Saturday, May 30, 2015

That title caught your eye, didn't it?

I can't help it.  This is what happens to you when you've been watching Harry Potter movies for basically the last full day.  Thanks, ABC Family.  But there's also actually a method to that madness, so... just bear with me.  We'll get to it, promise.

For now, I'll just say hello!  It's been a while since I've last posted.  Thirteen whole days, if you want to get specific about it.  And something kind of big and important-ish happened during that amount of time...

I graduated from college!!!  YAY!!!  I now have (or soon will have, more accurately, since USD hasn't mailed them out yet) a bachelor's degree in English, which is wonderfully exciting.  It was lovely to have the entire family celebrating with me last weekend (and not just because we went to dinner at Morton's Steakhouse on Saturday night... though that was sublime ;) ).  This accomplishment has been a long time coming, and it's so surreal to think I'm done with school now until I decide to get a master's degree!

Our commencement speaker for the College of Arts and Sciences, Fr. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion (a phenomenal book), encouraged us frequently in his talk not to think of USD as the place we came to, but rather, as the place we were going from.  I appreciated this distinction, as well as the choice of the word "going" instead of "leaving."  Going implies purpose; it suggests that we have somewhere else we need to get to.  If you just leave, you might remove yourself from the immediate situation, but wander around aimlessly.  Or maybe you know where it is you're going next, but you end up there mechanically, automatically, without even thinking about it.  That's leaving, and it's focused more on what remains behind in someone's wake than on what lies ahead.  And maybe it also has the slightest aftertaste of escape or passivity.

Going, on the other hand, is a mission.  It's active.  It's a choice.  And it's focused on the future.  The mission that Fr. Boyle charged us with last Sunday is that of going forth to stand with the poor and the outcasts, those who are marginalized members of society for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.  To be in solidarity with them.  Our mission is simply to love, and it is the most worthwhile mission I can possibly think of to dedicate myself to for the rest of my life.

But there is also the issue of making a living for ourselves, now that we're grown and have those magical pieces of paper called degrees.  It's also part of our calling as humans to make life easier for other humans in whatever our profession turns out to be.  And this, I think -- getting a job, I mean -- is a particular way of loving, because it involves giving some of our gifts and talents to others.  And though Fr. Boyle didn't delve into this as much in his talk, I know that USD has prepared me to go boldly into the world, with all of the skills and tools I need to succeed in my future.

It's common for college graduates to say something like this: "I feel like I'm in the middle of the ocean now, and not sure where to go.  There are infinite possibilities on every side of me; how do I know where to go?  How can I be sure I won't be paralyzed here for so long that I'll drown?"  I've definitely been guilty of this mindset from time to time myself.

But we're forgetting something so important when we get lost in this train of thought:

We already know how to swim.

My fellow Class of 2015 graduates and I wrote thesis papers and spent years taking massive tests that required a certain kind of mental aerobics.  We began as timid freshmen who wove our way through awkward orientation weekend events and developed lifelong friendships with people who began as strangers to us.  We've learned how to live independently and to take care of ourselves.  We're doing just fine, and we already have the foundation we need to continue.  We've taken the swimming lessons.  All we need to do now is pick a direction -- any direction! -- and swim until we reach the shore.  We can do it.

So here's where the Harry Potter reference comes back in, since you've been waiting so patiently for it and all.

You know at the end of the third movie, Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry is convinced that his dad is the one who will step out of the shadows and cast the Patronus so the Dementors will vanish, and, you know, not suck out his or Sirius' souls?  And you know how he and Hermione are waiting, and Hermione is saying, "Your dad's not coming"?  And Harry is like, "No, he's definitely coming, just wait for it"?  And then Harry suddenly realizes it was he, Harry, all along, who conjured the Patronus?  So he leaps out of the trees all dramatically and shouts with totally unnecessary intensity, "EXPECTO (noticeable pause) PATRONUUUUUM"?  And then this luminous, heavenly white sphere bursts from the tip of his wand and chases the Dementors away, while some would-be operatic "aaaaaahs" fill the background while Harry just continues to breathe really heavily?

