Even the Bathrooms

April, 2012. Eight months into my undergraduate career and I’m feeling spontaneous, flippant, perhaps vaguely overtired by and underconcerned about the outcome of my semester. Riding the El for hours each week, commuting to and from that beloved poolside job, I stop one night, on the walk from city stop to city school, and step into Walgreens. Ten minutes later, I’m down $11 and carry a bag containing one box of semipermanent hair dye, swinging from my hand all the way up the street, up the elevator, to my room.

Two days later, late on Friday night, after another afternoon spent pacing the pool deck, dodging splashes, cheering on Friday Fun Day relays, Mary dyes my hair in the bathroom down the hall from our adjacent rooms.

We take a selfie first, a kind of Before Picture. Except there is no After, and the flash from my phone goes off, reflecting oddly off the bathroom mirror, and it takes five tries before we’re both looking, both smiling, both content with our expressions.

She dyes my hair, and late that night, I post that selfie on Instagram.

The next morning, Saturday, my homework-in-bed, no-breakfast-early-to-lunch day, there’s a notification on my phone, a comment on last night’s picture from a friend who graduated this very school several years before, when my own dreams of attending Moody were middle school fantasies.

Ah, those bathrooms, she says, I remember them well! I have many treasured memories from my time at Moody! She exclaims.

The comment makes me smile, and I pause for a moment, phone tossed haphazardly onto the bedspread beside me, and imagine the treasured memories that I will make, in the years and months to come. I wonder who my treasured friends will be, I hear the question echo vaguely, not even fully articulated, in the back of my mind. I wonder what we will do, what we will look back on as our own precious memories, the intangible and unrepeatable moments that define our time at college.

I wonder, and it never occurs to me, sitting there in my room, the heavy scent of hair dye still thick around me, that I am living those moment, with those treasured people, right then.

Now, August 2015, I still have red hair, but it’s only the ends and this look cost me 85 cents of Kool-Aid powder and a pot of boiling water. Now, I haven’t lived in a dorm in nearly eight months, and the hours that I spend on public transportation have significantly decreased. Now, I have a Moody Bible Institute diploma in a school-issued cover, and no papers to write, nor reading assignments to check off of my to-do calendar. Now, my neighbors are families, my phone is the primary way in which I communicate with Mary, and no one bangs on the wall of my room when I laugh too loud after 11pm.

And I miss it all.

And I know now, I see now, that those were the treasured memories.

The three times Mary and I dyed each other’s hair, sitting on one of the mismatched chairs we dragged from the kitchen down the hall, old towel around shoulders, looking up intermittently as the door swished open and closed.

Showering in those shadowy showers, risking scalding with every clink of the pipes, every near-unnoticed change in water pressure potentially signaling the impending loss of valuable skin cells. Yes, it burned, yes, I stormed out of the bathroom more than once when my preferred shower had been taken, but even that room, with the odd rock-patterned floor, the green tinted tile bricks, the ever-running toilets- even that bathroom holds a wealth of moments, all its own.

Running in on my way to class, backpack dumped on the flat carpet outside the door, just to check my outfit in the full length mirror next to the sink.

Getting ready in the early morning light in front of that same mirror- when the hour was just too early to justify bumping and shuffling around the room with a roommate mere feet away.

Early morning, late night, and everything in between, that bathroom down the hall is a part of the vast array of moments, places and memories that fold, that weave, that meld together to create the Moody that I treasure, the years that I cherish, the relationships that I’m still overwhelmed with gratitude to have.

~Natalia

Life Right Now {#66}

GRADpic

I graduated yesterday

from Moody Bible Institute

and the years leading up to yesterday

were so very deep and rich

and hard and sweet

and the weeks leading up to yesterday

were some of the best

and just right now

I’m having a hard time

thinking, believing,

that all of those wonderful, awful, complex years

are over now.

~Natalia

A Boat with a View

I have a picture of the exact scene. The shot slightly blurry, the Chicago skyline is highlighted against the backdrop of dark night sky. The faint lightening- some call it light pollution- of so many buildings stretching so high into the sky can be seen behind the black towers. Small, seeming oddly insignificant, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel sits at the foot of the long line of buildings, the invisible waves of Lake Michigan lapping at its base.

I have the picture, but it’s the moment, the hours, behind the picture that I’d rather keep frozen, snapped on a camera roll of scenes and laughter, preparation and one hundred snippets of conversation.

Behind that picture, we’re three, then four, packed on wicker outdoor furniture. We’re on the top deck, the highest of two open-air areas, ornate all-weather furniture, heavily cushioned, strewn across both decks. Lower still, two indoor decks are lined with tables, their white table clothes long-since cleared of our buffet dishes, non-alcoholic bar drinks. There are two dance floors, one live band, and those two indoor decks are alive with the beat of the music, the hum and pitch of conversation, singing, laughing; voices rolling over and across one another, clashing and rising, and then falling to a hum once more.

