One year out

About one year ago, I started a new blog post and wrote the following 5 sentences:

I graduate college tomorrow.

I already wrote my sad goodbye-college post here. This will not be a sad goodbye-college post. It’ll be a happy one. Probably.

Then I saved the draft and never finished it. *high fives past self*

I mean, I was definitely excited. But when I think back to where I was a year ago, sitting in my college apartment with most of my stuff gone and a cap and gown laid out over my overnight bag, I remember that I also had no idea what I was about to do.

THE not-knowing was heavier than my excitement.

Around that time, people were asking me, “What’s up next for you?” and I was just relieved that I had an answer to the question, never mind that it was “just” a summer internship in an industry I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in. (Also: that question is evil. Let’s all pledge to never ask that question again or I will find you.)

Look at me now. I am a year out of school, and I AM STILL CONFUSED. I’m starting to think this feeling never goes away.

fakelaugh

Contrary to my current blog tagline, I’m no longer in theatre. I still maintain my lifelong right to joke about it, like whenever my friends or coworkers catch me having a meltdown over something nobody cares about, my response is: “I literally have a degree in drama.”

A year ago, I really prided myself on graduating with a Theatre/English degree. And I find myself now, a year later, going on 9 months working in social services. Every day I drive into the heart of Skid Row, a community of downtown Los Angeles infamous for homelessness, and talk with women who know what it’s like to lose everything.

A total 180, you might think.

I sometimes think so, like when a woman at work tells me about the tragedies she’s lived through, and all I can do is sit there, terrified out of my mind, and think, “I’m just a girl who spent the past four years writing short stories in the back of lecture halls.”

Or like when a woman asks me how I’m doing and I feel a pang of guilt admitting that I’m tired and a little bit lost because I know she’s been through so much worse than I ever have—so I suck it up and say, “I’m good.”

Or like, or like.

I could tell you endless stories of how unequipped, how genuinely afraid I have felt in the past 12 months. I could tell you about the scores of insecurities I have, the injustice I’ve seen, the women I’ve cried over in my car on the way home.

But I could also tell you about May*, who walks into my office every day (sometimes multiple times a day) and asks me how I’ve been. Sometimes, if she’s in the mood, she tells me about her daughter. “I’ll bring you a picture,” she says. (She never does.) May has a sharp smile, and a fondness for turquoise eyeliner. She is intensely proud, but a few weeks ago, she apologized for interrupting me for the first time in 8 months.

I could tell you about Trisha, who is kind and quiet, and pinched me on Saint Patrick’s Day despite seeing that I was wearing a green dress. She always tells me it was a pleasure talking to me, even though I do most of the talking when we’re together. A few days ago, I heard her belt “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music into a karaoke microphone and I have never been so shocked in my life.

I could tell you about Ava, who calls me “Batman” because we met on the dance floor at our Halloween work party when I dressed as Zombie Batman. She has a toothless, lovely smile and a voice like a stage whisper, and will leave pens and highlighters on people’s desks to make their days. When Ava comes to my office, she’ll usually stay for approximately 20 seconds to tell me about her allergies and her weekend trips to Walmart, and then she leaves, whispering, “Have a nice day.”

I could tell you about Darlene, who has that South Central don’t-mess-with-me vibe. I always say hello to her in the parking lot, and though she says hello back, I thought she didn’t like me until one day a few months back when she called me “sweetheart.” Once, she told me she liked my glasses. When I said I thought the frames were too big, she squinted at me like I was crazy and said, “Nope. They’re just right.”

I could tell you about Sonya, who has beautiful silver hair and a smile that crinkles her whole face.

Or Violet, who always looks surprised that you’re talking to her and talks with wide eyes and both hands over her mouth.

Or Charlise, who laughs more than anyone else and used to sleep outside a Denny’s.

Or Grace, who is fierce and never slouches and believes that she will change the world and probably will.

oneyearout

A year after my college graduation, I find myself touched and moved and aching for these people I never would have met if I hadn’t taken a summer internship that seemed completely unconnected at the time. I didn’t know that there was already a plan in motion for me to get to this season I’m sort of stumbling through.

Before I took this job, 3 months post-grad, I was mostly afraid because I knew if I said yes, it would be hard. I couldn’t have imagined just how hard. Or how beautiful. How high the highs would be. How low the lows.

I would never have been able to predict how much Christ has moved. How different I am because of these past 9 months.

Still, at this point, I’ve pretty much lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up in the morning thinking that I am underqualified and unprepared and today is the day that everyone finds out. To my own shame, there are still days when I wake up and ask God why He’s going to let me see the things I’ll see today, or hear the things I’ll hear. There are days when I want to clap both hands over my ears and run. The selfish days, when I just want to go home.

But always, always He is there, reaching for me. Gently telling me to look. Look. See. Hear.

These people are important to Me.

A year ago, I would never have seen myself here, in this place. But I am now. And through every piece of chaos, God keeps telling me to open my hands because I can’t control anything. To cling to Him, because He’s the only thing that really stays.

And when He whispers, “You were made for beautiful things,” inside I wonder if today is the day that I finally believe Him. Sometimes I wonder if I even know how.

I wonder if that’s what I’m supposed to be learning.

Samantha Chaffin


* Names have been changed to protect identities. But all the women depicted in this post are real and strong and beautiful and unique. Find out more.

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2 thoughts on “One year out

  1. E.R. Warren says:

    There’s so much about this that’s inspiring but rings true with a lot of recent graduates. I know I’ve had a hard time stabilizing after graduation. “What’s next?” is the worst. I also graduated with an offbeat major, and my college times plans fell by the wayside once I had my degree. Haha. I laugh, but sometimes I’m crying inside. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • samchaffin says:

      Realized that I never replied to this! What a weenie. Not you, me.

      But thank you so much. I know we’ve talked about this before, but it’s super encouraging to me to be able to struggle through the working/writing world with you. 🙂

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