lasts.