Sometime in the last two weeks, I have slipped into the role of a second year graduate student. Just before the whirlwind of a week of welcoming and orienting ourselves again to the rhythms of our academic community, I was gleefully road tripping around the Olympic Peninsula and the northern Oregon coast. The days were marked by extended glimpses of open ocean, beach-y walks, a one-of-a-kind playlist, tidal pools swirling with aquatic life, and a really special moment when a pod of whales appeared on the horizon. At one point I remarked that I wasn’t sure I could contain any more beauty. The return to cell service, work, and “real life,” as it’s so narrowly defined, was brutal. I felt ill-prepared for the onslaught of media and contact with persons other than my road trip companion. I so badly wanted to integrate the beauty and wonder of our time along the ocean and through the forests into my “real life.” I so hoped that such awe and beauty, overflowing from it’s wonder-sized gulf, would seep into the first days of our academic year.
At last year’s orientation, I had been in Seattle for barely two weeks. I was too doe-eyed and stunned to really absorb the words and warmth of the community I had just stepped into. I really didn’t have a clue what the year ahead of me would hold. When I entered the red brick building for the first time as a second year student, I was overwhelmed. It felt impossible that I had earned my second year status, but the arrival of more than 100 expectant first-year students confirmed it. At re-orientation, I saw a sea of faces, warmed by the many that are now familiar to me, and felt all the anxiety, fear, joy, and anticipation in that space. I was struggling to re-orient myself to the idea of school when dean Derek McNeil addressed our community. He spoke to us as academic dean—inviting us into a new school year—but also as a father-figure—containing the anxiety and fear in the room with his words, “This is the moment where I begin to fall in love with you.” My emotionally overwhelmed self wept at the love and care of Derek’s words. Because I knew that he spoke with sincerity, attuned to the students and stories before him. Last year I didn't know what I was getting into, but this year, I walked into year two with my eyes more or less open, knowing the profound healing and heartache this process holds. I couldn’t help but wonder…do I really want to do this? While my anxiety, uncertainty, and sense of overwhelm did not disappear, I felt cared for and loved in a way that enabled me to step into the week of welcome feeling just that—welcomed back.
At Convocation later that week, I walked into the sun-streamed sanctuary of St. Mark’s and sat among students who I now know and love, remembering that last year I sat with near-strangers. As the alumni, staff, and faculty paraded to the altar, I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, so honored by who I get to learn from, the community and leadership that guides, cares, and abides with us. As we encircled the sanctuary, I felt so profoundly privileged to be a part of this learning community, awed at the beauty of the space and the souls beside and before me. And as I went forward to receive the elements of communion, I wept at God’s overwhelming kindness and grace. I was entering year two with a new level of anxiety and angst, so aware of my own brokenness, and God met me in that place, surrounding me with the welcome, warmth, and hospitality of a community that said, “We’re so glad you’re here.”
In his Convocation message, President Keith Anderson said that he hoped The Seattle School would be a place safe enough to hold us but not to keep us there. We are doing this work so that we might go out and offer the same warmth, hospitality and healing to the world.
As I page through my syllabi and look at my stack of books, I’m still so overwhelmed and doubt whether I can really do it. But I also know that I will read, write and wrestle in a place safe enough to hold us, surrounded by voices that affirm we can do it, and with the reverberating word that, “He who called you is faithful.”