|Catie's library, top shelf, back bedroom, Flood House, USA|
Last Saturday, I finally unpacked my stuff into my new room, and went through my books, deciding which to keep at my apartment and which to take to my parents house. It's funny how I had acquired these books. Some were gifts, others childhood favorites, but the majority of them I bought at a used bookstore or library book sale. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most books I buy on a whim, because they look interesting, not because I have necessarily heard of them. Most of the time they are good, although sometimes I never get around to reading them.
Those of you who decided to read this post because of the "quitting my job" title are probably wondering, what has this got to do with New Haven? I think in large measure, I started working at New Haven on a whim. Sure, I did some research, but the truth is, I didn't know what to do after I graduated from BYU, and I thought this would be a good option. After I started working there, several people told me I was there for a reason, that I had something to learn there. Looking back, eighteen months later, I think they were right. But I think it's also important to note that working there was a choice, like buying these books, that I made without really knowing what it would mean for me, what story was in store for my life. How could I know? I can't even explain the experience now that I've lived it.
My "library" is a pell-mell of all different genres and time periods, from Walt Whitman poems to Women at Church. Their words and ideas cannot be distilled; there is no main argument of a library or a bookstore. Working at New Haven also can't be boiled down into "the experience that made me stronger" or something. It was so many things, so many emotions, so many experiences. I felt indescribable pride when one of our students transitioned, sitting in a room filled with love and triumph and the unique spirit of each family. I also felt incredible pain, personalized anguish, the white hot poker of abuse telling me over and over again that I was worthless and wrong. And not just this binary. Funny little moments shared with students or coworkers: the time a student and I accidentally covered a pizza, not with frozen mozzarella cheese, but with hash browns. Little stabs of conflict: telling the same student over and over again to change her clothes, to stop gossiping. Trying to be relational and firm: yes I love you and I know that you're sad, but you still have to shower, go to school. The sheer uncertainty of making judgment calls and having to stick to them. Sitting for hours with a suicidal student, a task both boring and anxiety-inducing. Having a ridiculous awareness of knives and scissors. Driving a 14 passenger van. Walking to the jangle of keys. Group texts. Run calls.
New Haven is like my library, but then again... Books can arrest you and shake you, but you can close them. Walk away. In spite of the incredible anxiety it cost me, I love New Haven because it demanded that I live life fully, at every second. I couldn't just walk away, I had to handle it. There was always a situation to deal with, every day was different. And while that drove me crazy at times, I will miss it. I will missed being forced to confront and decide and feel and live. I think that's how life is supposed to be, anyways.
So thank you, New Haven (staff, students, therapists, campus). Thank you for everything you taught me and gave me and took from me. Thank you for making me live.