A Case for Brave Compassion

I went to church last night for the first time in a few weeks and was introduced to Pastor Cole NeSmith’s definition of brave compassion. During service, NeSmith outlined this concept as what can be described as a major inconvenience that holds the power to be transformational within our lives and the communities we serve, if chosen into.

According to his notes, brave compassion is a willingness to enter the stories and brokenness of others with the intention to connect authentically with God and those He has placed within our social networks and our communities. In order for brave compassion to be demonstrated in pure service of the other, it has to withhold any agenda.

NeSmith plainly presented the costs embracing this concept requires and they are not few. Stepping into other people’s stories disturbs one’s emotions, comforts, encroaches on boundaries, diminishes energy, and pulls from one’s reserves emotionally or otherwise. Anyone who has sat at Thanksgiving dinner with their extended family in recent years might attest.

Yet, the alternative to brave compassion is one of atrophy. NeSmith identified this choice as one that sweeps conflict under the rug, permits infighting, and maintains the status quo, denying connection or light to exist in the very places that pain and constrain.

My own acquaintance with this path stirs up regret I have towards an event several years ago when my youth was more closely mirrored by my foolishness than it is now. A few friends made choices that could summarily be defined as messy. Instead of meeting them with the love they had grown to know within our relationship, I met them with judgement because I was scared. I was scared by what their actions meant in the context of my own relationships with them as individuals which was selfish, I resented the lack of control over my life (which their actions highlighted) and instead of responding to the situation with a modicum of compassion, I was scathing.

A lot of context within the Christian community lends itself to the idea of compassion until we are scared.

We see this at a macro-level when the LGBTQ+ community is consistently left out of conversations regarding their own agency and acceptance within church community. We see it when the topic of refugees and immigrants is brought up among American Evangelicals. And the Church experiences this gap between what we profess and the compassion we actively withhold at a micro-level among relationships that fester and rot.

I find that when I am most disappointed in a relationship or in the behavior of another person that I regard as a brother or sister, I am met by the tremendous challenge of swallowing my resentment, my pride, my victimhood, and removing the self-serving barriers that keep me justified in my upset.

Brave compassion challenges us to forego every form of hostility, from subtle pricks of pettiness to greater injury, and professing Christ means accepting the responsibility of loving others in the face of their mistakes, as well as our own. If brave compassion is to work as it is designed, we have to hold ourselves accountable to growth, relinquishing our personal brand of hot mess by pursuing health and transparency, while (and this is the kicker) remaining committed to the hope for such in others. None of this is easy, but it’s especially difficult when the harm is measurable. So, where do we begin?

Maya Angelou is quoted to have said that the very essence of being human is understanding “I am capable of what every other human is capable of. This is one of the great lessons of war and life.” I’ve lived enough stories to know such is true. We are capable of healing and we are capable of burning. We are capable of loving and we are capable of murder in our hearts when we allow them to become homes for hate. Brave compassion requires us to belong to one another, accountability allows us to do so faithfully.

At a time when I was walking through quite a bit of confusion in my life, I had an olive branch tattooed on my arm to remind me that grace and growth are always worth surrendering to. It also served to cover a shittier tattoo which you can still see the outline of underneath. I had the first one done in haste and the result was never what I imagined conceptually. Isn’t life that way? We go in expecting one thing and years later, it still hasn’t matched the picture we drew in our imaginations. It’s become a useful metaphor to remember that when things are ugly, we have everything we need to write a new story. The process hurts, time will slow, we bleed but when we demonstrate brave compassion to ourselves and others, we are left with hope extended.

When Does Good Friday Become Good?

Ophelia Pang, Flying at Night

Good Friday is around the corner once again and one of the most poignant reads on such remains Jen Hatmaker’s blog entry, published April of last year.

If you’re unfamiliar with her work, Jen Hatmaker is a Christian author who has published twelve books. Like her, I grew up in youth group culture but I made a hard exit from the evangelical bubble around 2014 when my faith became some relic I carried around from childhood but could never bring myself to dispose of. Instead, it was thrown in the back of the closet to collect dust as if it was something to be embarrassed about among my peers in New York City.

In 2016, I moved back to Florida, returned to the foundational tenets of my faith, and began working at a Christian magazine which was an effective whiplash of sorts that I am still processing and will write about at length someday, but not yet.

