Sunday, October 23, 2011

Coming Home

There is something special about Homecoming Weekend at Eastern Illinois University. It's a time for families of a sort to come together. Groups of friends who became family while in school gathered around the dinner table. Groups of Journalism students and their teachers with one common goal - tell the truth, and don't be afraid - gathered over bowls of chili. All of us, everyone who calls EIU "home" in one way or another, gathered near the stadium to swap stories, quench our thirst, and celebrate our oneness.

I haven't been back for Homecoming since 1999-ish. It was a different time, and I was a different person, in many ways. But even then I'd begun to build amazing relationships with people who, frankly, are so much more awesome than I. (Even after all this time, they've not figured it out.) So this trip was a little bittersweet. Going back without Mike and Rae, without Shamie, without Vana or any of our old newsroom crew pretty much ensures that something will be missing. But honestly, it was all okay, because of the people who were able to be there. Old friends, new friends, knitting together to create a beautiful blanket that warmed me all weekend long.

So when the going got tough, and my car refused to make the trip home, I shouldn't have been surprised by the outpouring of offers to assist. This morning, I actually thought to myself, "If one more person is nice to me, I am going to lose it!" But it didn't stop. From the moment the car decided not to go, people made it better. I was shown that, in no uncertain terms, life is good, even if this particular moment in time lacks something. Whether it was a perfectly starry night, having someone work through all the details in a way that made sense, sharing cinnamon toast and coffee shared, hysterical laughter when talking with my father and trying to figure out how the heck to get the rest of my week to function, or a myriad of other things that brought me from a major meltdown last night to the relative relaxation of this moment, I have learned one thing this weekend:

I am loved.

It's difficult to wrap my head around sometimes, and I don't mean this to come from the po' me corner of the world. Truth is, I can be a thoughtless bitch sometimes. I have done things, said things that hurt the people I love. It was never my intention, but I know beyond a shadow of doubt that some of the people who reached down to lift me up today have not always been cared for by me in the same way.

This is what forgiveness feels like.

And then there's the woman I met on Friday. Becky is a mutual friend of the Poulter family, with whom I stayed over the weekend. I can't explain how this happens, but sometimes I meet people and within a few hours, we sync up. (It happens a lot in Charleston, to tell you the truth.) And that happened here. Which is a damn good thing, because I'm pretty sure she saved my sanity at least twice in the last 24 hours.

This is what being in the right place at the right time feels like.

I'm not sure whether it happened when I dialed up my photography professor at 11 p.m., or when I sat on the sofa feeling foolish and pathetic while the tears flowed, or when I lay snuggled in bed under an antique quilt listening to my stressed-out heartbeat in my ears, but eventually, I let myself accept that I was not in control. I could try to cling to some semblance of it, and wind up truly miserable. Or I could just let go. I realized I needed to at about 5 a.m.

I'm still clinging to some of the leftover bits. These things take time.

I have, however, finally come to the realization that this is not a tragedy. This is inconvenient. But it is also an opportunity to take a step back and appreciate that the love thing? Yeah; that's real. Friends new and old, and every member of my family, offered me love, comfort, support, cookies, rides, assistance and at least one pumpkin pie blizzard.

So I came home the long way. From my favorite house in Charleston, Northward we headed ... by way of a tow truck near a corn field, a mechanic's shop, a gas station in Dwight, the house I grew up in and, eventually ... blissfully ... to the little place I call home. It's quiet here, which is a bit disconcerting, but it offers a chance for me to shut off my busy brain and realize, for real and for true, that this day is what coming home really is all about.

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