Begin to Welcome Back All You Sent Away
I’m sitting at a side table avoiding eye contact and trying to appear deep in thought. I used the last of the coffee beans two days ago, so I immediately rolled out of bed this morning and came to Irving Farm. I made it just before the Saturday morning rush of Upper West Side moms and strollers and Jewish families begin to crowd the entrance. Now, there’s the pleasant hum of coffee grinding, kids playing, parents chatting, and the lazy trumpet of Louis Armstrong playing in the background. Someone has slightly over-toasted a bagel and I marvel at how comforting the smell is. I love that this is a fall Saturday morning.
People don’t come to New York in the fall to watch the leaves change. They come for the back-to-school energy, the bouquets of sharpened pencils, and apple-fresh crispness of morning. Fall turns me into a magical creature and I love it with all of my heart.
One year ago, I spent the fall in England. I slept in a tiny, wood-paneled room in Exeter College, my toes freezing between a thin blanket and a springy cot. I ordered dry toast and soft boiled eggs from Turl Street Kitchen and went to lectures with my fellow Columbia students. I wandered through cobblestone streets and read books by the Thames. I went to church at St. Aldates, Evensong at Christ Church, and morning prayer at University Church. I was alone with God. I questioned God. And I came to learn that He never leaves me. Last fall was the start of a pilgrimage—a journey of true and lasting growth—the kind of growing up where you begin to welcome your innocence back to you.
For most of my life, I wanted people to think I was smart. I feared being perceived as naive because, in a way, I believed I was. I was raised in a sheltered household, and knew there were things I didn’t know. I was curious about pop culture and music and movies and how girls got boys to like them. I longed to explore independence, and I was intrigued by fame. I observed people gaining others’ respect and wondered how I could too. I didn’t care about being the best on paper, but I wanted to be the girl who was more than the sum of her parts. I wanted that undefinable spark that people couldn’t help but adore.
And for some reason, I felt threatened by my innocence. I thought my sheltered upbringing would hinder my ability to understand the world. So, one by one, I sent pieces of my innocence away. I sent away Halloween candy and my parents tucking me into bed at night. I sent away poetry and fuzzy journals and gel pens. I sent away fireflies and bare feet and nail-painting with my mom. I sent away velvet dresses and flower crowns. I sent away Junie B. Jones and American Girls dolls and coloring outside the lines. I sent away childhood and the simplicity of being because didn't know what it meant.
I sent away adolescence, too, because I thought mine was too simple, and I wanted complexity. I sent away trust. I sent away self-esteem. I sent away waiting for my mom to pick me up. I sent away writing songs on my guitar. I sent away the belief that I was valuable just because. I purged myself of naivety and childishness and made room for growing up.
But I think something happens after years of digging our tunnels to adulthood. We start to miss childhood. We don’t miss being childish, but we miss being childlike. We stumble upon old journals and our hearts break with grief for the person we used to be. We’re disillusioned by all that maturity once had to offer and start calling out for our innocence once again.
One day, I’ll write more about this than these 800 words can express, but this year’s pilgrimage from one fall season to another has led me back to innocence. Not to my childish self, but my childlike self. As one of my new favorite poets, David Whyte, writes, “Begin to welcome back all you sent away.”
So, I’m welcoming back singing, and I’m welcoming back needing my mom. I’m welcoming back the piano and I’m welcoming back wrought-iron friendship. I’m welcoming back my ability to be embarrassed and I’m welcoming back the vulnerability to takes to be curious. I’m welcoming back pouring out my heart into a journal and talking to God like He’s right next to me. I’m welcoming back giggling with joy and counting down the days until Christmas.
I’m welcoming back the delight that comes from self-forgetfulness.
I’m welcoming back all I sent away.