The Next

Tonight I listened to a song that reminded me of summer. Of night-off drives back to camp, chasing curfew; the heat cranked up and the windows down, juggling the steering wheel and my iPod, the darkness tangible and mysterious in those woods. My skin, still smarting from the July sun, drank from the star-drenched breeze. It was real life magic; a fleeting fairy tale.

We cranked this song on the way back from “Harry Potter”- my lens-less Buddy Holly’s still on my face, forgotten. We were all emotionally worn out, discussing that movie on the road as if it was some piece of art. It was.

My little red Hyundai, an oasis of warmth and sound and new-car smell (four years later!) played this tune over and over, unflinchingly. It is a loyal friend.

Dearest Amy E. put this song on a mix CD meant for my 妹妹, Gretchen. It’s how I discovered it.  As I listen, I find myself thinking how disconcerting it is that this precious jewel, my sweetest friend, lives a life apart from me. I ache to protect her from the things that hurt and stress and harm. Similarly, I yearn to see my littlest sibling-younger still but just as dear, Britta, throw like the Olympian she is at her first high school meet, to cheer for her and sit in the stands as she did year after year for me. I can’t help but miss those Winnacunnet days, when life was lived together.

Change. I feel it. It comes once more, steady. All good things end.

The song repeats. Again. Another four minutes have passed-time that really ought to have been given to my homework. But I can’t go there just yet. I will. But now I am finding some solace in words. They are helping to iron out this jumble of thoughts and emotions that swoop and weave and loop from my head to my heart like the ribbons of Shanghai traffic- more fishy than machine.

You see, I am at the end of what I call Phase One. Half of The Big Year Abroad is over.  And y’all, I am petrified.


The new is a thing I hate. I am a creature of habit, clinging to the familiar, loyally making roots. I didn’t realize it until too late- oh, the way regret smarts- but I put roots down in Shanghai, and pulling them up is starting to hurt a little.

Think about it. It’s my first grown-up place- mine alone. No parents to clean up my mess, no Commons to make my food, no RLO to let me into my dorm if I forgot my CatCard.  Here, I take taxis and drink wine on the weekends and have an apartment. My mom even said it: “You’re 21 years old now. You do what you want.” What. Is. This.

Now. My program ends in roughly seven days, and then I’ll be spending a week or two more in Shanghai with a dear friend from Davidson (Chang Su), and then together we will go to Hong Kong for Christmas. I’m thrilled. But then it’s Beijing, and learning the ropes again, and playing name games and being lectured like a rookie until my ears bleed.

I’m tempted to panic, in classic Courtney style. But then I listen to this song, this sweet summer song, and I am reminded how I felt as I said goodbye to Mom and Britta at Logan. My stomach hurt from a too-sweet muffin, I was crying alone in the gigantic line for security-how do you say goodbye to someone for eight months and be ok?- and this whole thing seemed just too big. At that moment, I would have bribed the change away or paid exorbitant amounts of money to be back at camp surrounded by friends. But I knew- You were telling me, and I should’ve listened better as I stood there trying to keep it together.

It was this, a whisper reinforced by three months of life here in Shanghai: This painful change was a conduit for a whole lot of good. And it was good- better. Best. The semester of a lifetime- difficult but rewarding. It brought me to a beautiful church, gave me people whom I have come to truly cherish, whose company I don’t look forward to loosing. A home. A future. Memories. Laughter. Growth. Confidence.

That’s what change always does: punctuates wonderful experiences, while at the same time ushers in other incredible things, both “foreign and familiar.” It is a marvel, bittersweet, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.

So I’ve got one week left until it all becomes new again.  These next few days I look forward to filling with leisurely irresponsibility (within reason, of course; I do have finals), climbing to the tops of towers, watching the lights go on at dusk in the middle of the city, taking lots of beautiful pictures and essentially living like a gypsy.

Life life life is gorgeous sometimes.

Bursting with love for you,

CC xo

P.S.: I love this song, the one I wrote about, especially the lyrics. Poetry and Truth- what a delicious combination.


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