Anything Once

You only get one shot at saying your last goodbye. On CR, when we would say goodbye to a city, we would go to a spot that overlooked the entirety of it and spend time reflecting on all we had learned there. 

We said goodbye to Berlin from the top of the Reichstag, goodbye to Munich from the castles, goodbye to Interlaken as we fell from the plane (which provided a great aerial view of all the memories), goodbye to Cinque Terre from the roof of the hostel, goodbye to Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo, and goodbye to Rome from the Trevi Fountain. I never knew you could say goodbye to a place, but each small goodbye felt like the closing of a chapter. As the wheels lifted off the ground in Rome, I looked down at the city. I missed the place already, but I also missed the person who I was there. I knew that I would never be that exact same person again. Life would move on and continue to shape me into someone a little different.

So here we are, six months later, and it feels weird saying goodbye to CR for the final time from my dorm room in Fort Worth. For the past few days, I’ve been wrestling with how to say goodbye and how to write the final chapter, looking back on the three and a half week experience that will affect me for the rest of my life.

To start processing how to say goodbye, I’ve been reading my journal just a little bit at a time, and looking at the pictures and videos that go with each entry. Every time I close my journal, my cheeks stuck in a permanent smile, laughing about that time the conductor threw us off the night train while Nishu was yelling that we were in Finland, or the time we cannonballed into the river in Munich, or when we couldn’t find the ausgang from the Residenz. I love to read my journal entries about the time we made a friend while touring the castles, laughed about the saxophone man in the bushes, and when I became Catholic. 

All of these stories remind me of one of Jake and Jacob’s favorite sayings on CR10- “We’ll do anything once.” This is within reason, of course, but it helped all of us get out of our comfort zones and try new things like eating schnitzel, laying out in the park, and going skydiving even when you’re terrified of heights. 

I’ll do anything once, but I wish I could go on CR twice. I really wish I was Dr. P and could go eleven times. I want to jump back in my journal and relive everything again. 

I can’t though. I’ve said my six, small goodbyes, and my one, big goodbye, and I’m still coming to terms with this blog post being another goodbye. 

However, the more I think about it, once is enough. CR changed me forever; I am not the same girl who boarded the plane in Arkansas with a 49.9 lb suitcase. CR10 gave me memories and stories that will last forever. CR10 gave me sixteen people who I call familia. I love these people and I have their back, always, as I know they have my back, always. Now that we’re back at TCU I don’t see my people nearly as much as I wish that I did. I wish we could be together all day every day, like CR, but the craziness of life happens. In the middle of life happening though, I know they’re always there for me, as I am always there for them. My people are leaders in all areas of campus, brilliant thinkers, and rays of sunshine that make my day so much brighter when I see them. They’re peace in the middle of chaos, and a steady reminder that I am known and loved by them. 

CR10, we did it once, but we’ll keep it with us forever. CR11, it’s all yours now and you can only do it once. 

Unexplainable Beauty

I have been home for three days and have yet to find the right words to explain CR. As I read back through my journal, the word beautiful is written all over it. 

I feel like my words don’t do it justice. My words can’t capture the breathtaking feeling looking out over the Swiss Alps from the top of Europe, or the laughs shared by everyone when Jake Lynn wouldn’t move from the path of Russell Crowe’s car after being yelled at in three different languages. My words can’t capture the feeling of skydiving, or the chaos of the trains, or how hard my head hit the pillow each night. My words can’t fully explain how much each of these people mean to me. 

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I have used pictures and videos to explain. They have the laughter of the group, the background noises of the cities, and the scenery of each place. However, my video of the first night in Florence will never recreate the exact feeling that I had. We were floating down the Arno River in a gondola, eating fruit, and laughing. The sun was setting, and the lights were sparkling on the river. This was a beautiful introduction to Florence. We were the only ones on the river, and this moment was pristine. It was beautiful.

 

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Beauty took many different forms throughout the past three and a half weeks. I saw beauty in Germany. Their remembrance of their dark, complicated history is beautiful. I first saw the beauty in the Memorial for the Murdered Jews. It was beautiful how the people came together after the Holocaust to remember the people who were senselessly murdered, and give a voice to prevent anything of this nature to occur ever again. I also saw beauty in the people who stood up for the injustice. In Bayern Munchen, the soccer team who refused to align with the Nazis because there were Jews on their team. Also, in Otto Weidt who employed blind and deaf Jews and saved hundreds of lives. 

