The time spent with you, I will remember all my life. Both in my memories and in the way I bring myself into the world; my life is forever altered by spending time with you and the people that call you home.
My first memories of the drive were breathtaking. The small river tucked away in the mountains; the giant redwoods wider than my car; the expansive bridge that glimmered in the bay. Needless to say, you made a lasting first impression.
But then, I felt as if I didn’t belong. Somehow everyone else seemed to belong; but not me. I smiled and tried to fit in, to work hard, to say the right things. California is not Wisconsin.
I found myself lighting up when I saw an Illinois license plate, making friends with people from Minnesota and Michigan. What was happening? You see, people from Wisconsin have beliefs about people from Illinois, from Minnesota. That they are different; that they are other. And yet, you brought us together; you showed us how similar we are; how much we are the same.
Soon, you taught me to value the things that make people different. I thought that my Christian identity didn’t have a place with you and at times people saw me as an outsider, but soon I realized one’s identity was nothing to hide in the shadows; on the contrary, it should be shared, explored, and celebrated. I learned to feel a renewed sense of pride as a Christian, and now have a deep sense of honoring people’s differences and traditions whether they share my own or not.
You opened my eyes.
By bringing together people different than myself, with different life experiences, you opened my eyes to the human beauty in this world. Across culture, across language, across sexual-orientation, gender, or geography, you placed in my life people willing to share their stories and to push me to learn more about myself and the world. At first, these differences made me uncomfortable, but soon I realized at the core of discomfort lies strength.
You opened my eyes to the possibilities of nature. The highest and coldest mountain peaks, the lowest and hottest valley basins. The majesty that makes you feel small and insignificant while at the same time leaving you in awe and thankful for time on this Earth. The rivers that bend; the pines that sway; the trails that go on forever. Over each hill and around each bend you opened my eyes to an unending horizon of beauty and possibility.
You gave me the confidence to create change.
I came to you with a quest to change the world; to change the country. I quickly learned that change has long been sought and many have tried with little success, or at least, you taught me success may look different than imagined.
You taught me that creating change does not happen over night. As the mountain and valleys form slowly, we too spend our lives taking small steps toward change. You taught me the strength and power in diversity and solidarity; the voice of the many; the voice of the forgotten. You showed me that I may not have all the answers and that listening to others is just as important as speaking up.
I am grateful for our time together and the adventures I had with you. You challenged me, you left me in awe. I felt success. I felt failure. I felt alive.