Yeah.  Obviously this scene should resonate with college graduates for a few reasons, the first being that now we can't count on our parents for absolutely everything anymore.  We can still depend on them for lots of things, but there are going to start being more and more of those times when we can't just wait for the adult to come save us anymore.  We will have to step in and be the adults ourselves, and conjure those Patronuses with all of Harry's fervor.  Yes.  We will.  And when we do so, we will face our own Dementor-ish fears that haunt our young adult lives, and blast them out of the way with our own beautiful white lights.

But I like this scene more for what follows immediately after.  When Harry and Hermione are flying Buckbeak to the tower where Sirius is imprisoned, Harry says, "I knew I could do it (conjure the Patronus) then because, well, I'd already done it!"

That is the mindset I'm carrying with me into the future.  I may not have paid taxes before, or had a full-time job, or moved to a new city on my own to make friends and a life for myself.  Those things are my grown-up Dementors, my worries and fears.  But I am confident that everything I have done up to this point has prepared me for each of those things.  And I am confident that all of the times I succeeded in the face of prior challenges are proof that I can and will do it all again, many times over.  I know I can do it now because, well, I've already done it.  :)

I encourage you to remember all of the things you might have thought were impossible at some point in your life, and to recall how you surmounted them.  And now, think about all of the things you might be worried about overcoming now, and just know that you can do those things, too.  Because you've already done so much.  You are awesome!  :)

Here's to you.  Here's to us.  Expecto Patronum!  :)


A Post-Grad Perspective on "Under the Sea"

Sunday, May 17, 2015

I spent the day at Disneyland yesterday, in blatant repudiation of the papers I still have to finish in order to graduate.  And if you ask me, frolicking around the magical land of Disney with some of my best friends, careening through space, sailing with salty old pirates, escaping from the forbidden temple with Indiana Jones, and meeting princesses is definitely preferable to spending all day on homework.

Of course, our trip wasn't complete without a viewing of "World of Color," a nighttime water spectacular in California Adventure, which none of my friends had ever seen before.  I think I've seen it every time I've been to Disneyland since it premiered, and yet I still find myself in awe when faced with those vibrant projections flawlessly dusting curtains of water as they rise above Paradise Pier, and a voice reminding me that, though I may sometimes feel trapped in mundane routine... "the world is a carousel of color," and beauty, and magic.

Last night, I found myself inspired for another reason, which I think has largely to do with the advanced college-level analytical and critical thinking skills I've spent the last four years honing.  The Little Mermaid's Sebastian was singing "Under the Sea," a song that I have heard and jammed out to hundreds of times in my life, but have never thought anything terribly extraordinary of.  If anything, I've always thought that Sebastian is kind of being a party pooper in that song... and now that I think about it, I'm wondering how a song of that nature has turned out to be, perhaps a smidge ironically, one of the most upbeat, fun-filled Disney jams of the past 25-ish years...?  Hmm.

Anyway, there I was last night, really listening to Sebastian sing: "The seaweed is always greener, in somebody else's lake.  You dream about going up there, but that is a big mistake."

And it hit me.  BOOM.  Real-world resonance of a Disney song.

Allow me to explain...

Sebastian's cautioning that "the seaweed is always greener, in somebody else's lake," is, first of all, a reminder not to compare your circumstances to anyone else's.  We know this, as the lyric is a variation on the following familiar adage: "the grass is always greener on the other side."  But what if, in telling Ariel that it's a "big mistake" to dream of the life she might have on land, Sebastian is doing more than trying to convince Ariel to appease her father, or to stay in the ocean with her friend?  What if he's actually pleading with her to recognize the value of where she is, right now, in the ocean?  He does continue to name the benefits of staying in ocean, and the sea creatures join him in a pretty rocking party (and I have to say that if dance parties like that were a staple of my life... I probably wouldn't want to go anywhere).

But Ariel is Ariel, of course.  And we all know how the story goes: she gives up her voice to a sea-witch so she can go win the heart of a man she's only seen a handful of times (usually from afar), and hasn't even had a conversation with yet.  And things actually end up working out pretty well for her, despite the questionable choices she makes.  I mean, she does get married to the handsome prince, and the villainess Ursula is defeated.  It's hard to imagine a happier ending than that.

So what's my point, you ask?