Seeing the beauty in Interlaken was easy. The moment the train turned the corner to overlook the scenery of Interlaken, I decided that was what heaven might look like. The sparkling, blue lakes surrounded by fresh green grass with the Swiss Alps touching the sky behind them. It was beautiful to see people overcome their fear of heights, to sing together in the bus, to celebrate together after we touched the ground. It was beautiful to rest and soak in the scenery. 

In Riomaggiore, we saw beauty in the simplicity of life. In every day routines by locals, small shops, and long dinners. We saw beauty in the bright colors that dotted the mountainside, and the small alleys winding down to the sea. I saw beauty in the expanse of the sea stretching as far as the eye could see, and in the water splashing against the rocks. I saw beauty at the top of the mountain, and within the conversations during the climb. There was beauty in gelato, in laughs, in the youth in Asia, and even in the crowded hostel. 

Florence brought beauty in many forms. In art: the David, Birth of Venus, the Duomo, and in street artists who played for us in the Uffitzi courtyard each night. In the gondola ride the first night that I could relive over and over again. We also saw beauty in long dinners full of belly-aching laughter, carousels, and mine and Olivia Chambers’ duet with a random couple. However, the real beauty in Florence was Ryal Reddick’s dinner attire, due to which he became known as scarf boy. 

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In Rome, we saw beauty in the Trevi Fountain as we attempted to be Lizzie McGuire, the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica and the incredible history behind each place. Also, we saw lots of beauty in Giolitti’s each night, and I’m sure Jacob James saw the beauty of success in eating 25 scoops of gelato to break Matt Williams’ record. Rome also held bittersweet emotional beauty. Each day was exciting in the discoveries that it held, but brought the impending end to CR even closer. I saw beauty in my streaming tears while CR members stood up and celebrated each other with awards, in Dr. P’s last speech affirming each of us, and in the all nighter that some of us pulled before waking up to a 12 hour flight home. I was able to see the beauty in each person’s heart throughout the past three and a half weeks and love them better.

CR – thank you for showing me that there is beauty in everything, and in everyone. I will never be able to fully explain this beauty in words, but I think that is what makes it beautiful.

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Rivers for Roads

Venice has rivers for roads. They also have gondolas for cars, kind gondola drivers named Paolo who can throw up the frog, and alleys that are easy to get lost in.

Jake, Jacob, Audrey, Emma, Olivia, and I took a train to Venice a few days ago on our own, ready to explore the city that could be underwater soon. I knew that Venice was built on the water, but I didn’t really understand until I walked out of the train station. Boats and gondolas were casually floating down a massive canal that served as their main street. We imagined what it would be like to take a boat to work, or cross the bridge instead of crossing the street every day. We meandered through the back alleys along the side canals away from the bustle of the large crowds. It was peaceful away from the beaten path. The narrow alleys and canals of Venice are bordered by colorful buildings and we sat watching gondolas pass us by.

As we were walking aimlessly through Venice, a man working in a restaurant pointed at Olivia Chambers and said “California?” We were stunned. He was right! Then he goes, “Los Angeles?” He was right again! Who knew there were psychics in Venice? Joking, but it was funny that a waiter could spot where she was out of anywhere in the world. This got me thinking.

Soon after I barely escaped a plunge into the canal by Jake Lynn, we decided to sit on the edge of a canal and soak in the atmosphere of Venice. While I sat on the edge, my feet dangling over the ledge above the canal / street, I thought about homes and the song rivers and roads.

Rivers and Roads is a song about separation from the people that you love by rivers and roads. It’s about physical distance that creates emotional distance, and the resulting change. This song is a tear jerker for any college student who has gone to school away from home. As I watched the people float by in gondolas, and I said “Ciao” to each person in an attempt to become a local, it hit me that everyone has a home. The gondolas held people of all races, nationalities, and ages. They spoke many different languages, and still saw right through my southern accented ciao. Everyone has a place that they go back to where they are comfortable, known, and loved. For some, it is Venice. All Paolo had ever known was rivers for roads and incredible gelato. For others, it is Interlaken, only knowing the Swiss Alps and crystal clear lake as a backdrop for extreme sports. Still for others, it is Germany, where the Ausgangs are hard to find, the schnitzel is good, and the night train conductors are….well…not the nicest.

