Writing Prompt: Crystal Moment

This week’s writing prompt with my class is simple yet complex. We often think of milestones in our lives, but can we isolate one moment that impacted us so profoundly that we can say it has defined who we’ve become? This crystal-clear moment shines in our timeline so brightly we can point to it and say That’s it. That’s when I became brave or successful or happy or bold.

What’s your crystal moment?

My crystal moment happened when I was in college. I studied abroad between my junior and senior year. It was an easy decision to make. I was majoring in English, with a great love of medieval French literature — a lot of the Arthurian romances came out of that time period. I couldn’t get enough of Chretien de Troyes’s poems and epic stories of Lancelot and the Grail, and the heroic virtues of chivalry. I guess I was a romantic.

I went into this adventure with an open mind, but I really lacked a lot of maturity when it came to being on my own. I’d always lived at home. I went to a commuter college, and while I was paying for my studies, everything else was comfortably taken care of by my parents. I had a roof over my head, meals, and even a car (plus gas money). My only responsibility was to do well in school and graduate.

I was well on the way to graduating when I got the wild hair to study in France. After all, I’d been reading  plenty of French literature, I might as well go visit.

It was actually the best thing I could have done. I learned a great deal on this adventure, not all of it about French literature. In fact, while I did read some Victor Hugo in French thanks to a wonderful library in my host home, I learned much more than just stories. I’ve always known that literature is the study of the human condition. I got to experience the human condition in a new way. Better than reading about it, I got to live it.

This adventure taught me about self-reliance since I had to figure everything out on my own: from budgeting, to travel, to essentially being on my own. I learned a great deal about different cultures, not just the French. My location in Aix-en-Provence placed me close to Marseilles, close to the French Riviera, and beyond. I saw quite a bit of Europe. But perhaps the most important lesson I learned was empathy. This daughter of immigrants got to experience first hand, at the same age, what my parents experienced when they came to the United States.

Wait. Let me qualify that. I wasn’t running away from oppression. I had money in my pocket, and a return ticket to my home.

But I did learn what it was like to immerse myself suddenly into a culture I didn’t quite understand. I found myself yearning for the familiar, isolated in unexpected moments. Voiceless as long I didn’t know the language. It may have only been a little piece of their experience, but it was enough for me to return home with a different attitude. A broader understanding of what their generation experienced.

If that had been all, it would have been quite a bit. But thirty years later, in my work, I teach many new immigrants to the United States. My experiences then continue to inform me today. It’s an extraordinary full circle.

my journal from the trip
my journal from the trip
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a place that calms my soul

I’m currently working on a reflexive journaling project with my students, and part of the journaling experience, as the professor, is to model what I’m teaching. Over the course of the next ten weeks I’ll be posting my entry here. Some of the topics will be general, like today’s, and others might be a little more academic. I invite you to use the prompts. If you’d like to link here and share your thoughts, that would be cool. I think my students would enjoy seeing how others respond, especially as an enjoyable writing exercise (instead of an assignment in a composition course). And so, without further ado, here’s mine:

Write about a place that calms your soul.

I love the beach. As long as I can remember, I’ve been pulled toward the shore.

If I say beach, it calls to mind a number of things — sand, blue skies, the wide open ocean. Maybe images of colorful umbrellas scattered across the sand. While it’s true that all that and more represent the beach, the part that calls to me and calms my soul is the shore.

That fluid place where the land ends and the water begins mesmerizes me. I am most often found sitting right at that line, digging my toes into the loose wet sand and watching my ankles get engulfed by the water as the waves wash over my feet.

It’s probably not an accident that the force behind those waves, the tide, also has a mesmerizing pull. Few things are more spectacular than sitting along the shoreline at night with a full moon.

I love a calm sea. I love a violent sea even more. I love seeing, feeling, and hearing the sounds of the ocean as waves either lap at the shore or crash into it.

If I sit along the shore long enough, I become a part of that rhythm and it is both soothing and calming. It frees me to empty my mind. In those moments I feel closest to all Creation. To God.

Most of my work week is filled with noise. Man-made noises are always assaulting my ears — the constant onslaught of media, the persistent hum of electronics, and my own continuing need to be in front of a class talking take a toll on my ears. When I can get away to the beach, I do.

I can sit and unwind as the waves wash away the noise. It usually just takes an afternoon to hit that re-set button in my mind. Then I’m ready for real refreshment. It puts me in the mood to reflect. It puts me in the mood to pray, and my soul is calmed.

shore