I need to do this brave thing

This past fall, I attended the funeral for the husband, Chris, of one of my friends and mentors, Kathy, who I was connected with through Young Life, a Christian ministry and youth development organization. Just a few months earlier, I had come out as queer and because I was open about this, I was no longer able to serve as a leader or volunteer with Young Life.

I had struggled for those few months, trying to figure out where I was supposed to fit into relationships with other leaders, staff and the young people who participated in Young Life. While the institutional policy was quite frankly stupid and discriminatory, I loved the people who I had connected with through Young Life. In fact, many of them had been some of the most affirming and supportive individuals while I was in the process of coming out. Chris and Kathy had been ardent supporters of Young Life for years, and naturally, many individuals connected to that community showed up to give their respects.

Near the end of the reception time, the Young Life group wanted to get a picture with Kathy. I remember those thoughts associated with struggling to fit in start creeping forward. Do I join the picture? Do I not join the picture? I definitely want to be in it because Kathy and these people are my people, but that is technically no longer my space. Am I welcome or not welcome?

As the group gathered together and I hesitantly looked on, Kathy noticed and gave a very slight wave to me to join the picture. Even in her grief and a time where we were there to support her, Kathy saw me and she pulled me in. It was one of the moments where I have felt the most seen in my life, and I am not sure it was anything more than second nature for Kathy. Despite my new disconnection from Young Life and despite her own grief, Kathy had held onto me.

***

For those who are unaware, I am moving from my home state of Minnesota to New York City to begin school at Union Theological Seminary. I have never lived anywhere other than Minnesota for beyond a summer.

For weeks, I have been saying goodbyes, with the understanding I may never see some individuals ever again. My story seemingly diverges here in a way it never has, and I do not know who comes along with me or if they do, what their role is.

A few months ago, I connected with a new mentor and friend who happened to be an alumnus of the seminary I am leaving for and who is from and now lives in Minnesota again. I asked her one question that had been particularly weighing on me. I love my relationships and community, and I was nervous to leave and maintain those I had developed in Minnesota. I recall spending a summer in Washington, D.C., and the next summer in South Africa, and how immediately upon returning both times, I told myself, “I am never moving anywhere else again.” She shared with me she was also very close with her family, and I asked how she had approached this same fear.

She said something along the lines of this, “We do this with parents all the time. When two parents have a newborn baby, we let them disconnect from the world. We expect they will take care of their baby and themselves, they will re-engage when they are able to, and we hold onto them in the meantime.”

This insightful, new mentor and friend of mine said she told her friends and family, “I’m about to go and do this thing, and I need you to hold onto me.”

I won’t be able to see everybody when I come back to Minnesota to visit. I might move back to Minnesota in a semester or two years, or it is even possible I stay in New York City longer or move to a completely different city. I may never see some people who have been close to me ever again. I may never hug them or enjoy their relationship in the same way I once did, but I want to invite you to hold onto me. I will hold onto you in the same way, and we will come back to each other when it is time — whether it is supper in your Minnesota home, a coffee shop in New York, or whatever happens after this life.

Minnesota has been my story for 24 years, and it will continue to be a part of it. I am grateful for my Minnesota friends and community, from my hometown of Sleepy Eye to the last six years in my new city of Minneapolis. Leaving feels like everybody who has ever been connected to my story is going with me. It feels like both the former mentor who refused to write a letter of recommendation for me because I’m queer, as well as my best friend, are coming along. The people who have caused me harm, the people I have harmed, and the people who have healed all of us are with me. It is as if we are all kin, as if all of us and all of this is just the same thing.

Like we are all just holding onto the same piece of each other’s story.

I would be lying if I said I was not terrified. Despite this desire to hold onto the people in my life and a desire for them to hold onto me, there is still a piece of me that is so fearful. I am scared I won’t make it and this city will eat me alive. I am scared I won’t be able to do school again. I am scared of how my body and mind might react to this new experience. I am scared of unlearning and what I will feel compelled to do with what I relearn. I am scared of the inevitable vulnerability to come — to admit when I do harm and recognize there is so much I don’t know. More than anything, I am scared to leave my community, my home and my people.

Just two weeks ago, I could have told you what I am excited about, but the fear has certainly sunk its teeth in. At one point in time, I would have suppressed this fear through a capitalistic, grind-hard paradigm. The fear would perhaps have “motivated” me and pushed me to do what I "needed" to do. Instead, I am telling myself a different narrative.

I am scared, and I am brave for trying this. I can also be brave without doing this. I am valuable whether I can do this or I cannot do this. There will be amazing experiences, people and community waiting for me in New York City, and there will be amazing experiences, people and community who will welcome me home in Minnesota. No matter who I am or where I go, I am loved by my people, the universe, and love itself. 

It may seem like a mistake to set myself up for “failure,” but it’s not even close to failure. I want to do this program because I think it will be valuable for me, but I am also setting myself up to be human — to know I am not a simple being and have complex feelings and experiences. Just because it appears valuable now, doesn’t mean it will sustain its value for my life in a year.

My feelings are complicated, and I am not going to give you the “feel-good” mush if that is not what I am actually experiencing. Instead, dear friend, you get my rawness and vulnerability in this present moment. It is my truth, and I imagine it is your truth sometimes as well. You can quit and still have finished what you needed to do. You can be scared and still be brave.

I don’t want to be brave because I took a risk as a small town kid from rural Minnesota who moved to New York City; I want my bravery to be defined because I tried to do what was scary for me to do, especially when I felt called to it. And even if I couldn’t finish it, I tried to be brave again when I was ready. I hope you will be defined by that bravery as well. Sometimes, the brave thing is a new job. Sometimes, the brave thing is showing up to someone's house for supper. Sometimes, the brave thing is disrupting someone's harmful comments in a conversation. Sometimes, the brave thing is seeing a therapist for the first time. Sometimes, the brave thing is walking into a new faith community. Sometimes, the brave thing is a protest. Sometimes, the brave thing is just existing another day. The brave thing is not doing what society defines as "the big thing"; it is doing the thing you need to do -- the thing you do while fully acknowledging the fear.

***

Last week, I was able to visit with Kathy in her backyard, and we had a conversation as beautiful as the weather that summer morning. When we parted ways, we exchanged a hug and reminded each other that when we needed to be held onto, this was the moment to come back to. As I left, I could not help but think about how Kathy had made me feel so seen yet again, all while she continued to do the bravest of things.

It felt as if she had held onto me the entirety of those nine months, as if that is all any of us need to do for each other. Sometimes, we just need to give each other permission to do it.

I am about to be brave for myself and do this thing. It might be a month, a semester, or it might be the full two years, but right now, I just need to do this brave thing.

I hope you will hold onto me.