Zen and the Art of Saturn Maintenance

Through a slew of outrageously fun and sweetly sentimental goodbye-for-now toasts, songs, dances, poems, and hugs, I somehow managed to wrap up my job and my DC life—and see two of my favorite people Tie The Knot—all within my last 48 hours in the District.

With a dear DC friend and my endlessly loving Pit Bull as partners for the first stretch of my cross-country expedition, I set out from DC just slightly behind schedule yesterday afternoon. Loaded to the brim with an eclectic medley of items carefully selected to provide Shelter, Nourishment, and Positive Energy on our journey, as well as prepare us for the dilemmas we would inevitably encounter along the way, my two-door 98′ Saturn seemed to yearn for the open road.

We headed toward Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my friend would trade places with his girlfriend—who is joining my pilgrimage West—to drive her car, loaded with their most precious belongings, to their new home in New Haven, Connecticut, where they will start their new life together as she begins studying the sacred profession of Midwifery at Yale this fall. We spoke of turning pages, closing chapters, and opening new ones. We reveled—as I often do these days—in the beauty of life and our place in it.

Seduced by the lushness of Pennsylvania’s rolling hills and the serenity of Ohio’s open plains, I felt the stresses of DC life begin to melt away, the nagging voices in my head quieting to contemplate the brilliance around us.

Increasingly peaceful and present as the evening sky burst into hypnotizing shades of pink and purple, we silently drank in the sunset until an eerily captivating periwinkle hue unlike anything we’d seen before began to radiate from some unknown point on the horizon and startled us into conversation. It called to us, and the Saturn raced toward it; we were desperate to become part of that divine glow before the mighty Midwestern darkness swallowed it forever.

As the last trace of color disappeared from the sky, we rolled into a service plaza in West Unity, Ohio, exhilarated and ready to power through the remaining 280 miles between us and a very special woman in Milwaukee.

But the Saturn was not ready.

She subtly protested her role in our 6,000+ mile adventure and the fossil-fuel based global economy overall—to be fair, she had little say in either—by refusing to turn over after we so generously pumped her full of delicious gasoline. Taunting me, she locked my faithful four-legged friend inside…until my two-legged friend reminded me I could unlock the doors manually.

After consulting a series of Good Samaritans (I love the Midwest!) and testing various tricks to coax the Saturn out of her hesitation, we realized we had no choice but to be towed to a nearby 24/7 service station where more expert hands could caress her into cooperation. Three hours and a new battery later, we were back on the road.

I was grateful for the patience of my co-pilots and the good nature of the patrons and staff of the West Unity Service Plaza and Joe and Bucky at Hutch’s Garage that allowed me to embrace the soft summer night and the hilarity of such a makeshift voyage. We finally reached Milwaukee at 5:30am, just in time for the familiar kiss of the urban sunrise to tuck us into bed. Like other recent Life Happenings, this adventure had a way of coming gracefully full circle at just the right moment to decipher some inkling of the Universe’s plan for me.

With that said, I should have known the Saturn would have been perfectly happy to remain sedentary in the carport behind my Columbia Heights rowhouse with the neighborhood cats and rats for company, that I had mistaken my own hunger for adventure for her willingness to break free of routine life in the District.

I have a feeling this won’t be our last standoff, but I do hope the Saturn grows to appreciate change.

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The Mad Ones

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

~Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Quarter-Life Pause (Part 1)

Having just stepped into my twenty-fifth year of life, it still surprises me whenever I realize I’ve had the patience and commitment to pursue any endeavor for more than a one-or-two-year stint. But somehow I’ve managed to date the same person for three years, live in a city other than my hometown for five, and (perhaps most easily) practice vegetarianism for six.

Even more, as a dedicated humanitarian, since I graduated high school seven years ago I’ve worked tirelessly toward a career in international development. It’s a notoriously difficult field to break into, especially for a first-generation college student from Rural America. But I was too idealistic to care, and dove in with the determination of a Taurus – studying Yoruba, followed by French (so I could work at the UN); taking out extra student loans to move to DC for an unpaid internship; starting a development project in Uganda; attending national and international conferences; doing summer school, an accelerated graduate program, pro-bono consulting work, writing, lobbying, networking – all piled on top of the typical all-nighters and waitressing gigs of the average middle-class college student. I sacrificed – to some degree – my social life, and neglected relationships with my family. My parents often didn’t know which continent I was on, but my mom would give up eating meat whenever I was abroad as a sacrifice to the Travel Gods to protect her most radical offspring.

And it worked.

Less than two years ago I landed my Dream Job at a well-respected Think Tank with the Best Address In Washington, working with world leaders and traveling the globe to grapple with some of the greatest challenges we face as Humanity on the Planet: human rights abuses, poverty alleviation, population growth, climate change, resource scarcity, and war. I’m on a first-name basis with Africa’s second female Head of State (who is a baller!). I’ve been to four continents in the last six months, and two of the world’s most beautiful cities (Capetown and Rio). I am well-paid, have a beautiful Window Office, and talented, service-driven coworkers.

But I entered this line of work because I am driven in the depths of my being– like many others—by  the belief that my destiny is interwoven with that of all of Humanity. Particularly because I had the extreme luck of being born into a life so privileged, I carry an extraordinary responsibility to use my status in the world to fight injustice and restore harmony to our precious Planet.

Although I’ve been fortunate enough to play a role in influencing policy at the national and global levels to improve the lives of some, change is certainly not happening fast enough.  We are living at a turning point for humanity, and I personally feel a lot of pressure to steer us away from a path of entrenched inequity and accelerated destruction. I want my own children and all future generations to be able to enjoy the spotless beauty of the human experience—for I have not been able to uncover a reason for Life other than to live it to the fullest!

So, as long as this pervasive global power imbalance perpetuates widespread exploitation and injustice for the benefit of a gluttonous few, as long as we desecrate our exquisite natural environment, as long as I have brothers and sisters around the world for whom suffering is the norm rather than the exception, I cannot sit at my comfy desk and wait for marginal, insufficient progress from the international political system I have exalted for the last seven years.

In just over two weeks, I will be walking away from my Dream Job for no good reason other than an unshakeable feeling in my gut that there must be a better way. I’m leaving the intensity of this city I love so dearly to pause, muse, and seek new ideas (and maybe a bit of adventure).

I invite you to join me.