Home makes people who they are. It shapes us indefinitely, although we have no control over it. Our home will always leave a mark on us no matter where we explore to. I realized in Venice that knowing about someone’s home helps us to understand them and to love them better. It is so important to see new places, to get out of your home and what is comfortable to truly see the world. While I have often said that I wish that my home was in each city we have been to, I’m thankful for the ways my home (the great state of Arkansas) has shaped me forever. It has influenced the great cheese dip vs queso debate (to all the haters- it’s called cheese dip!!) and my family back in Arkansas are the reason I am able to learn abundantly through these amazing experiences.

While homes give us underlying differences, we are united through a universal language. We are able to communicate through major language barriers in smiles, hugs, and handshakes. We transcend differences with the universal language of love. Loving people doesn’t change between cultures and homes and is not limited by borders. I have learned that loving people, no matter where their home is, is the most important.

So whether I walk out of my home to rivers, or I am separated from my home by roads, may I never forget its importance in spreading love.

My First Taste of Italy

My first taste of Italy was gelato, of course.

While this creamy, smooth gelato was the best I have ever had, we had to work for it. Riomaggiore is built almost vertically on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. We pushed our 50 pound suitcases up a hill that made the Greek hill at TCU pale in comparison, and by the end we were exhausted. When I took my eyes off of my suitcase and had my first look at Riomaggiore, it made the climb worth it. The colors were vibrant, coming together to create a bubbling, lively atmosphere conducive to our energetic personalities. However, there was also a simplicity about this place that was intriguing. The shops were small, and the people were mostly local. People hung their clothes outside their windows on lines to dry them, and hiked up the steep mountain to attend church. Moments after reaching the top of the hill and observing all of this, we ran for the gelato.

Riomaggiore was a place where we were all able to reset from the tough history of Germany and excitement of Interlaken. It was a much needed time of rest and reflection as we embark on the tail end of CR.

On our last day in Riomaggiore, we hiked 10 miles and 180 floors. Needless to say, my calves still really hurt.

We hiked to the top of the mountain overlooking the colors of Cinque Terre and the clear blue sea below. The wind blew softly, the sun drowned the valley in warmth, and it was a beautiful day. As I looked out across the sea, I could hardly tell where the water ended and the sky began. It all blended together to create a feeling that the sea was endless. The sea always makes me feel small, but a good kind of small. Small in that there’s someone else who has me in their hand, who has a plan far greater than mine.

I sat at the top of the mountain and I was still. Honestly, being quiet and still is a rarity for us. All of our CR days are spent exploring and adventuring, discovering through experiencing. I have always packed my days completely full with lists, appointments, and plans. I enjoy being busy. I find fulfillment in being busy and doing. Our culture places importance on busyness, and at TCU there is a culture of competition centered around who is the busiest. Who stayed up the latest studying? Who has the most meetings? Who is sprinting from building to building?

I glorified being as busy as possible until someone told me last semester, “every time I see you, you are running somewhere else.” I didn’t want that at all. In running from place to place, person to person, and scheduling myself to the 5 minutes, I missed depth of relationships and the passion that should come with the day to day things that I did. Glorifying business makes life fly by without any reflection. I think we get lost in the competition. In the busyness. We miss the point. The point is not to run through life checking things off of a list, and winning a busyness competition. I realized at the top of the mountain overlooking the sea that ultimately it all falls short. Our busyness does not satisfy, that is why we will always crave more. At the top of Riomaggiore I tasted the beauty of being still. I experienced a clear mind and a still heart that did not crave a new adventure. I was content right where I was. I was able to reflect on the past few weeks and do hard introspection that I often shy away from.

When I took a step back from idolizing busyness, I found that in constantly doing we miss the still, quiet moments that catalyze true growth. We miss the small things of beauty that give us a glimpse into God’s heart. We miss diving deep into relationships and truly knowing one another. While busyness is inevitable in our fast paced world, idolizing it is not. I want to take more moments to stop and look around at the beauty of the world.

