November 30, 2012

Finding Eden

Whenever I have had a long day on campus, I find myself amazed time and time again at the renewing effect of simply stepping outside to walk back home. If I'm lucky, the darkness won't have totally settled in just yet. The peaks of the mountains have a bolder outline as the sun first sets, but little by little they become more blue and mysterious and even mythical. Squaw Peak juts out jagged (and almost arrogant, really); the mountain ranges to the south and west are straight out of an Impressionist painting with their creamy pastels, soft around the edges; and of course, Timpanogos to the north: strong, sculpted, assured, snow-capped more often than not. It's easy to forget that campus is a little mountain of its own; it isn't until I start the steep descent back down into the city that I remember we're that much closer to the sky than the rest of Provo. The sidewalk just across the street from my office offers a breathtaking view of the city lights, the dimensions of the neighborhoods below, Utah Lake, and the faraway peaks to the west. Like a well-worn melody, it never gets old. I am always in awe when I take the time to look. There is a certain comforting familiarity to be found in these mountains, so constant in their presence and so dear to me for everything they've come to mean.

A pulsing realization has come to me in layers over the past six years. I will never forget the first time I traveled back home to Michigan. I had only been in Provo for about two months, but it was a long two months without my family or any of the comforts and familiarity of home. The occasion was a production of Children of Eden at my old high schoolit was my sister's senior year, and thus her last year performing in a musical at the beloved Tibbit's Opera House. Dad picked me up from the Detroit airport that Thursday evening and we raced straight to the theatre to catch the beginning of the show. As if the situation weren't inherently fraught with enough emotion, the play itself followed the heartbreaking narrative of the human race, starting with God, His relationship to Adam and Eve, their relationship to Cain and Abel, and so forth. The whole show was a cycling of generations, of patterns of curiosity and rebellion that finally give way to sacrifice and lovethe painful kind of love that only a parent can know. The kind of love that asks you to let go. All the while, the children of every generation continue the search for Eden, which is ultimately a search for home. When you think of the Creation and the Fall in those terms, it seems like we're almost programmed for nostalgia: that primeval longing for a sweet Edenic homecoming. Needless to say, I was already reduced to a puddle of tears by the time I was able to hug my sister for the first time in months at the show's end. I went to all three nights of performances. I knew I needed to be instructed in how to cope with homesickness, which is perhaps one of the central struggles of the human condition and definitely the biggest thing I was facing at the time.

My sister Sarah and me on opening night of Children of Eden

It's really no surprise that I had such a tender and powerful experience in returning home that first time. What I wasn't expecting was a Provo homecoming almost just as sweet: the minute I returned to my cramped dorm room, I received a call on my desk phone. My newly acquired group of friends and my sweet-natured boyfriend were all but screaming on the other end of the line, asking me to join them in the cafeteria for Sunday dinner. The love was palpable as I stepped into the Morris Center. I was greeted warmly with hugs and kisses and proclamations that even my paltry three days' absence had left little holes in their weekends. I was missed. I was loved. And somehow, Provo had already become another home.

Imagine what six more years of making this place home might do to my heart. The friendly mountains. The familiar contours of the oft-walked streets. The tunnels that still ring with Sunday carols sung with friends. That kiss atop the bell tower. The temple, shining like a beacon in the night, on whose grounds I've so often sought solace and cried freely. The classrooms I've been instructed in. The ones I've taught in. The whiteboards that might still bear a smudge of mine, maybe a fingerprint. That hill at the park by the Riverwoods where I have stargazed with the dearest of souls. The concert halls where I was lucky enough to perform. That parking lot where I used to practice the foxtrot with a special boy. The inconspicuous little look-out point on Y Mountain where I have gone to cry, to advise, to let off sky-lanterns, to celebrate. The Marriott Center, where my heart caught on fire more than once at devotionals, basketball games, music and dance performances. The drives down to Springville with nothing but Eric Whitacre between me and the smeary sunset. The quaint glow of Center Street on a summer evening. The big hearts and warm hands I've come to love.

I could go on. Chances are, I will do just that in the coming months of saying my goodbyes to this place. But this is less an elegy for my Provo days and more a celebration of that lesson I started learning as an eighteen-year-old Eve torn from everything I'd known: that I needn't wait for Eden. There are bits and pieces of home glowing all about me in the pattern of the stars or the constellation of freckles on a face I love. Home is a kind of warmth. And it just might be a mountain reaching up into the darkness in search of its own heaven.

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