Building a Eulogy, Not a Resumé

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I remember reading about this idea a while back, and it has been lingering in the back of my mind ever since. Society focuses so heavily on the concretes, the tangible things that you have accomplished. What organizations have you had a leadership role in? How many awards have you won? It is as if our culture, especially for young people applying for college, graduate programs, jobs, is saying, “Prove your worth to me.” Yes, cram every bit of evidence of your value onto a nicely organized one-sided piece of paper. And it is this paper that we show to people saying, “This is who I am.”

Throughout high school and even in college, I was the person who was always there. I was in all the clubs. I played the sports. I did the extra work. I earned the As. You name it. I was there. Even today, I find myself constantly becoming over-involved, saying yes far more than I should. Part of the reason that I am involved in so many groups and organizations is to be an active member of my community by meeting new people and being a part of meaningful work. I really do find pleasure and purpose bigger than myself in the activities I participate in. But whether I admit it or not, part of my busyness stems from the desire to add my activities to my paper of who I am, to be able to say that I did something, to have something to tell my extended family at the Christmas party, to be hired in a workplace where I am well respected for my achievements, to know that I “deserve” it for all my hard work.

But in thinking about identity, the word, “legacy,” often follows in conversation. What will you leave behind? How will people remember you? And I think it all boils down to the eulogy. A eulogy is given by a person who loves you and knows who you are well. And what do these people say? Not that you had a 4.0 GPA. Not that you had work published in several peer review journals. Not that you were the top sales person at your company.

The person giving a eulogy talks about who you really were aside from the resume-builders. That person tells of the crazy adventures the two of you went on in college. And the time you drove five hours to them because their mom was sick. And how they knew you and God were old friends. And how you were like a songbird: awake before the rest of the world and singing, always singing. And how you were tough, but around kids, your exterior would melt. And how you were loyal, trusted, compassionate. And how you loved them. And how they loved you. And they will continue loving you. Forever.

No, what is spoken in a eulogy cannot be written in a resume. And while eulogies are usually for after a person passes away, they are the most authentic window to who you are and the mark you leave on others.

The truth is this. I do not know when I am going to die, but I know that one day my time here will come to an end. But, I am still here. And while I am, I want to build my eulogy, not my resume. I want to be a close friend and a cherished family member. I want stories and memories of me to roll off the tongues of the people I love. Stories that they hold within their hearts for the rest of their lives that go, “I once knew a girl named Nina and I loved her very much.”

My Tattoo

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During my first weekend of college, I accompanied my roommate and two sophomores to a tattoo parlor. While I hardly knew these girls at this point, I wanted to be part of their moment. I felt like I would be able to witness a significant piece of their history when they sat down and were marked in ink. There was a certain thrill in being able to witness this brave act of independence as we began a new path of our lives together. The three girls I was with choose to brand themselves permanently with something that had already been permanently stitched in their hearts. An intimate part of themselves was made visible for all the world to see.

While I had great admiration for the choice these girls made, I did not get a tattoo. Instead, I simply got my ears double pierced. It seemed quite insignificant compared to what the other girls were doing, yet they were so sure of what they wanted. They had a vision already made up in their minds. One girl decided on the sign language symbol for love. Another on a cross with the verse Micah 6:8 on it. My roommate chose to get a dove on the inside of her ankle.

The most fascinating part of these tattoos, and all tattoos, is hearing the story from the wearer of the ink. Sometimes, I hear the short version, “It is for my grandpa” or “It is to remind me that God is always with me” or “It is because I love to hike.” But the magical moments are when the wearer of the ink chooses to let me in, let me in on the full story behind all of the curves and edges. These are the moments when I can get a glimpse inside the center of that person and see what truly matters to them.

So, with such an appreciation of the beauty of tattoos, why haven’t I gotten one?

Well, I suppose the best way to explain it would be to imagine someone asking me the way I ask others, “What does your tattoo mean?” Except, “What does it mean to not have a tattoo?”

And this is what my choice has come to mean for me. I do not have a tattoo, nor do I ever plan to get one. While I admire those who find peace in making visible their beliefs and values to always carry with them, I carry them in my heart and mind which I find are the most precious homes for what I value most.

I believe that tattoos are just another thing that makes life easier and faster, but I do not want my story to be easy and quickly retrieved my any bystander who catches a glimpse of my ankle. Today, any social media outlet can tell you what I like, where I go, who I care about. Tattoos are just another form of identifying which group I am a part of. Oh, she must be Irish. Oh, she must like turtles. Oh, she must be Christian. Oh, Oh, Oh. Tattoos can be conversation starters, but they can also limit the view of who you are based on what has been tagged on your skin.

I want people to know me. I want them to know that I like the way sunlight looks when it shines through leaves. I want people to know that I do not always laugh, but I want them to know that a smirk means that I am definitely laughing in my head. I want people to know that I love the way sand feels beneath my feet and between my toes. And I want people to know that I am still trying to figure out who I am and what I stand for.