My family has been talking about my upcoming graduation maybe more in the last year than even I have.  Actually, since the very first semester of my freshman year of college ended, my grandpa has been counting down (7/8 of college left!), and my family has teased me for saying that I'd rather just focus on right now.  It's because they're excited for me, I know.  And I am, too.  Mostly.  On the days when I'm not wondering how to pay taxes or bemoaning the fact that my cooking expertise pretty much starts and ends with grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But in all honestly, I really am looking forward to that day, in just a week from now, when I will get to move my tassel to the other side of my graduation cap, accept my diploma holder, and never have to write another paper again (at least until graduate school).  It's a huge accomplishment, and one that says there are so many more amazing things to look forward to in the future.  It's for this reason that I'm really much more excited than I am sad about graduating -- think of all the adventures that await!

But from what I hear, becoming a successful, full-fledged adult is something that takes a little bit of time.  And then there are those people who say, not entirely reassuringly, that even at thirty and forty and fifty years of age, they're still figuring stuff out.  When I was younger, I'm pretty sure I used to think I'd have my life "all figured out" by this point (which is a phrase I hear a lot of people using, although I'm not even really sure what it means).  But now that I'm basically on the eve of my college graduation, I know it'll be another couple of years before everything is "figured out."  Before I get the dream job (preferably one that lets me travel to Europe a lot), a master's degree (or even a Ph.D.?), a husband, a family, and a life.  And even though those are all things that I hope will happen to me someday, and they're wonderful things at that (just like Ariel's hopes for her own future were), I don't want to overlook the joy of THIS moment, right now, in eagerly anticipating everything that's to come.  I have faith that the future is full of joy.  But this moment is, too.  And I'd rather savor every moment as it happens than let some pass me by because I'm too focused on the happiness I'm convinced will happen for me at some other time.  It's fine to hope for the future.  But hope for right now, too.  For this day.  For the gift of life richly woven into every sweet scent, every vivid color, every laugh, every smile, every song.

That's why I'm hoping, after graduation, to stay "under the sea" while I can.  To enjoy the now.  I'm certain that one day, I'll find my way up to land, to success, without even noticing it, or trying.

When Words Fail, Music Speaks

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tonight, in the span of about three hours, graduation started to feel real for me.

The first round of goodbyes came with the last of our standard Wednesday practices in Founders Chapel Choir (FCC).  Once finals are over, we'll still meet several times to practice for the Baccalaureate Mass on May 23rd, but tonight brought the last of what has been my favorite part of every week at USD: my sanctuary in the middle of stress and midterms and finals, my safe haven on one of those notorious bad days on which it feels like the whole universe is against me.  Music truly has uplifting and healing powers, and says so much more than mere words ever could.  But it's the people you're singing with who really make the song.  

I wrote a special farewell to FCC, which I read (and may have cried a little bit) aloud tonight at the little dinner party/open mic night we fondly call "Sing For Your Supper."  I'm sharing it below for the members of the choir who couldn't make it this evening, for the alumni who shaped my experience (and that of countless others) before they graduated, and for future members who might never read it, but would know, if they did, of the amazing community they will find in this purehearted, generous, loving group of people.

And those who have absolutely no affiliation with Founders Chapel Choir at USD are still welcome to read this, if you'd like to know about the people who've filled my heart to the brim over the past four years.


"When words fail, music speaks."  I’m struck by the truth of this statement now, as I struggle to find words that could possibly represent the community we’ve built in song during my time at USD.  At the risk of sounding like my mother, who can’t believe that it’s already time for me to graduate from college in two and a half weeks, I will say that it really does feel like it was just yesterday that I got a letter from one Annette Welsh, just before I was getting ready to come here, imploring me to join Founders Chapel Choir.  I remember that it mentioned the informational meetings after the first Masses of the school year, and it closed with a line that sounded something like this: 'The most important things to bring are a favorite piece of music, and your instrument!  Just kidding!  The most important thing to bring is yourself!'  

I think that request is at the very heart of what makes FCC… well, FCC.  I came to that first info meeting, sat on the (pre-remodel) couch in Annette’s office with Polly and Heleen, joined then-senior Tracy's Von Trapp inspired number at my first Sing For Your Supper, auditioned for cantor in my first semester, and came to rehearsals, Masses, and socials, diligently.  It could, and maybe should, have been overwhelming for a freshman to throw herself so wholeheartedly into a campus organization that quickly.  But it wasn’t.  It wasn’t because, in all of those things, I never had to bring, or be, anything other than myself. 