Riomaggiore, thank you for the killer calves that I know are coming, the start of a gelato-only diet, and a pause from the busyness.

Sky Diving, Rocky Mountain Climbing

I think Tim McGraw would be very proud of CR10 today. Today I, along with many other CR members, went sky diving AND canyoning (rocky mountain climbing, and falling, essentially). I also kind of learned how to do a headstand (thank you Brittany and Lauren for holding my legs up). Today was full of literal and emotional highs, smiles, and singing. I loved singing Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” with the entire bus of eleven CR members who were anxious to leap out of a plane and accelerate towards the Earth. All we need now is to ride a bull named Fu Man Chu for 2.7 seconds, and we would really be living, according to Tim McGraw. Maybe it’s coming in Italy, stay tuned….

When I first heard about the opportunity to sky dive from the people who were on CR 9, I was all about it. I have been looking forward to this day of adventure from the moment I knew that there could be a chance of it coming to fruition. I absolutely love an adventure that pushes my comfort zone, and for anyone who knew me as a child you would never believe this statement. I was able to share a little bit of my elementary school personality at dinner, but I was extremely shy. My mom even spent a whole summer teaching me how to look people in the eye when I would talk to them. This is surprising now because I am a huge extrovert, feeding off of other people’s energy and enjoying the company of many people. Never in a million years would my younger self have pictured my 19-year-old self skydiving or canyoning, but I couldn’t be happier that I did. I gave up a lot of control today over the outcome of each situation, and it was so freeing. It was also terrifying in a few ways, as you can probably imagine. I usually like to have control over life, keeping things the way that I like them and avoiding failure or conflict at all costs. Today it wasn’t in my ability to ensure that the situations went perfectly. I had to trust that I would be okay and these people and parachutes would save me. It was a leap of faith to not be able to control the situation, but every time that I relinquish my control, a grand adventure takes place. Today was just that- an adventure made incredible by the lack of control and the thrill of the unknown.

The experiences of sky diving and canyoning brought many of us together, in that we were unsure of what each event would hold for us. We released our control and, for some, their huge fear of heights and trusted each other, the parachutes, and the ropes. I am incredibly impressed with Emma Hofmeister, the girl who told me going in that there was no chance she would walk across a suspended bridge. She did it all today and even led the way for much of the canyoning trip. She was the first one out of the plane to skydive and didn’t shed a tear, or pee her pants (viable options for both of us).

Today it was comforting to be surrounded by each other, but ultimately it was an individual decision. Each time we jumped off of a huge rock into the depths of the canyon in a superman, quarter turn, flat on your back, don’t hit this rock or you might be seriously injured pose, it was an individual choice. However, I always knew that when I surfaced from the beautifully clear and icy water, that Jake, Jacob, Emma, Olivia, and Brooke would be there to help me out and cheer me on. I also knew that after I made the decision to slide out of the plane hooked to a guide and a parachute that I trusted with my life, that Ryal would be there to give me a huge hug and the rest of the squad would be cheering as well. Today I gave up a lot of control, and gained a lot of trust. I was forced to trust the harness and the parachute, but I also had to trust the people around me to encourage and stand by me in all the adventures. It is so encouraging to know that these people stand be beside me in discussing the hard moments of suffering in Dachau, as well as sharing in the spontaneous moments of free falling in the Swiss Alps.

I can’t leave this blog post without mentioning the stunning beauty of Interlaken, Switzerland. I’m not fully convinced that the mountains and the lakes are real because they are just so beautiful. It is beauty unparalleled to anything I have ever seen before, matched with the relaxed and quaint town of Interlaken. As we were going up in the plane, we were around the height of the mountains when my sky diving instructor told me we were at 2,000 feet. I was scared at this point because we were already so high. He then told me we would be at 11,000 feet before we jumped. My heart skipped a beat. I can now say that I have touched a cloud and that I lived to tell the tale (sorry mom for the heart attack that I gave you).

Today was the ultimate Ausgang, and if you don’t know what that word is check out Olivia Chambers’ blog post because it is an amazing word.

AUSGANG & AMPLEMANN !!

