In May 2013, I graduated from the Coro Fellows Program on a stormy night, in a reception center, in a tower at Union Theological Seminary. My littlest sister and father attended the event and munched on cake while one of my trainers nonchalantly went on about running a marathon on every continent. The morning after, my program ended and I was unemployed. It was summer, but tinged with anxiety that the fun might not be sustainable. It was summer, a season not recognized because of the earth’s position relative to the sun, but because I had achieved a milestone—concluded the Coro Fellows Program—and my life was about to change.
I don’t have summers anymore and I don’t know how to apply myself to the figurative version of them. I have not been taught how to conserve energy to later expend it on a giant kick at the end because I no longer know the definition of finishing. I am gainfully employed at a respectable magazine until management shows me the door or I find a new venture. I rent until I come to terms with an identity as a landlord or win the lottery for a condo. I live in Chicago until I get antsy or a family member gets sick. I am single until I fall in love with so much conviction that I no longer esteem my independence more than God. I may also write a book, follow my father’s dream of law school, or establish a bilingual life in Buenos Aires.
An amalgamation of those events may occur in the next 4 or 13 or 17 years but that possibility gives me little parameters with which to strategize and fabricate and build a life. In the meantime, I often experience my life as making a series of majestic pit stops as I coast down Highway One: every sight is spectacular but am I missing the point of hustling to the destination that will provide ultimate grandeur?
I lack the language to describe the reality of being a college-educated 26, without romantic prospects and babies, and believing that all that stands between you and your wildest dreams are a few semesters. If only you could make up your mind.
This is why I want more milestones. I do not know how to sacrifice for realities which are not possibilities for me and I have insufficient pride in my September cover story, my three-minute trapeze act, my ability to navigate a sailboat, and the magnificent backyard bashes that I throw. I do not know what aspirations in which to drive a stake and which ones to inflate with helium and where Christ’s call to an abundant life and taking up your cross should add definition.
I do not know how to work hard for the summer so instead I dress fancy for the Pacific Ocean and smile.
American metaphors for immigrant initiation have long fascinated me. Melting pots. Chopped salads. Do we venerate assimilation as a goal? Or do we cherish difference—and encourage cultural enclaves that reinforce norms of the ancestral country? I do not relish the idea of feeling proud of a country that shames individuals for practicing and carrying on the cultural norms taught to them by their elders. But from a civic standpoint, I believe mayors, governors, and presidents ought to consider how to morphing existing rituals and yes, establishing new ones, to reinforce belonging and stand for community.
A couple weeks ago, I remembered that many of the practices that I associate with Christmas have previous associations with pagans. This thought gave me hope, mostly because I do not want to jettison holidays that are nationally recognized. But what I do yearn for are folding others’ traditions into existing festivities and finding ways to make them our own.
Here is our struggle: given the religious nature of nearly every major holiday—save Fourth of July and Thanksgiving—how do you infuse pluralism into the celebration, without rendering it hollow? How do you find ways to reinvent ritual without subduing the sacred? In a culture that already tends to consumeristic tendencies, how do you avoid a mainstream observance of the holiday as appearing as little more than buying more stuff?
Here is a thought: I think we must sing together. I have been among those that lament of the politically splintered way in which most folks read the news. With so many on-demand means to listen to music, this may also be true for our songs. But even if it’s not, the majority of Top 40 hits have little of cultural sustenance that would edify us as a country if we were to sing their lyrics to each other.
At my favorite church, St. Lydia’s, the pastor and her best friend founded a group known as Music That Makes Community. Much of that ethos infused the church, where a worship leader taught the congregation multiple several phrase songs throughout the liturgy, while we all stared at each other in a circle. We did not use PowerPoints or retrieve the lyrics on our phones.
Just a couple weeks ago—though oh-so-many-nightmares passed—I attended a vigil for the 49 murdered at Pulse Night Club in Orlando. The microphone sound quality had me straining to hear the voices playing tribute. I fretted about hugging strangers in a pain that felt secondary. But I wish someone had come to the stage with a guitar and a dirge, a lament, or a protest song, and taught us all how to lift our voices and sing.