I became familiar with Hatmaker’s work during my time as a Managing Editor at the magazine when she was interviewed by Religion News Service and asked point blank whether she would attend the marriage ceremony between a same-sex couple. Hatmaker replied, “any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love,” confirming that she would indeed celebrate that friend (and by extension, their love with a partner of the same-sex) with her attendance at their wedding.

I wish you couldn’t guess what happened next but something tells me, if you’ve been in proximity to a Christian™ at any point in your life, you already know.

LifeWay Christian Stores, a Southern Baptist chain and distributor of faith-based resources, pulled her books from their shelves citing Hatmaker’s statements, “contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines.” A 12-city faith-based conference tour Hatmaker was scheduled to headline was canceled before it even began with little explanation.

Up until this point in her life, Hatmaker was an evangelical darling. Texan. Quick-witted. Unassuming. She even hosted a renovation show on HGTV with her famliy, just like Evangelical America’s beloved Gaines couple. The backlash she experienced as a result of her comments was so swift it made news, garnering the attention of The Washington Post and The Atlantic.

Imagine.

Between all of the noise, the Christian machine and those oiling it forgot there was a human being, just being human, caught in the crosshair of theological contention. The shame of it all is how often this happens. If a Christian leader isn’t faltering under the pressure to be perfect by siphoning their weaknesses into addictions or affairs, evangelicals are taking out leaders themselves at the first sign of their deviation from the norm. Is the God of the universe really threatened by such?

Forget the thousands of words of wisdom Hatmaker had offered to men and women alike throughout her years. Forget the freedom her vulnerability in turn gifted to the many who counted themselves beyond the reach of the church, and tragically, beyond the reach of Jesus, as a result of their sexual orientation, culture, upbringing, race, or opinions. What do Christians communicate about Jesus when they reject those who vary from the mold they’ve deemed permissible?

Hatmaker spoke in reflection of this experience in parallel to Good Friday, eloquently writing about the wreckage she was subject to as she observed the wreckage marked by Christ’s crucifiction over 2,000 years ago.

This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. I experienced betrayal from people I thought loved us. I felt the cold winds of disapproval and the devastating sting of gossip.

Hatmaker goes on,

The Christian Machine malfunctioned, and we are all still staring at each other, trying our damnedest to figure out how we understand the gospel so differently, unsure if we will ever find our way back to each other. The Christian community has been maligned, mocked, dragged, and dissected publicly, our civil war evident to a watching world. We are a meme. It is truly awful.

I returned to the church sometime last September. Dusted off my faith, remembered the heartbeat of this relic I once treasured above all else, and reconciled my heart and soul to reacquaint with Jesus, the savior I knew and loved. Know and love. As I experienced this deeply personal reintegration into Christianity, I was hit by the arrows of Christians who, to this day, have not reconciled their actions to the words of Christ. I experienced a long, drawn-out fall-out in a personal relationship, absorbing words that remain the cruelest I’ve ever been subject to in response to every rejected attempt to reconcile or heal. But I had fallen out of step, out of line, out of the permitted territories–and that was enough to be written off. I didn’t lose a conference tour, I didn’t lose revenue sales, I didn’t face disgrace or a tar-and-feathering in the public evangelical arena.

I only experienced it from an old friend in a private and disparaging exchange of emails.

I only witnessed it in the actions of a boss, in every meeting I heard him speak with disdain about any Christian leader that didn’t have the esteem and prestige he endlessly sought.

The irony of Good Friday is it commemorates a death. Christ was crucified. The religious authority of his day seemed to have won the last word on his merit, his value as a prisoner who, in their eyes, deserved the death of a dog, forgotten beyond the city gates. I consider those hours between his death and his resurrection and wonder how futile hope seemed to those who once believed.

Although the deaths I am still mourning in my own life do not compare to the bodycount Hatmaker was abandoned to burn by herself over the last year, I can understand it and reel from the knowledge of it. You can’t separate your faith from your disappointment towards the same community of faith that you belong to when you’ve been hit with enough stinging arrows. Those arrows become a part of you.

And still, towards the One who infuriated the religious leaders of his day, the One who was first rejected and maimed, they extend.

In the Midst of Loss, We Belong Only to Each Other

You know those particularly rotten, no-good weeks that feel like a personal affront? I had one recently.