That’s what’s so beautiful about FCC.  This group sees the very best of what you have to offer, and not only appreciates, but needs, the gifts that only you can give.  We are better and stronger because of what each of you alone can provide to build our little family.  If any one of us were missing, FCC would be on what Annette likes to call “the right street,” but we would not be at the right house.  And ours is a house where all are welcome.

Can I find words to express how my heart lifted when I was welcomed so vigorously by a group of upperclassmen during my freshman year?  Can words possibly explain what it’s like to watch patients at the psychiatric hospital, who’ve forgotten how to smile, join us, uninhibited and joyful, in the singing of their favorite Christmas carols?  Are there words that can respond to the young man, not much older than any of us, at the Wounded Warrior luncheon we sang at my freshman year who said, “Thank you for the beautiful music.  You remind me of my choir back home.”?  Or words that can translate what happens in my heart when I hear our voices reverberating off the walls in Founders to wrap each of us securely in mellifluous, prayerful, peaceful song?  When we know, truly, we’re not alone?  Or words for those moments when we’re lost in laughter and perfect, indescribable happiness (which often happens during the ordinary moments we’re supposed to be turning to a new song at practice)?

There aren’t, really.  Except maybe just one word:  Love.  This is a group that loves each and every one of its members for exactly who they are, for exactly who you are, and in spite of everything you aren’t, or might wish that you could be.  This is a group that continues to teach me what love looks like, in all of the ways I mentioned just now, and in so many others I can’t even begin to name.  And for that, I thank you.

As my senior year draws to a close, and I reminisce sentimentally on my time here at USD, I’m realizing that the majority of my most treasured memories have happened with the group of people seated in this room before me now.  I know a lot of seniors who have created “bucket lists” for their final weeks here, of hikes they want to take, or brunch spots they’d like to try, or San Diego landmarks they feel they absolutely have to visit before they graduate.  I think this comes from a small place of panic, and the conviction that making a quantifiable list of items to be crossed off will make them feel that they’ve made the most of every moment here.  I get this, and I’ve got a couple of things I’d still like to do, too.  

But as graduation approaches, I’m more content than anxious.  I’m content because I know I’ve filled my days with the most important and valued thing of all, and that’s love.  I have loved each and every one of you, and been loved unconditionally in return.  It is that love that I will cradle in my heart and carry with me always, like a beloved photo album I’ll place on a special shelf of memories, to be taken down, flipped through, and smiled at often.  And I know that years from now, when people ask me what I cherished the most about my undergrad experience, the first thing I will tell them about is FCC.

Thank you for making my years at USD so wonderful, Founders Chapel Choir.  You make my heart so unbelievably happy.
With so much love,


Thoughts for a Sunday Evening

Sunday, May 3, 2015

I realize that what I'm about to say places me firmly in the minority...

But I love Mondays.  Maybe not as much as I love chocolate, or rolling down the windows and jamming shamelessly to Usher's "Yeah" whenever it comes on the radio while I'm driving (which, by the way, makes any day 1000x more amazing, in case you were wondering.  Try it sometime.).

But, you know, they're up there.  Mondays.  And I feel kind of sorry for them, because they tend to get a bad rap.  Since they're the first day after the weekend and all that.  I often hear people wishing loudly that every weekend could be three days instead of just two, but if that third day were Monday, then the brunt of the blame would just fall on poor Tuesday instead.  It's like hoping when you're in school that someone else will volunteer to give their presentation first, because otherwise, it might be you.

I love Mondays because they're the first days of the new work/school week.  There's something so beautiful about all of the untouched possibilities that a fresh start signifies.  And the fact that a new one rolls around every seven days reminds us that it's never too late to decide that you want to begin again.  Heck, you don't even have to wait for Monday if you don't want to!  Every hour, every minute, every second offers a chance for us to be our best selves, to start from wherever we are, right now, and make this moment matter.  Mondays are just a handy way of reminding us of that.

In Michael Buble's "Feeling Good," he croons, "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life, for me... And I'm feeling good."  Every dawn is a new day, and a new life.

That includes Mondays.

So here's to the new week that begins tomorrow.  Here's to a fresh start that will become whatever we mold it to be.  What will you do with yours?



