I flew into Boston on Saturday.
The first thing I usually do in any airport is search for a landmark. I look for something to remind if I’ve been here before, if I like a restaurant beside one of the gates, if something happened to me in one of these airports that was pivotal. There’s a tequila bar in the Charlotte airport where I spent my Valentine’s Day alone heading up a solo Single Girls Anonymous meeting in 2015. There’s a diner in the Baltimore airport where I stop, nearly religiously, for the bison breakfast. I’m a writer who spends a lot of her time in airports so forgive me for trying to make the experience of to-go Friendly’s and baggage claim a little more poetic.
The first thing I saw when I touched down in Boston was this tiny Dunkin’ Donuts crammed into the corner beside the escalator that leads you to ground transportation. I’ve been to the Boston airport a dozen times before but I remember this little coffee joint. I remember, two years ago, stepping off the plane and seeing the familiar pink and orange signage. I remember starting to cry. I was five months into living in Atlanta at the time and I couldn’t remember anymore why I’d chosen to move there.
I would have conversations all the time with people about my move to Atlanta and my tone and demeanor was beginning to shift as they asked me questions like, “And how do you like it?” The honeymoon period in Atlanta had worn off. Things weren’t shiny or new anymore. The hole I’ve written about– the one that always felt like it was expanding in my chest with more nothingness– only got bigger. I started answering the questions people asked me differently with responses like, “It’s good here. But it’s not home. Home is New England and I am hoping I can go back there soon.”
I didn’t realize at the time that my response, as honest as it was towards people, was my way of crossing my arms across my body and saying, “Don’t come any closer to me. Don’t get to know me. I am leaving soon. I am always leaving soon.” It was a defense mechanism. It was my way to cover up the fear that I would never belong somewhere. Fear had written this story in my brain that I would always be running and chasing thing after thing. I didn’t know how to take off the running shoes and nail them to the door.
Two years ago, that airport in Boston was the first time I’d stepped onto familiar New England ground in several months. It should have been exciting. I should have been grateful for a chance to feel the fall air that I missed so much. Instead, I was so sad. I wheeled my suitcase to that Dunkin’ Donuts, ordered a small coffee, and ended up crying before I paid for it. I felt like Boston, and every other city in New England, was breaking up with me. I felt punished and weak. I wanted to just come home.
I went to my hotel, changed into my sneakers, and found a coffee shop nearby. I made the mistake of opening my laptop and writing a really pathetic blog post. I felt vulnerable and raw. I probably should have called my mom and cried into the phone but instead I chose to use the internet as my means to say, “Help me. I’m falling apart here.”
One of my readers would one day tell me at a speaking engagement how her therapist brought that specific blog post to her attention in a session and asked her, “Do you think she is depressed? I think Hannah is facing depression again.”
You know you’re close to your readers when their therapists are the ones diagnosing you with depression from behind their computer screens in Oregon.
I got a phone call from a guy I was talking to on a dating application after I closed my computer. I walked around the streets of Boston talking to him, hearing his voice for the first time. He was also not from Atlanta and I thought this would be a good match for the both of us. We could both be “not from Atlanta” together and then, eventually and appropriately, not end up in Atlanta. I wasn’t aware that my own disgruntlement had nothing to do with a place on the map. It had to do with the fact that I was resisting a painful yet necessary transformation.
People move to different places for a lot of different reasons. Some move for jobs. Some move to find themselves. Some people move for other people and it ends up being either really terrible or really beautiful. I moved to Atlanta partly because I wanted to and partly because I thought God told me to move to Atlanta.
I think we need to be really careful when we say “God told me to…” because, a lot of times, we equate the requests of God with our own feelings about a situation. Just because I feel something doesn’t mean God is confirming it. It’s a lifelong quest to decipher our feelings from the plans of God.
What I mean when I say “God told me to move to Atlanta” is that it kept being confirmed to me. It kept coming up in prayers. It came up in conversations with other people. It would not relent or leave my brain. It was an uncomfortable decision, and a brave decision, and I think that God lives inside of those kinds of decisions. Regardless of if God really wanted me in Atlanta or not, God went with me to Atlanta. He packed his bag too. He filled up the gas tank too. He didn’t wave me off at the site of my childhood home, saying, “Good luck, chica! You’re going to need it because I don’t honor your decision and I am not going with you.” That’s not the voice of God. That’s a lie from the pit of hell.
Here’s what I think God does though: he uses our decisions to teach us something, move us closer to Him, and do whatever He can to make us better versions of ourselves. That’s the mission that God has for our little lives: that we could become less selfish, less absorbed with our own thoughts, less critical, less negative, and ultimately happier because of all the “less.”God is not a god of self-improvement but He is a God who knows that if we could just get out of our own way– just stop thinking the world revolves around us– then we would be so much happier and the world would be so much better off.
You see, it doesn’t matter if you can’t figure out whether God wanted you to break to break up with him or not. If God wanted you in that city or not. We make decisions. We move forward. And God, because He is good, never leaves us in our decisions. He will allow painful things to happen for the sake of transformation, yes, but He will never leave you alone and holding the bill. He sees better for you and so He is constantly trying to get you somewhere better. Most of the time, I think that’s all life is: a chance to get somewhere better and a chance to pull out the better in other people and make it shine.
I used to hate when people would liken “going through a hard time” or “transforming” to the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. I thought it was the stupidest, most overused metaphor out there. I read somewhere that caterpillars go through something called “diapause.” Diapause is this spot in the transformation process where some caterpillars try desperately to cling to their larval life. They don’t want to change. They try to resist it. I think that’s probably because they have no idea what is coming up ahead. They have no idea that there could actually be something better at the end of themselves. They hate the fact that darkness could be good for them.
It’s a state of clinging. A state of unrest. We go through it too. There is something inside of us that rises up and begs to hold onto what we know, what is most familiar to us. We try to resist change. We look for people to be our lifeboats. We hate the fact that darkness could be good for us.
I don’t have to tell you how the rest of the story goes. You already know what happens to those caterpillars. You know what happens when they just let go.