I felt so unlucky I thought it was the ladder I almost walked under last month, except I made a point to step right around it. I’m not superstitious but I don’t make a habit of tempting fate.

I went out in Downtown Orlando for all of 40 minutes on my birthday and had my phone stolen out of my back pocket without my noticing until I got home. A few days later, I received a text notifying me my phone had been found. I was distracted and in the middle of a long workday so without giving it much thought, I signed into a page identical to Apple’s which turned out to be a phishing scam the thieves used to disconnect the iPhone from my account, presumably wiping it clean to resell. If you lose your phone and receive a similar text message… don’t be me.

This is more common than I knew. Some users online have said they’ve even been locked out of their own accounts. Once they have your security details, they can wipe your other devices, lock those, or steal a virtual identity that in today’s era can be attached to your bank accounts, your most personal photos, and literally anything else you might throw on the Cloud. They may even be able to see your location. After I realized what happened, I fell victim to a lot of fear. Having someone steal something out of my back pocket and solicit my log-in credentials made me feel like my security is an illusion ready to be violated at any moment.

I retreated into my bed and turned into a burrito of sadness for the rest of the day.

Around the same time, a few Facebook acquaintances were circulating a GoFundMe page for a young man who had been in a severe motorcycle accident and landed in the hospital in a coma. Tonight, I saw one of them post a memorial tribute to the same young man. As I tried to figure out who this person was, what their life was like, who they belonged to, and considered his family’s unimaginable grief, I ended up on the profile of his girlfriend who couldn’t be older than 19.

I thought of my own tender heart at this age—as well as a friend who lost her high school boyfriend around the same time, carrying his memory with her twelve years later—and began praying.

There’s the loss of an iPhone, or your red 1970’s Schwinn road bike (Penelope Cruise), but then there’s a particular kind of loss that is so ravaging and sudden, it is the unseen swell of a wave that knocks you off your feet, sending you spinning underwater. There are seasons of life that are months, sometimes years, of thrashing and longing for the relief of surface air. There are seasons of life that only hold memories of when the world was upright and sun-soaked.

I am not in that space now but once you know this sort of loss, you join a club no one wants entrance into.

There’s a writer I respect who recently shared the struggles she’s faced with suicidal thoughts over the course of her very young life. I thought of our relationship and the witty, independent thinker I’d gotten to know through Twitter and a handful of professional interactions. Her frank and sincere voice refreshing amidst the self-promotion and nihilism many internet circles are characterized by. I read her admission and felt ashamed because it illuminated how much I assumed I knew about her life, her story, through the bits she had chosen to share of herself online.

The loss of my phone has been forgotten, but it’s unoriginal and hollow to use the pain of others to put our own into perspective. I’m in a season of life where things are breezy and good. But I remember too newly when they weren’t.

If you’re in a season of lack, of want, of thrashing and if your lungs are held because you can’t bear to swallow sorrow all over again—it does end. The spinning eventually stops and you’ll taste air anew. Those that have made it to shore are waiting for you to return and tell us about the swells you’ve survived. I’ll show you my scratches, we’ll throw shells into the ocean as we count our blessings again, and most of all, we’ll breathe deep.

“… And here am I, budding

among the ruins

with only sorrow to bite on,

as if weeping were a seed and I 

the earth’s only furrow.”

–Pablo Neruda, “Lightless Suburb”

Becoming Human Again

My name is Rebecca and I am a perfectionist.

Before finally admitting this to myself, I judged people who made this brand of declarative statement. Maybe I’ve only ever heard it said as an afterthought—tacked on as an excuse for an uninvited suggestion to improve something. I usually just kind of rolled my eyes.

After all, isn’t calling yourself a perfectionist is the equivalent of saying you’re too committed to your work when asked what your weaknesses are in a job interview?

I didn’t imagine it was the fear of failing (or worst yet, the fear of being rather unremarkable) that kept me spinning wheels around my intentions until I realized it was the source of my procrastination. As a young professional, I operate in extremes. I’m either overly committed, too scared to stop moving lest all the plates I’m spinning come crashing down, or I’m coasting and putting off my creative pursuits in exchange for indulgent comforts.