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Hello, world!  I have officially entered the blogosphere!

And I am so excited to be here.

It occurred to me the other day, as I was telling someone that I'm a writer, that merely announcing that fact does not make it true... at least, no more so than saying I'm an Olympic athlete makes that true, for example.  My muscles are less than impressive and I have the stamina of a goldfish (I'm not really sure what that last bit means but it seems to work there, so we'll just roll with it, shall we?).

But you know what?  I bet that if I'd decided I wanted to take my life in the direction of the Olympics, and I trained a little (or a lot), I could dive or swim or smack that tennis ball or even wrestle (!) with the best of 'em.

My point being that it's not enough just to say that I want something.  Turns out I actually have to practice.  Like, all the time.

The most common piece of advice given to writers who are trying to hone their craft (which is probably every writer, now that I think about it) is to write a little bit every day.  I definitely don't do that.  I mean, I write e-mails every day, I journal when I think about it, and I write for my creative writing classes at school.  But I don't make a conscious effort to set aside a chunk of time every day to do this thing that makes my heart happy, to write with abandon and just see what happens.  For a while now, I've thought that setting aside some time to blog each day would be a good way to counteract this, but I won't even do that.  Sometimes it's because I'm too lazy or tired after a long day to think about sitting at my computer for a couple more minutes when I'd really rather just be in bed.  Sometimes it's because I claim that I can't think of anything to write about, which people will challenge by saying that I should just write about absolutely anything that comes to mind.  It doesn't have to make sense, they'll say.  Just do it.

But most often, I think it's because I'm too afraid of what others will think.  Will they like it?  Will I be good enough for them?  Will they criticize or laugh at me?  Will they blow up my comments section with an observation of how I accidentally said "your" instead of "you're"?  Will they think that I'm witty enough, or observing enough?  What if my writing is just all wrong, or really bad?

But here's what I'm starting to realize:

Yes, I want to write to inspire others.  But I think that will follow if I first write for myself.  We've talked in my writing classes about how you should focus on that if you want to be a writer -- just write for yourself, and don't worry about the reception.  If you love to write, you do it because it fulfills you, not because it will necessarily fulfill someone else.  Publication is not the point.

It might sound selfish to think about it that way, but I don't think it is.  It's only in the act of truly embracing your own self, of letting your own light shine so fully and completely, that you can even begin to move to a place where you'll be able to pour that light on others.  

So I'm writing, and blogging, because I want to.  Because I feel, deep in the core of my heart, that I have truths to tell, and I want to shout them as clearly and loudly as I can.  I want to write, first and foremost, for myself.  Because it's something that fills my heart.  I think that's real bravery -- doing what you want because you want to do it, and being honest with yourself.  You won't please everyone.  That's a fact.  But you should first just make sure that you're pleasing yourself.  And I wholeheartedly believe that if I'm doing that, at least one other person will be inspired by the words I have to say.  And if I can change the way that just one person sees the world, then I'll have succeeded.

The other thing I've noticed?  It's that if something comes from the deepest, most honest part of my heart, then it won't -- it can't -- be "wrong."  "Wrong" is a word that implies there are only two ways to look at something.  But there are infinite ways to create, and not one of them is wrong, because the only thing necessary for a good creation is the honest, sincere, effort to shape and make something that wasn't there before.  When you do this, you're sharing some of yourself with the world, in whatever special, completely unique way that only you can.  And the world needs those gifts that only you can give.  So give them!  That's my command to you, and my command to myself.  As a perfectionist, I'm often hindered by concerns that what I'm writing won't be eloquent enough, or evocative enough... and perhaps those are things to work on.  But my writing won't be "wrong" if it comes from my heart.  

And it does.  I write because I have something to say.  I write because I want to inspire others.  I write because there's so much beauty and joy and love and light to be found in the world, and I want to tell people about it.  That's why I'm calling this blog "SARAHndipity."  It's not just because my name is Sarah, and any day I can make a pun out of my name is a good day.  It's also because "serendipity" is defined (at least by dictionary.com) as "an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident."  I believe that there are so many "desirable discoveries" to be made just by living, if you keep your eyes open to all of the magic around you, and if you live your life with arms wide open. 

Thank you so much for reading!  I can't wait to see where this goes.