To Do Your First Works Over
To do your first works over means to reexamine everything. Go back to where you started, or as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself: but know whence you came. -Howard Thurman
I don’t remember when I first read this quote, but I remember reading it during my first semester of Divinity School and it has stuck with me ever since. When I first came to Vanderbilt Divinity School, I was way too damn excited and my expectations were way too high. I had just graduated college and fought my way to get into VDS and to find a way to fund it. Within a week of graduating, I moved out of my parent’s house and into the intentional community I had wanted to for years. I was thrown into the world of adulthood and began living a dream I had fought for and dreamed of for years. By the time August rolled around, I was on cloud nine–and it wasn’t long until that bubble popped and I was left with the reality of div school. It is extremely academic, to the point that it crushes my soul more often than not. Gone were the days of knowing all my professors and administrators on a first name basis. Gone were the days of manageable reading loads. Within a month, I began to realize that I was really and truly burnt out. On school, on activism, on organizing, on involvement, on my city, on my friend group, on church, on everything in my life. There is no way any of it could live up to my high expectations and dreams that I had built up in my four years of college of what it would be like to be back in Nashville, an adult, at a prestigious divinity school.
I began to realize a lot of the dreams I had made for myself I was not at all fit for. For about three years I want to every workshop I could on community organizing. I went to every meeting, rally, protest, coalition, training I could. I had a huge case of FOMO- fear of missing out. Never mind that I do not have the temperament for a community organizer. Never mind that knocking on doors fills me with massive anxiety. Never mind that.
I had, and still have, an amazing community of people that have taught me so much about intentional living, practice, involvement, spirituality, peace, and justice. But somewhere along the way, as young people are oft to do, I thought because I loved them I had to be just like them in every way. I thought I had to change parts of myself to fit into the group, though none of them ever asked me to do this. I did not know how to be accepted. I wouldn’t allow my real self to be accepted. So, I thought I had to overload myself like they did, I thought I need to have all the skills they had, I thought I had to go to all the same things they did. Somewhere along the way, I lost who I was.
Then, I read this Thurman quote. Travel your road again. Do your first works over. Reexamine everything. Go back to where you started.
I ended up doing this very thing without meaning to, necessarily. As my depression returned, I found myself drawn again to an evangelical style of worship that marked my high school years. I found myself drawn again to roller derby, a passion of mine before college. I found myself painting again. I stopped going to things I didn’t have the energy to go to. I reread old books, old movies, even re-listened to old music that used to fill my soul. I went back into the prison and onto the streets as a novice. I revisited some old internship sites. I went to my college as an alumni visitor, not a student. I drove around my hometown. As I felt lost, I felt I had to return to my roots.
Somewhere in my wandering, I did find healing. I found parts of myself that I had unnecessarily left behind. I recovered old gifts that I realized were just as valuable–pastoral care, writing. I recognized that I’m allowed to be who I am and nobody loves me less because of it.
As I write this, I am listening to old punk and emo music I loved in my adolescence. I am working on some writing projects. I am dreaming about my first full season as a Nashville Rollergirl. I feel pretty similar to who I was when I was 18- full of wonder, real damn immature, wildly passionate. I am no longer 18, but I am learning to recover all the different parts of myself, my journey, and how to incorporate it all into who I am now. I am on the other side of burnout. I am on the top of a crest in my wave-like depression. I am living dreams I had set for myself years ago in a much more healthy way. I’m truly grateful for this journey.