Different Kinds of Speechless

Oh, what a difference this time has made.

Upon reading my pre-reflection posts and now being prompted to construct my post-reflection, I am struck by the difference in these blogs. Before CR, I was writing about a 26 day experience I was yet to embark on. The words were often hard to find, and more often came out as nervous stumbles that were merely reiterations of the stories CR alum had shared in our meetings. I wrote those blogs because I had to.

Now, I have hundreds of stories I could attempt to put into words for those reading these posts. I have 1,000 photos on my camera roll of the things I saw and the people I was with. I have the multifaceted memories of 26 dinners together, with the taste of schnitzel to the taste of rich Italian pasta and the accompanying conversation. I have the complex passions and interests of the other 17. Simply, I have plenty to write about. More than that, writing about it helps me wrangle the sprawling monster of memory inside my skull begging to be shared of and be written about and be reflected upon. I am writing this blog because I want to.

Symbolically, I decided to stop writing in my CR journal after I got back home. To me, journals isolate the raw thought processes and emotions associated with a certain season. I have journals filled with different years of grade school, summers at camp, and more recently, my freshman year of college. When I open my CR journal from now on, I am allowing myself to revisit the vibrant memories outlined by whatever the pen placed on the paper for that day. I did, though, dedicate a page to ideas for this post-reflection blog. This page is a bulleted list written sporadically during my first week home.

The first point says “my favorite question is ‘tell me about the people.'” On my first night back, I sat in my backyard with loved ones for dinner. (Fortunately, I did not have to eat alone that night. I probably would have sobbed at the stark difference from sharing nightly meals with 17 other individuals.) They asked about my favorite meals, my favorite sights. They wondered what the accommodations had been like in each city. Then, they asked about the CR people, the aspect of the experience that is hardest to describe and thus (to me) differentiates CR from any other experience. So, I went through the list. Claire wiping bird poop out of my hair, looking into antique shops on Karl Marx Allee with Brent, the delirious roommate memories with Chloe and Cooper, and so many more stories that indicated both the cohesiveness of the group and my individual relationship with each person were shared across the table. That next weekend, I sat with my sister in the Dallas Arboretum, and she asked again about the people. I delved back into the stories and descriptions of my friends. I smile when I think of the people, and I know I always will. If nothing else (but trust me, it gave me much more), CR gave me the people God knew I needed in my life.

Also on that page, I wrote that I am now better able to understand and help people in situations that might have otherwise been frustrating. The harder I think about it, the more I realize how CR changed the way I handle my interactions with people. Being around 17 people constantly can sometimes be frustrating, regardless of how much you love them, especially for someone who has more introvert than extrovert in them. Now, I am considerably more patient with the people I interact with daily. I am quick to clarify myself and slow to become frustrated. Having to ask strangers on the street for directions truly helps a person branch out. Now, I am unafraid to ask for help, something I can now see I fought against. I tried to work on these things personally, but I needed to be dropped across the world to improve these aspects of my disposition.

On another note, the goals written in one of my pre-reflection blogs deserve being reexamined following the experience and some time spent back in the United States.

  1. I hope to be overwhelmingly grateful at every site we visit.
  2. I hope to embrace the idea of sharing these experiences with the group and the intimate relationships gained from shared and unique experiences.
  3. I hope to remember the small facts and the big ideas gleaned from both planned and unplanned learning moments.

Goal #1! My theme for the trip! So many times I caught myself overwhelmed by gratefulness. From the standout moments (hiking to the castles in Munich, walking the streets in Riomaggiore, staring at art in the Uffizi Gallery) to some pretty mundane moments (but not so, because we were in EUROPE), I caught myself thinking “how in the world did I get here?” I am sure my fellow students can echo this sentiment. Truly, copying every note of thanks jotted in my journal would create a jumble of words that would be both exhausting to read and probably repetitive. So, I’ll spare you. I think you get the idea: I am so ridiculously grateful for CR. If you need evidence, ask Dr. Pitcock or Bea or the 15 other students about my tearful thank you/I love you/I’ll miss you shared on the last night of the trip. (In writing this, I wish I knew a new word for thankful that could summate how I feel.) This goal was achieved! Good work!

Goal #2. I think I wrote this one because for some reason I imagined that I would have a hard time making friends on CR. Thankfully, this was not the case. Ask anyone if they think I had a hard time being myself after the first day in Berlin. But, in retrospect, I do realize that the relationship I gained with everyone on CR is vastly different from the ones I had made previously, just as my high school friends are distinguished from my college friends and my immediate family is distinguished from more extended family. The sheer magnitude of brand new experiences that constitute CR forces intimacy of intellectual thought, and thus, intimate friendships. Things that weighed heavily on me demanded to be shared, and after a few emotional (not always negatively so) experiences, I felt more and more inclined to share with those around me. I embraced this, and it is more exciting that it occurred organically.

Goal #3. This one is slightly more complicated in retrospect. This goal challenged me in many ways. For my brain, I am much more skilled at retaining the big picture and using that framework to insert details where needed and omit smaller, less pertinent pieces of information. I knew this before, but I learned it in full force as I listened to Brent and Madelyn spout off dates and names from museums that I could not recall. So yes, I remembered the overarching ideas of the sites. I took note of the feelings I experienced at darker spaces, such as Dachau, and more joyful spaces, such as the castles and numerous churches we entered. Maybe I do not remember the name of every painting or artist or architect, but I do remember the questions these visual stimulants encouraged.

To close, I love CR. I love the people. I love the cities. I love the idea of the experience and the ideas it forced me to explore. When I left, I wished it would never end, but I am quickly realizing that CR is meant to age beautifully, as it already has.

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