As the rest of the world ushered in 2018 with excitement and gusto, I was too aware of how uninvested I was in my work. I felt listless and longing to be challenged again. Two weeks into 2018, my boss took another job that guaranteed less travel, the publisher offered me her role and I went from what was a glorified data-entry position to managing two B2B publications in print and digital. This new role requires me to travel to trade shows across the country (and occasionally, globally) approximately every 6 weeks. I was home for all of ten days in February which was a worthy induction to the insanity that the publishing industry is usually characterized by.

And I absolutely love it.

The job demands more planning than I’ve ever had to account for but I’m delighted to work directly with contributors, pay them fairly, and elevate these publications with fresh voices.

My excitement aside, the work is a behemoth. Yet, the challenges that stretch my limits, for better or worse, engage me most. When I’m under-engaged, I’m bored, and that usually means I stumble into some sort of trouble. (We can talk more about that as we get to know one another.) Lately, I’ve been grieved by how few of my life’s moments I’ve absorbed in the present or counted as goals achieved. They do count, as they’re passing I guess, but just as quickly as they’re checked off the list, I move on to the next seemingly impossible rung. You’ve likely figured out that I need to work on balance.

I finally got around to hanging up picture frames in my room over the last few weeks and I created a gallery wall that I refer to as my dream wall to no one except myself because it’s terrible branding.

In the center, there’s an old photo of a bridge that looks like somewhere in Eastern Europe. I bought the framed picture at a market that appeared each Sunday in a playground adjacent to the church I attended in Brooklyn and it cost $10. It remains a mystery where the photograph was taken but one of my new dreams is to find that bridge and see it in person.

In clockwise order around my mystery bridge hangs a photo I took from the Top of the Rock in New York City overlooking Central Park, a photo I took of a street in Havana as a vintage car zipped by, a sweet reminder that I completed a marathon once, a framed postcard featuring the Eiffel Tower, a memory from the time I was introduced to a white horse named Titan in Puerto Rico, my favorite photo of a pier in the Netherlands from what used to be a commercial fishing town and finally, a photo of my boyfriend and I. Each of these images represent something especially meaningful to me, whether they’re things I once dreamed of (like the face of the man I’d eventually fall in love with), or places I still long to be.

Whatever that drive is in me that pangs to fulfill the terrifying dreams that I long for in the middle of the night between wakefulness and sleep when the world is quiet and undemanding has cost me a lot of pain in private, even the achievements and accolades.

I neglect acknowledging any gains I make towards my dreams because as I reach them, the finish line just gets further. Do you know what I mean? And if I fall short, I take failures as final. It takes me years to shake them off and find peace again because I haven’t quite internalized the idea that this bag of skin and bones isn’t defined by failures or triumphs. It’s just the home that lets me travel through this world, loving, growing, falling, trying, breathing, being. I’m trying to live like I believe it.

I’m ready to talk about my failures again, which I think is necessary to be an honest writer.

This all brings me once again to this new job.

I received a copy of the magazine I’ve been working on the last few weeks today. This work consisted of editing over 20,000 words in three weeks, on-boarding the person that took on my role, traveling, and surviving the flu. Yet, when I read through the printed copy, all I could see were the two typos I missed in my own words.

Cosmically, I imagined God laughing.

I framed the editorial as a signpost to remind me not to take myself so seriously. Aren’t the mistakes what make us human? And that’s what keeps me writing—this conviction that amidst our differences, we are all deeply, irrevocably, purely, and remarkably human. The common experiences, the shame and the victories, as well as the deeply ordinary, are worth sharing. Even with a typo or two.

Couldn’t Sleep, Still Dreaming

Every once in a while, for no particular reason at all other than perhaps the tide of the water or the alignment of the stars, my body refuses to produce the serotonin it requires to will it to sleep. Tonight was one of those nights. This is a list of things I did instead.

– Brain dumped a few ideas I’ve been meaning to write about (and I say that in the same way I say I’ve been meaning to floss)
– Organized my photo files (read: looked through 700 images completely unwilling to delete any of them because what if I want to create a photobook someday)
Tweeted
– Deleted Snapchat because enough tyranny
– Thought I lost my memories, realized they’re on Snapchat servers (my photobook dreams are safe), accepted they own my life
– Wondered what cold climate I could travel to this year so I’d have a reason to wear a beret
– Reconsidered if I could pull of said beret
– Determined to try anyway

Overall, it was a productive evening.