I want these things but I do not want it to be easy. I do not want to have a summary on the back cover of my book. You have to read all the way through to really get to the meat of me. I don’t want it to be quick. I want it to be the moments, the moments, the moments when we find out little pieces of each other that we had not seen before.

There is something about a clean page, a clean canvas, a clean slate. There is energy in knowing that something is about to happen. A story will be written. Artwork will be painted. A problem will be solved. There will be growth, progress, understanding, love. But there is beauty in the moment before it all begins. A static energy that is ready to burst into infinite directions. When the only things present are the vessel and the creator. The vessel and the Creator.

My body is the vessel, and God is my Creator. I will always be ready to burst into infinite directions to where ever my path takes me. It is not about the permanent, but the changing, the fleeting, the life. It is eyes lighting up in realization. It is growing out of old shoes. It is making new friends. It is saying goodbye. And all the while, it is the action, the action, the action. It is not the nouns: the people, the places, the things. It is what is done with those people, in those places, with those things.

It is in living my life that I choose to be untouched by ink, yet still being inevitably marked along the way.

A blog!? Oh boy

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I suppose I am not the best with words, especially because I can hardly ever sit myself down and stop everything else I am doing to just reflect and to get everything that is swimming around in my brain out on paper. But alas, I believe recording thoughts, memories, conversations allows me to process my own life, and maybe if anyone else ever chooses to read my ramblings, they too will find insight and understanding about who I am through what I share.

I will begin by explaining the name of this blog, Chase After Wind. While I have carried these three words with me throughout high school and into college, their meaning has changed for me the longer they have been with me. During my sophomore year of high school, every person in the theology course was assigned a big end-of-the-year speech. This theology teacher was the most mysteriously brilliant and eccentric man I have even had the opportunity to form a relationship with. His dark brown bowl-cut hair and his love for Hanover College, The Smiths, James Dean, and the study of philosophy made him a fascinating person to have a conversation with.

But I digress, this teacher made an extra effort to come up with different theological speech topics for each student that he felt best fit their personalities and what he wanted them to teach themselves by creating a speech about it. The topic reveal day was nerve racking and exciting because every student would read their topic aloud to the class and not have any idea of what it meant. Not a clue. They, over the course of a month or two, would have to transform these strange collection of words that were topics into educated speeches to share to the class. On this day, I revealed to the class and to myself that my topic was “Chase after wind: Ecclesiastes and Happiness.”

And so began my research and immediate fascination with the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible. There has always been a certain beauty in trying to decipher the meaning behind its ancient script that was deemed important enough to be in the Bible. After reading through the entire book and writing a speech analyzing the author’s views on happiness, I believed I understood it: the author believed that happiness was unattainable just like one cannot capture wind even if it is chased after. It is futile to chase after wind. Pointless.

I presented my topic to the class using citations for the book to back my claims. I even received an A on the speech. However, in retrospect, one moment stands out to me. At the end of every speech, the teacher would ask questions to each student to quiz them on their topic to make sure they fully understood it, most of the time asking about aspects of the topic they forgot to mention or explain well.

At the end of my speech, the only question he had for me was, “Did you like the book of Ecclesiastes?” I responded with a simple, “I thought it was sad,” not saying more mostly glad because I was not stuck with a difficult question. And that was it. It was over, and I would never have to think about the topic ever again. But then why has it stuck with me for all this time?

I think one of the mysteries of Ecclesiastes is that of all the books in the Bible (though I have never read them all so I am in no way an expert) Ecclesiastes is the book with the least hope. Even the books about the sinners receiving great damnation in hell do not seem as the shocking as a book that says that your life and your actions do not matter. No matter how smart, how just, or how peaceful you are, you will never find happiness.

These words are so hard to understand when they seem contradictory to the rest of the Bible. They are painful to hear. How can this one precious and sacred life mean nothing? How can the efforts I make to grow in my relationship with God, family, friends, and myself be fruitless? Should I just disregard what this book says because of the different truths written in Gospels or is there deep important in this particular book?

But I have come to see a new face of the book of Ecclesiastes, like the new face I see in the mirror after I get freckles for being in the sun: while the change was gradual, it only took a moment of realization to see the difference. What I have realized relates to something St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Sure, Ecclesiastes says that happiness is not attainable, but I believe that happiness is not attainable until we find it in God. So many things in life may seem pointless. Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s the point?” Why do I live the way I do? Why am I involved certain things and not others? Why do I make certain choices? Why? Why? Why?

But when I stop asking. When I get quiet, not just physically quiet but when I get really quiet deep down in my soul and just listen, I feel hope like the light of a constant sunrise. So, back to the name of this blog. Why Chase After Wind? Well here’s why. I hold dear to me that life should be lived by chasing after wind. There should be a passion, a hope, a forward march that through the doubt and the obstacles, happiness and love can be found. Chasing after wind is holding on when everything else is lost. Chasing after wind is surrendering to God. Chasing after wind is trust.

So, this is me trusting that this post, the blog, and whatever comes of it finds you well, no matter who you are, where you are, and when this finds you.