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No Service read across the top of my phone screen. I looked up to see speckles of sunlight peer through the leaves. A chorus of cicadas echoed, and a subtle, unassuming creek flowed in the background. The soft, humid air enveloped me, and each breath was matched with sweet, fresh relief. The stillness was intoxicating.

It has been three months since I landed in Washington, D.C. Three months of wrestling with my anxieties; of swallowing my insecurities and tripping every other time I try to put my best foot forward. Three months of continuously seeking the courage to show up, say yes, and make vulnerability my greatest ally. Three months ago I was surrounded by cardboard boxes in a foreign city with a job I felt deeply unqualified for, feeling profoundly, terrifyingly alone. Three months ago I sought solace in isolation – running from the fear, the anxiety, and the loneliness, only to realize I had nowhere to go. Three months ago, I wanted to be anywhere but here.

The sun set over the horizon, and stars gazed through the canopy of leaves. I craned my neck, hoping to meet their gaze. The night sky came into focus, and I felt incredibly small. The burden of the last ten weeks loosened its grip. I paused, neck still craning toward the sky, and noticed the newfound empty space within me. I was fulfilled.

Today, this city still feels big and overwhelming, but it also feels like home. The Potomac no longer mocks me, reminding me of the 600 miles between myself and my family. I am finding confidence in my work – challenging myself without the incentive of a grade or professor’s praise. I am building a community and finding solace not in isolation, but in shared experiences; in those moments where you look someone in the eye and say “You too?! I thought I was the only one.” What was once a strange and foreign city has not only become home – it has become my home.

The creek whispered in the background, and the sky was showing the first signs of daylight. The air felt thick with dew, and I turned onto my back, silently marveling at the stillness. I looked to my right and couldn’t help but smile. My soul swelled with satisfaction.

Planting my life in new soil has been tricky. Initial stubbornness led to reluctance, reluctance to surrender, and surrender to realizing my own self-forced starvation. Out of desperation, I finally allowed just one drop of this foreign soil’s nutrients to be absorbed into my decaying roots. My roots dug a little deeper, and desperation became acceptance. Life reclaimed its vibrancy. My leaves stopped craning toward the Indiana sunlight. Washington D.C. is bright enough for me.

I stepped out of the tent and inhaled the damp morning air. I waited for the familiar sound of a plane overhead or a siren down the road; instead I was greeted with the unfamiliar sound of silence. Time slowed to a soothing clip, and each movement developed a sense of purpose. I stood, motionless, watching this small corner of the world come to life. The present became enough.

 

A few weeks ago, I went camping. As in legitimate, pee-in-the-woods, sleep-in-a-tent, look-out-for-bears camping. I managed to forage all of the necessary gear from some friends (thank you, friends), and stumbled out of the city and into the wilderness. You could say my camping history is spotty at best – the last time I went camping we had showers, air mattresses, and parent chaperones grilling burgers every night. I was not a fan of camping back then – in fact I swore against it. Never again would I sleep on the ground in a tent in the woods. And yet, there I was. On the ground, in a tent, in the woods. And I loved every minute of it.

It’s funny how things change.

I remain the same Samantha, and yet my perspective is constantly shifting. I recently spent some time back home, in Indiana. During my stay, I found myself yearning for D.C. – for what has become my home. This was confusing. My Midwestern soil, while still providing the irreplaceable nourishment of family and familiarity, became stagnant. I was no longer comfortable there – or, perhaps, I was too comfortable. I thrive at the balance of security and uncertainty – finding the space where I feel grounded enough to act courageously. In the last three months I’ve realized that too much comfort makes me uncomfortable. Indiana is safe, but it is also easy. The path was paved for me and the concept of home is wrapped around memories beginning with others’ actions, decisions, and theories. While this foundation of love, family, and support has been pivotal to my development as a young woman, it is also why my roots now crave this foreign soil. Because it is here that I have the opportunity to make what was foreign, familiar. For the first time I get to craft home from scratch. I define its boundaries and routines. I welcome its guests. I choose what to surround myself with and with whom to share experiences and build memories. As I open myself up to the relationships, and opportunities my new home has to offer, I feel my roots dig deeper and deeper, building this home into a mosaic of challenge and opportunity, of comfort and adventure.

I rested my heavy head into my hand, dirt lingering under my fingernails. The soft hum of the radio filled the air-conditioned car. In the empty space between sleep and consciousness, I felt myself smile. I opened my eyes, and a wave of contentment flowed through me. I made eye contact with the only other person awake in the car and laughed. “What’s so funny?” He asked. “Nothing,” I replied, returning my head to my hand, resuming my semi-conscious slumber.

I get to create my own home. I get to change and yet remain the same. I get to laugh in the silence, because sometimes smiling just isn’t enough.

 

 

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