At Some Point, You’ve Gotta Hit Publish

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

I’ve considered renaming this blog several times. Nothing particularly poetic, just something straightforward and to the point like Uncomfortably Christian or Reluctantly Christian or Don’t Know What I’m Doing, Thanks For Reading. When I reflect on why it has been so hard to write in the last year, this about sums it up. In the last twelve months, I went from living as an adult who accessorized her life with an inconsequential Christian dogma she found impolite to talk about to a woman in love with the Lord. As I type those words, they make me squirm because I remember how weird that statement has sounded to me at different points of my life. The fact that “In love with the Lord” sounds like a bad t-shirt you’d see in the South is not lost on me. But last September, I found myself hungering for a life with more significance than the one I’d built and longing for character that was deeper still. The only place I’ve ever found that measure of purpose has been within an unbridled relationship with God, in which I make Him the main thing. I have never known the Lord in a very formal way. I didn’t grow up in church, I have never experienced the trauma or dysfunction that many are subject to within the church body firsthand. I was lucky enough to become acquainted with Scripture and the personhood of Jesus at a camp that was full of leaders who may have been overenthusiastic at times but were overall sincere in their zeal for young people to know a God who loves them and welcomes them as they are. I realize I have the privilege of knowing an intimacy with my faith, and ultimately with God, that is unencumbered by the failures of religion. This has always made returning to the Lord a sweet homecoming of sorts.

I find myself returning to this blog now, even though I make fun of myself for having a blog to begin with (note: one that has been neglected for a year), because I admire pioneers in the online space that live their lives faithfully in devotion to God but make no illusions about their own imperfections. I find it really difficult to return to this space with no sense of branding or niche for myself as an individual. There’s no real niche for messy Christians. There’s a niche for Messy Christians™ who write about untidy living rooms or cursing every once in a while, but as Jen Hatmaker soberly pointed out, once you gain admission into the mainstream Christian machine of Authors and Leaders and Pastors, you’re supposed to follow a script. I am really bad at that. Downright awful. If there’s anything consistent about of my life, it’s that fact alone. At 18, I lead a team of people to the Dominican Republic to volunteer in bateys where people are largely disconnected from access to education, healthcare, financial opportunity and live without government representation. 19, I moved to New York City with a suitcase and no apartment or job to be an unpaid youth leader. By 25, I had reached personal milestones working at a classically textbook start-up among the smartest people I’d ever known. None of it was scripted or fit the expectations of what others imagined for me. I have a bad habit of sharing what I think and I just kind of have always done what I think I should do, whether to my own detriment or not. I try to steward these freedoms more wisely now.

The measure of wisdom I’ve earned through a lot of loss and pain, both within Christ and my years wandering beyond, lead me to detach the value of my life with what I can succeed at and how many people are applauding at any given time. My last two years in New York are characterized by little else than performance (at least, beyond the kindred friendships that were forged). Society only offers rewards for such, but performing will cost you being human. At some point, you forget how to sit with the people who know you best because you’ve forgotten yourself in the truest sense. In September of last year, I began a journey to invest in relationships again, as well as in the growth of myself as a fully realized person. So, I moved away from New York City, moved in with one of my best friends, and grew close to family in Orlando. I reacquainted myself with my own idealist heart, resigned myself to its stubborn naïveté towards the world, and celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday a[art from the entitlement, and subsequent emptiness, that characterized my last few years as a New Yorker. As I welcomed the next quarter century of my life, I determined that if I remained real and showed the world an image of God that has margin for people that have been to the ends of the earth and back again (Christian Machine™ be damned), then I would be proud to inhabit this story and share it with others faithfully. I would just need the courage to do so.

Swimming In Grace Again

c-glowacki
Image by C. Glowacki.

After a long day at work last week, I drove to Rollins College (an old, romantic campus near my office) and I sat by myself on a bench near a lake.

I’d been restless all day.

Recently, I’ve gotten into the funny habit of speaking peace over my own heart. There’s no shortage of things in this world (and within our own thoughts) eager to steal it so reminding myself of God’s truths and the true nature of things propelled into His care has been a good habit.

This particular day, my best efforts were futile. My mind had settled into a discomfort I couldn’t quite put into words.

