Ring the Bells. / by Sarah Schwartz

“Well ring the bells that lead you home, cause the only truth I've ever known, is that nothing ever hurts us more than love.”

At the conclusion of the semester of The Great Sadness, my final undergraduate term, you know, the one I spent oscillating between being dead in the eyes and baptizing every square inch of Biola's campus with my tears (refer to my previous post, That List Is A Poem, Not A List, So Is This One), I finally made it home. I limped across the finish line of my academic career, packed a bag, and headed to the northwest.

There are few things more sacred to me than home, the little rainy valley between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains that holds my family farm and all the places and faces that made my growing up life. Usually, I am jumping out of my skin with excitement to return, dreaming for days before hand of the Oregon air awaiting me when I step off the plane. But this trip, I was wary. If you've been reading, you know that I haven't been myself for the last four months or so, and it's strange, to go back to a place so worn and warm and familiar, when you aren't familiar with yourself. The contrast is like one giant cosmic reminder that you're a mess, and trust me, I didn’t need reminding.

“Find the words that make it right again, calling birds help you make it through the night.”

For the first half of my trip or so, I carried The Great Sadness with me, heavy like one of those vests the doctor makes you wear to take x-rays. I went through the motions and met with friends and smiled when I was supposed to smile and told people what they wanted to hear about how yes, I was so excited to be done with school and uh-huh, I'm staying in California, and indeed, the world is my oyster, and yeah there was a rough stretch there, but you betcha, things are really looking up, in fact, I'm so excited about life I'm thinking about doing cartwheels to get around instead of walking, etc., etc.

“It's just enough to find a way to open up again, and learn to taste all the beauty that's inside.”

But something shifted, ever so slightly, mid way through my trip. I was asked by an old teacher from high school to come and speak at the school’s weekly chapel. I agreed, and Friday morning, found myself sitting in the shabby little chapel I had spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours in between the ages of 11-18, waiting to be introduced as the morning's speaker. And as this teacher, who has known me for roughly half my life, introduced me, I felt a few pieces of my soul return to the spot in my chest that has recently only known ache.

"Sarah, is one of my favorite people...very proud of her...she exemplifies...when she was a student..."

I smiled, reliving the many years of friendship this man and I shared, the depth of our conversations and the frequency of our laughter. I listened to him describe my confidence, character, and spirit, like he was reintroducing me to pieces of myself. Oh, I remember her, I thought.

“And those that know you most can help you to live again, so keep them close as you're making your new start.”

The next day, I met up with an old mentor at my favorite coffee shop, where I spent every free period, afternoon, and weekend during high school, where three and half years after leaving for California, the baristas still know my name and drink of choice. We paid for our coffees, sat down at a table and immediately started laughing, both aware of the avalanche of events I needed to share with him and receive help in wading through. And for two hours, that's what we did. I talked and cried and explained, and he sorted and asked and reminded. By the end of our time together, I felt a few more pieces of my soul flutter back.

“Scream out loud, until you feel again, and hear the sound, of how to heal an aching heart.”

And the next morning, when I woke up, they were still there. I went for a drive down some of my favorite back roads and more than once, found a genuine smile spreading across my lips, as if it was the most natural state for my face. Later, I had lunch with my sister, and heard myself letting out my trademark Sarah laugh, the one friends and family can identify from blocks away. These things may seem inconsequential, silly even, but my past few months have been largely void of natural smiles and wild laughter, and I was happy to find I was still capable of them.

I know I’m not out of the woods. I know a few days of smiles and coffee dates do not a whole person make. There will be more tears and heavy moments and hard days, but this trip gave me something I was beginning to fear I’d lost; hope. Hope that it’s possible to find your self again, and if not in one fell swoop, in little pieces. In the words of old friends and the laughter of your sister, in your favorite country drive and high school coffee shop. And just like it takes a village to raise a child, (or in my case, a valley), sometimes it takes that same village to raise her up again when she’s lost her way, to remind her who she is and was and is capable of becoming.

"Sometimes the best in all of us can still break down and still give up on love, but it's never gone."