Up on the top deck, the noise is different. The music can still be heard, but now it’s muted, vague through the textured steel below our feet. Instead, it’s the wind that we hear most up here. Whipping, blowing. It carries our voices the wrong way, words drifting away, immediately begging to be repeated. The conversations themselves are different up here, too. The chill and the blowing wind seem to bring about extremes; for some, it invokes yelling, loud exclamations punctuating the night air. Around us, small groups of people jump, spin, yell into the darkness, their voices disseminating quickly over the rolling waves.

For others, though, the vast openness of the lake and the cloud-filled sky incites a sense of closeness, of intimacy there in the wide open. Pairs, small pockets of threes, fours, scatter across the deck. Leaning against the waist-high railing, tucked into the canvas crevices of the couches. Their voices carry in the wind, but they are softened, morphed by the blowing breeze, and the sound that reaches us is unintelligible, gently undecipherable.

And we’re there on the couch, in the middle of the deck. The city before us, distant, seems tame from afar, but the glowing lights, the clean-cut skyline, hide millions of lives, stories, chaotic crossings of heart and souls. We’re four on the couch, isolated from the noise, from the city, from the world around us. I’m in the middle, shielded on both sides from the night chill. Two girls side by side, we’ve a suit coat tucked over our legs, generously offered by the guys sitting beside.

Tucked together, cushions over laps, shoulders curled together to guard against the wind, we sink into each other, exchanging words in conversations that we began months, years ago, and have picked up once more. I’ve not seen her in four months, after spending time together nearly every day for three years. She teaches and I teach and we learned how to teach side by side, practiced on one another, and now we’re arm to arm in the warmth of a couch on Lake Michigan, and the quiet conversation dips serious. She talks about her months teaching in New York, and she is honest and she is humble and I feel my heart taking in her words, her story, and I drink in her honesty, gulping down the assurance that this teaching and this learning and this following the Lord is something we all do, we all need grace in.

On the other side of me, the guys talk quietly, tossing words back and forth casually, kindly; their friendship stretches even longer than mine and hers, and they’re comfortable together.

And then someone, maybe one of the guys, stands, suggests a return below deck, to warmth and music and all the color-lit action of a cruise on Lake Michigan. And we go, standing huddled by our table, snacking on leftover desserts, sipping down pink lemonade that’s gone just a little bit flat.

And soon, when the boat docks and we all step off, we take an hour to wander through Navy Pier. We stop to take pictures, stop to chat, stop to rest heel-clad feet. And later still, after a too-long Uber ride back to school, we sit in the lounge in our sweats, suits discarded, fancy curled hair long since fallen down in the wind, and we play SPOONS with plastic silverware from the kitchen, and we’re laughing and calling out, right there at 1am.

And there are games and studying, laughing and snacking all around us in that late night campus lounge, but we’re in the middle of it all, relishing the last hours of a wonderful night on the lake, on a boat with a view.

~Natalia

We Shall Part No More

We’re sitting in the space outside the coffee shop.

Again.

It’s become my space now.

Study notes, Bibles lay strewn around us, and my computer’s propped on my raised knees.

We’re studying, but I’ve taken a moment to pause, my eyes watching, unfocused, as students I can’t recognize move back and forth across the plaza below.

I can’t believe I’m going to be saying goodbye to this place so soon, I say, almost to no one.

Beside me, my studying partner looks up from the Bible spread open in his lap, his gaze following mine into the indiscriminate darkness of the plaza.

We talk for a moment, vocabulary words and biblical references set aside for the moment.

We talk about goodbyes and transitions and visiting friends in the months to come. And the goodbyes that come all over again.

That’s why I like the Moody song, he says then.

I glance over, eyebrows raised. God bless the school that DL Moody founded?

Yea, he nods, then recites a familiar line that I had forgotten existed.

When Jesus comes in glory we shall part no more.

And I nodded then, and I knew what he meant, and in the days since, as it seems like every conversation ends with a hug, with a vague promise to visit, to keep in touch, to check in, I’ve held onto those words.

Held onto the hope of a day of no more goodbyes, no more waves as dear friends disappear around the corner.

Held onto the hope of an eternity spent in fellowship, spent completely surrounded by the hearts I’ve walked alongside all the years of my life.

Held onto the hope that all these things we do down here, all these things we strive for together, will be complete, will be made whole, in that wonderful eternity.

And then, only then, I can’t wait for then, we will part no more.

~ Natalia

Goodbye Journal

I just keep coming back to journaling as important for you. She says it almost apologetically, the tone earnest in its simple suggestion.

I nod then, my eyes sliding away from her, landing on the window to my right, set high in the exterior wall.