I’m reading a book about trees these days and learning a lot about the nature of their growth. Pruning a young tree, or cutting the branches back, helps them grow in the right direction and removes diseased wounds. They are cut so they are healed. The process forces them to grow strong enough to weather storms. I get why Jesus drew a parallel between this process and certain seasons He fosters into our lives.

I’ve also been reading the Bible again after a long time outside the church. Outside the church is a light way to put it. I spent almost two years sneering at the Evangelical Christian culture I identified with as a teenager, resenting the simplicity and struggle of it all. I didn’t want to struggle. I didn’t want to be “authentic” or trust in a faith I felt I’d grown out of. I just wanted to live.

My definition of “living” was defined by putting more value on, well, everything, above the Christ I once knew. And there’s always collateral damage to that. It’s a sad story but it’s not a new one.

Trees are cut so they are healed. And so are we.

I used to think when Scripture referenced the nature of creation as one of conflict, it only meant the world outside of our bodies. It made sense to me that wrestling tectonic plates and rising seas were crying to be freed from decay and unrest, ushered into the restoring presence of God once and for all. I now realize that, much like his thoughts on the vine and the branches, this truth speaks not only to creation beyond us but also creation within us.

I was frustrated that day on the lake. I was frustrated and wearied under the eager expectation for the restoration of all my wandering had wrought.

I prayed for faces I loved and sat there, silently waiting for the soil within me to quit moving when I noticed a girl swimming in the water I sat across.

She had walked to the end of the pier and jumped in while I had been in my own thoughts. A longing to return to dirt and earth and belong to something simpler woke up in me. I walked to the end of the pier and jumped in wearing my gym clothes.

Suddenly, it was just me and the lake and the smiling stranger in the lake who cheered me on with a ‘hang loose’ shake of her hand. I smiled back in a way that said, “I’m trying” and floated back. We each had a sense of our own rebellion in that moment—leaving the pressures of schedules and traffic and iPhone notifications to return to life itself. And on a Thursday afternoon no less, while the rest of the world pressed on without us.

I sank into the scandal and disappeared, tangling my feet through moss as I looked up at the sky and prayed to be untangled from my fears. The restlessness never disappeared and I admit I thought a jump in a lake would do it. Instead, it floated along with me. As I swam further out, the Winter Park estates felt smaller under the expanse I looked out onto. And so did I and all the concerns I carry within me in this life.

In that moment, my own being in this world made sense.

In the darkness of the lake, in the parallels of my fear for the future and what was swimming along below me, in the face of a God I realized I can’t control or distance or surprise, I grasped that I’ve always made sense. He made both light and darkness out of nothing and said, “good.”

He’s not scared of the wilderness within me or anyone else.

At least that’s what He spoke over me as He continued painting the skies while I watched, changing colors every few minutes, reminding me that each time I think He’s completed, He longs to show me glories I don’t have names for yet.

I disappeared under the water and thought of the people I missed, praying they knew God was with them in the wilderness too.

A City Cat Moves South

When I first moved to New York City, I wish I had done a few things. The first is I wish I had kept a journal of all the details that felt new upon moving to the city for the first time. I remember thinking I had grown up in multi-cultural areas like Miami and Orlando but nothing compared to the exposure I had to other languages and cultures simply through riding the subway to and from work. I also wish I had kept an obsessive log of all the restaurants I dined in throughout my 5 years in the city. If anyone asks, I have all of 5 fail-safe restaurants off the top of my mind to recommend.

I’ve been back in Orlando 17 days.

I moved down here on somewhat of a sabbatical under the assumption that I’d just stay with a friend, with no real plans other than to hit the springs, rejuvenate and give myself a month to apply to jobs. Since then, it looks like I’m starting a job opportunity I could not pass up on the 26th, making my time in Florida much longer than originally planned. I suppose I knew there was a chance of that when I bought a one-way ticket for $78 bucks.

Moving back to Florida has not been without it’s own series of culture shock. Here’s a look at a few of the #justsouthernthings (or #justsuburbanthings?) I’m still grappling to get used to again.

1. The sheer size of everything.
New York City is super compact. Like, I once had a friend whose kitchen you had to shuffle into sideways. Needless to say, the kitchen occupied one person at a time. Can you just imagine? That’s like building a kitchenette in one of those closets that hold ironing boards. Well, it happened. On the Upper West Side.

