who would i be?

Flying from Ohio to Virginia today, I got to thinking about planes.  I could see two planes on the horizon.  I could see the shadow of my plane on the tops of the clouds.  There are planes everywhere, and I was only seeing a handful.  The flights so short.  The trips so far.  How could so many people have so many places to go?

I thought about the world and how interconnected it is.  I thought about how this changes our perspective, how it makes our “needs” just become more frivolous “wants”.  How it encourages our outrageous American sense of entitlement.

Just today, I was sitting back in the soils lab talking to Jeff and then I blurted out, “Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we just didn’t have air conditioning, heating, electricity?  If we didn’t have those expectations and then the simpler life would be so much more?  Wouldn’t we have less stress and less obligation and be better off?  And I wouldn’t need to worry about my hair looking lousy today or the fact that I had to put on a tank top under this shirt because I panicked when I realized you can see my bra…”

He laughed at my outburst, but he agreed.  And I think it’s true.

Then I wondered, what if… what if we didn’t live in this frantic era?  Here I am, starting a long journey overseas, ready to “seize” and “define” and “become” and “challenge” – but what in the world does that all mean anyway?  What if we didn’t have those opportunities?

Who would I be?

My incessant journeys abroad arose out of a panicky scramble when my personal life was falling apart, my academic life seemed too uninteresting to ever land a job, and my graduation date was approaching too soon for me to actually graduate.  There was no glorious find-myself-out-there moment or decision or scholarship…it was just GET ME OUT OF HERE and DEAR GOD HELP ME GET BACK ON TRACK.  Back on track in EVERY aspect of my life.

I was a mess.  What else would cause me to move temporarily to West Africa ALONE??

Every time I ride a train in Europe or fly through an airport, I can’t help but notice the plethora of young women in small groups giddily dancing around an unfolded map with hiking backpacks, black leggings, and sneakers.  They’ve got their bandanas on, their Fodor guides out, and they’re ready to “rough it”.  But why?

No, dear lord, please…don’t tell me I’m part of a trend.  I didn’t ask for this!

Now that the world is at our fingertips and women have access to more generous means (thanks to the push for higher education and the encouragement to abandon home-making for a life of independence), so so so many young women are out there traveling.  It’s like an epidemic.  It seems like I always see them, hear about them, or even witness them among my friends.  (I mean, men too, but not my point.)

What is it that they’ve lost about themselves that they think they’re going to find?  Am I really just the same as them?

I honestly don’t have an answer.  But while they’re so busy trying to find out who they will be, I can’t help but see who they would have been and wonder the same for myself.

At 23, where would I have been two generations ago?
A housewife, surely.  World War 2.  Cooking.  Cleaning.  Shopping.

It sounds dismal, but part of me wonders if I would have preferred it.

Relaxed, taken care of, at ease, important, with a place in this world.
These days, I don’t know where I belong.
These days, there are high expectations put on me.
These days, I still can’t walk into my job or my hockey game like a woman.
Because I’m still at the disadvantage.
I still have to work a little harder to just pass, because, well, men.
But that’s okay.
Look how far the world has come already.

But is there an intrinsic spark in me that would have caused me to rebel?  Would I have become a journalist like Skeeter in The Help and taken life into my own hands?  Chosen against a husband and instead fought for human rights?

I want to say yes, yes that would have been me.
But I’m not so sure it would have been.

Sure, now I feel like a rebel, going against the grain, going alone, fighting for native rights.
But that’s so trendy now.
Is that really that awesome of me?  Or am I just mundane??

It’s like when the whole world tries so hard to be “different” that “different” becomes “normal”.

But I’m not out to fight being normal,…or am I?

Questions even I can’t answer for myself.
But let’s say I am out there to be different.
And it’s 1940.
What would I have done?  Joined the Army?  Fought in WWII as a “soldier”?  Refused to marry, gone to school, practiced science?  Eventually walked on the moon?

Geez… Life is hard to understand sometimes.

Not only do I not have any idea who I am, but I’m unsure of who I will be and also confused by who I might have been.

Well, one thing’s for sure…I’m about to board a plane for Belgium.  And I know who I USED to be: a girl who could never board a plane by herself to Belgium.  And here I am, student card in hand, an ex-resident of southern France, ready to face the world with a loose itinerary and no reservations.

Because I’m kind of over asking what ifs.

Just do it.

I’ve had some interesting turns of events in recent weeks.  I’ve gotten involved in some really cool projects and really put my heart into doing them.  There’s my senior project class for  my Civil Engineering degree where we are designing a real replacement pedestrian bridge for a local national park.  There’s this EPA contest my Environmental Geology class is doing where we are managing Stormwater in a green way.  For my French senior capstone, I am traveling to Africa with Engineers Without Borders to study French, implement a well, and serve as a translator before returning to make a presentation on communication and the different barriers in language for tradition differences to education separation.  Finally, I am working on a research project with a focus on tribal economic development using green energy.  I’m studying a real project to analyze the substructures for offshore wind turbines and reporting my findings to various companies and programs, including my sponsors.  I’m doing all of these things because I am learning so much and genuinely enjoying the projects I get to work on.  It wasn’t until recently that I realized the extra effort I’m putting into these projects is unusual.

Last week, I stood in front of a financially strapped society and presented my research project and upcoming presentation in Alaska in order to receive additional funding.  Not only did I receive more than I asked for, an event is going to be made for my research and I was called an inspiration about ten times.  I have been told this by colleagues and friends before, but I never fully understood what they meant.  Now that I have relayed my news to my family, I have been reminded of things I have done over the years which shocked me with their results.  For example, I created a roller hockey team at my high school.  I got sponsors, players, recognition on tv and in the paper, and we even won silver one year in the finals.  I was astounded that we not only created a team but that the team grew to two and continues to this day, long after I have gone.  My mom reminded me of this.  My grandma told me I have a gift to inspire and used that as an example.

Maybe I do have an ability to inspire, but I really don’t think it’s that.  The way I see it, anything outstanding that I have done was something I loved doing.  Hockey, French, Engineering, helping people.  It took no extra effort for me to dedicate myself to those projects.  People use me to inspire themselves when really I’m just an example of what anyone can do if they want to do something.  There’s no secret recipe.  If you’re passionate about something and you express that ardor to others, they’ll be just as fervent as you and support you in ways you wouldn’t be able to imagine.  And it’s always so much easier to find that passion when it’s for something like human rights and equality and that which you believe is an absolutely necessary way by which to act.

So what am I trying to say?  I guess it all depends on what you want from life.  Do you feel like you’re fulfilling it?  Are you helping improve the quality of life for others?  Are you bettering yourself?  Are you satisfied with what you’ve done with the time you’ve had?  It’s not like I’m some expert but I can tell you, from what I’ve seen, all it takes is a little heart and you can transform people and things in ways you couldn’t imagine possible.  Feel like doing something?  Just do it.  This isn’t even Nike but just do it anyway.