For a moment, several long, quiet seconds, I watch the crane in the construction zone across the street swing faintly in the December wind. I nod again, barely, as I consider what I might say next, where my thoughts, my emotions, my body might lead to next.

And there is something next. Maybe she speaks first, maybe I do- filling that warm, gently space with truth and value.

And the minutes move by, and later, soon, an hour has passed and I stand to leave, thank her, say goodbye.

And weeks pass, and I have other meetings, other times spent sitting on that white couch on the third floor.

But today, last night, I’ve heard those words in my head, in my heart, once more.

Journal. It’s important for you. Journal.

And that little book, the same one that I opened on January 1st, the same one that’s become fat with notes taped in, stickers and momentos affixed to its back; that notebook rides in my bookbag every day.

And in a quiet moment in class, after chapel, sitting along the second floor window outside the coffee shop, I pull out that book.

And I write.

I journal.

Moments of beauty. Things I glimpsed that I dare not forget.

Thoughts. Prayers.

Words shared with me, words overheard, words claimed from the texts I pour over every week for school.

All of this- and more besides- I write in that book.

And there are many things about the next week that weight heavily upon me. Goodbyes. Transitions. The end of a three-year-long part of my life, a part that I will never forget.

Yet with all of these things, with all the movement and the wind and the trailing, racing, wondering unraveling of my normal, I have that book in my bag, and a pen besides, and I’m writing, writing, writing.

And just like she said, all those days ago, it is important.

It is valuable and honest and real

and it’s helping me say goodbye,

or at least, see you later.

~Natalia

She Won’t

Na-ta-lia!

I hear her trill before I see her, and I catch her eye, mirror her wide grin, as she hurries toward our front row chapel seats.

She collapses into the seat next to me, tiny tendrils of hair next to her ears blowing in the breeze she’s created with her quick movement, her sudden descent to the red velvet seat besides my own.

I didn’t realize you were leaving so soon! She exclaims, dark eyes shining in earnest emotion. These are your last two weeks! And I nod, eyebrows raised in disbelieving agreement.

I want to spend time with you before you leave! She exclaims, and I nod, smile. That can be arranged, I assure her.

What advice would you give to me as you leave? What would you say to an underclassman? She asks, then, unwillingly to wait to hear what I have to say, what I’m thinking about as my time left at Moody dwindles to mere days.

I have to think for just a moment, my eyes wandering almost unseeing over the shoes of the tens of students who filter into, across, the scuffed chapel floor.

Then…

I’m telling her about Systematic Theology; last year’s fall semester spent dragging myself out of bed at 7am four mornings a week, sitting under instruction of heart and of mind, instruction that I have come to believe saved my faith, in many ways.

Relish that class, I tell her. Relish that opportunity to learn about our God, about the inner workings, the heart and soul, of our faith.

But that’s not enough to say.

I’m just coming to realize, I tell her, what a gift this school is.

There are hundreds of other schools, wonderful schools where people learn engineering, business, art. They learn what to do and what to say, and they learn their trade well. But here? Here at this school? We are learning truths that stretch beyond time, about the God who created time. We are given the tools, we are equipped, to make connections across materials and across classes, and the integration of what we are learning creates a grid of knowledge that reaches to the heart and changes the lives of learners. The things we learn at this school are practical and theological, and unlike any other school.

That. That is what I would say. And she nods, almost reverent, as the last chapel late comers stride swiftly across the open floor before us.

Don’t undervalue all of that, I tell her.

And somehow, I know she won’t.

~Natalia

For Every Year

For every year that I’ve left these white dorm halls for a Thanksgiving weekend away, I’ve come back in Sunday night, and I’ve written for you.

And for me.

I’ll not go back, not look back and see, right now, but there’s an element of motion, of momentum, of clarity and confusion and unsettledness that I’ve felt before, on these late November Sunday nights.

There is still momentum, movement, this year, but I don’t feel the turmoil, the burnout, the ache to be done, quite like I have in the past.

I suppose this is because I have two more weeks left.

Two more weeks of living the life I’ve known for three and a half years.

Two more weeks of being an on-campus student.

Two more weeks of taking classes.

There are many, many other things of which I only have two weeks, but I’ll not list them here; you can imagine.

And the whole thing- this whole thing called ending is feeling very big and very vague and rather vaporously elusive at the moment. I just can’t wrap my head around it, and because I can’t imagine being done, I can’t seem to prepare for it, either.

So I suppose the best thing to do is to go to bed, to get up, to do all the things I normally do on my long, stretching Mondays, and with every thing I do, I’ll do it the very best with the very most eye towards the long future before me, towards what might be meaningful.

And I’ll just keep doing the days like that, with intention and effort and zeal, and slowly, maybe it will all come into focus, it will all make sense.

And then I’ll know, I’ll realize, I’ll really believe, that my time here is just about over,

And another thing is coming soon.

~Natalia

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