Meanwhile in Florida, I saw an outdoor shopping mall with a sign for Planet Smoothie so I pulled in, parked, got out of the car and just stared at the sheer size of the shopping mall. Where was this place? I saw a sign for it. Now, getting to it was it’s own challenge. It turned out to be behind the strip of businesses I had parked in front of, some 200 yards away. The open sky bearing down over the asphalt where Planet Smoothie remained in the distance made me feel so insignificantly small. Maybe that’s why New Yorkers feel so important, because everything is at hand and we feel like giants in the intimate corners of our restaurants and bars. Or the dorm-room size apartments we pay $1600/month for.

2. If you don’t have a car, you’re out of luck.
I have not owned a car in 7 years. Before moving to New York City, my life was compactly organized within a 5-mile radius of Winter Park. That’s when I paid $200/month in rent and had a front porch, a backyard full of rose bushes and a full-size garage. That we used for storage. I’m currently using my 17-year-old brother’s 2003 Honda Civic until I get my own but after doing some research on public transportation in Orlando, it would take you nearly 2 hours of transfers and waiting (in the Florida sun or rain, mind you) to get all of 5 miles North. The public transportation system here is atrocious. Even with a system as broken as the one in this city, 29 million passengers used public transportation services last year. The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, or LYNX as it’s more commonly known, has an operating budget of $127,045,444. Compare that to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority budget of 14.6 billion, servicing 1.7 billion New York commuters in 2015 alone.

3. Everything is so clean.
This point may only be magnified by the fact that New York City is famous for being so dirty. Between the subway stations that haven’t been power-washed since the 1940’s and the growing rat population, suffice it to say that you get used to living with a certain level of grime in New York City. It doesn’t matter how hot the water in your shower is, you’re just going to leave your apartment and get dirty again.

In Florida however, decency and order is rule. The stores are impeccably organized and the streets are pretty clean, too. Between going from the AC in the apartment to the AC in a newly washed car, I feel like I’m in a bubble of cleanliness and comfort. I have no criticism against this except that I feel like it heightens one’s disconnection from humanity at some level. What happens when we encounter circumstances, or even people, that threaten these comforts? There’s a disconnect between the have and have-nots in New York City, certainly, but in Florida, or in the suburbs let’s say, it feels like that disconnect is all the more grievous. You don’t have to think of kids that don’t have clean running water because you can just avoid that area of town. You don’t have to face things that make you uncomfortable because well, the windows in your car are tinted and you don’t have to make eye contact.

You don’t have that privilege in New York City.

4. Southern hospitality can be weird.
Shopping for groceries in Manhattan at rush hour resembles a dystopian Lord of the Flies experiment sponsored by Trader Joe’s. It’s every man for himself. Shopping carts are smaller for optimal aisle navigation, everyone has their headphones in and elbows out. I went to Publix the other day (if you don’t know what Publix is, imagine a grocery store experience in heaven) and I was in your average suburban-sized aisle (see point one) when two different men said “excuse me, ma’am” as they walked past me in the cereal aisle. I do not own the cereal aisle. Why do they need me to excuse them? They were at least two feet away from me when they passed by. How absurdly polite.

During this same Publix experience, two different produce attendants asked if I needed anything. Do you know how much eye contact these exchanges required? Do you realize how much eye contact they make in the South? What is everyone staring at all the time?

Which leads me to my next point…

5. It’s a village.
I feel observed all of the time in Florida. I’ve now begun to observe others, if only because I ran into two different people from high school in the Metro Orlando area of town. I went to high school 20 miles away from this region. The Cheesecake Factory is not safe, the gigantic Target in Millenia plaza is not safe. You will see people you know and will have to account to why you are in town and have not called them.

I went to Epcot earlier this week, you know, the Disney theme park that averages 31,000 visitors a day, and saw an old teacher and another couple I knew from the church I used to belong to. Greater Orlando may have a population of 2 million people but it’s actually a provincial town at heart.

The townspeople do not use turn signals.

From Unhappy to Hired

writing

On Monday, I was offered the position of Assistant Managing Editor at one of the quickest growing social content platforms available.

I’m excited to share that I accepted this new role supporting the development and promotion of diverse, compelling content from writers and thought-leaders across the country!

Searching for a job is such an ambiguous, often tedious, endeavor and I like the idea of building transparency and knowledge in order to demystify the process. I’ll share what I learned in upcoming posts but for now, I have to get to work.