Olivia

The Poetry of Dachau

“I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” – Mary Oliver

My heart was broken open today in ways that are hard to put into words. I think everyone felt a rush of emotion as we walked through Dachau silently, taking in the weight of the suffering felt by thousands of people on the very ground we were standing on. We spent six and a half hours at Dachau, with ominous dark clouds and drizzling rain setting a somber mood. As I walked through Dachau’s barracks, roll call yard, and crematory, I came face to face with the darkest moments of humanity. It was bone chilling to see the place where people from all over Europe were stripped of their human dignity, rights, property, and, for over 30,000, their lives. It’s one thing to read about the Holocaust, watch videos, and go to museums, but touching the walls of barracks and standing inside the crematory made the horrors so real.

Inside one of the main buildings in Dachau was an informational board about poetry written in Dachau. One man wrote a poem called “My Shadow in Dachau” while he was in the camp. It is about his sadness and fear of forthcoming death and leaving his mother. Writing poetry in Dachau could lead to a death sentence, so this was a huge risk. He said that the impressions Dachau made on him cried to be written down, but he also made an important revelation that “no power exists in the world that is capable of destroying humans as spiritual beings.” Poetry helped him and other prisoners at Dachau to connect with God and process difficult emotions. Even in such a dark and hopeless time, it speaks volumes about the presence of God that this man never lost faith. Writing and reading poetry was essential to retaining a small part of their human dignity. Another man read the poem and gave this commentary: “The value of this poem for me? It contains everything: the agony of captivity and the elegy of freedom, and the greatest earthly love, maternal love and something else that is banished from the normal thoughts of youth and human suffering: forgiveness.”

Poetry is man’s way of attempting to understand the world, and it proved crucial to another prisoner at Dachau in finding himself and his humanity again. Their poetry provides an artistic, raw take on the emotions felt by real people who were treated as numbers at Dachau.

I recently discovered my love for poetry and the power it carries in its attempt to make sense of all aspects of life. Mary Oliver is currently my favorite poet with her poems about nature, spirituality, and youth. Her lines about heartbreak end a tragic poem about death, and I believe that it perfectly applies to many experiences we have had in Germany overall. The purpose of our visit to Dachau was not just to observe the structures and learn facts, but rather to soak in what occurred there and never forget it. The intention of Dachau as a memorial is to preserve what happened and ensure it will never happen again. We must not be numb to history, but rather open our hearts to the world to respond with love. That is my goal for the rest of CR- to have a heart open to learning and growth in whatever form it may take.

Higgledy-Piggledy

A description of berlin from Sam, a Brit who gives tours of Berlin. I liked this word and it made me think. I believe that it holds true for many aspects of Cultural Routes thus far.

Sam explained Berlin as higgledy-piggledy as in a hodge podge of buildings. there isn’t a consistent architecture or design throughout the city, but rather due to the Berlin bombing, the city was reconstructed in different styles. I also think that berlin is a higgledy-piggledy of people and ideas. There are lots of different ideas and values in berlin and all are celebrated. There is a rich history in Berlin that is hard to fully understand through facts and textbooks. Only when we experienced the monument for the murdered jews, and i ran my hand against the Berlin wall, looking up at its ominous height, and saw the faces of those killed between the walls that the wheels began to spin in my head. Berlin maintains diverse ways to remember its history and celebrates diverse ideas.

My group is such a higgledy-piggledy. Shoutout to team charlie (whoop whoop!) I have truly loved running around Berlin heel clicking with y’all. We truly have a knack for getting lost / sidetracked and finding a true gem. Yesterday we found a slide in the Berlin Mall after Jake Lynn decided to steer us inside. Today we bought matching Ampelmann socks at the store we had been looking for all day after getting off at the wrong stop on the S-Bahn. we also found three world clocks yesterday before finding the one true world clock we were looking for. We have ran for trains and heel clicked throughout Friedrichstrasse. These pit stops and diversions are all part of the adventure, and have made us all closer to one another. I see Jesus in all of them, in their smiles and laughter and also their thoughtful, wise reflections. I have learned thus far in Berlin to embrace the higgledy-piggledy of life, and see the beauty within diversity and uncertainty.

We have walked a full marathon in two days and i cannot wait to walk many more- until next time, olivia.Z