Michael Marano, 129 TESS
River rise, carry me back home. I cannot remember the way.
River rise, carry me back home. I surrender today.
After years of drifting, too afraid to grab the steering wheel, my boat ended up in an arroyo covered in rust with a busted headlight. One of my best friends, whose gift of persistence is only surpassed by her impatience with my rehearsed lines of happiness, had begun demanding, in the most caring of ways, that I become introspective and take control of my life. Every time I left her apartment I would promise to follow her advice then go home and hide under the covers of my anxiety at the first glimpse of myself in the mirror. I had become a whimper of a human, not even strong enough to be considered a moan. Her unwavering faith in me kept me going though and I started to do the only two things that had ever provided me guidance: write and pray.
I found solace in coffee shops and started paying attention to the narrative my mind was selling as nonfiction. It turned out the deceit and exaggeration of that story would have been enough to make me the second author kicked out of Oprah’s Book Club. With every plot hole, the fear of making hard decisions began to fade into a realm of new possibilities. One day, as I sat on a bench outside my favorite coffee shop overlooking the lake, I listened to a song that I had heard countless times before for the first time. The white in my eyes shattered to a stinging red and my brain ordered a fresh round of tears, the big ones that are reserved for public and pool in the corner of the eye before splashing out in such a fashion that demands attention from everyone around. In a moment of complete vulnerability, India.Arie’s River Rise became a rallying cry of a prayer to me as I said it over and over again to God, desperate to be shown the right direction now that I was open to receiving it. Moments later, in the calm that comes with a tear cleansed mind, I felt two words that I had buried years before reenter my consciousness, “Peace Corps.”
When I was a freshman in college Peace Corps came and talked to us about immersing ourselves in a different culture while lending our skills to leave a small mark on someone else’s life. By the end of my senior year I had tried on four different majors but none of them felt as right as I did when I left that meeting. I ended up applying in 2014, two years before India.Arie would find me alone on a bench, and told everyone that would listen that I was joining the Peace Corps and moving to Cambodia. I never even got an interview. In a state of embarrassment, I tossed the dream aside and did my best to convince myself that it wasn’t what I really wanted. It was something I had perfected, decorating my walls with things that terrified me and then walking past them every day pretending they weren’t there. I discarded the only goal I had as an adult with the same ease that I moved the rejection email to the trashcan. If they didn’t even want to interview me the idea that they would one day accept me seemed as delusional as my unshakeable hope of getting Moesha on a streaming service.
Something awakened in me that afternoon in the coffee shop though and it overpowered everything that had come before it. Two months later, armed with my daily prayer and a bravery that grew stronger every time I surrendered myself, I landed the best job of my life. It taught me skills that I put to use daily during my service and allowed me to work from anywhere in the world I wanted, which happened to be my mom’s living room. God had filled my river and literally carried me back home. Every cup of hot tea while watching HGTV in her cozy nest, every egg salad sandwich visiting my grandma for lunch, every game that ended with people I loved doing barefoot challenges in the snow, all became speckled lighthouses to guide me on my way. With a full heart and raging river, my plan was to move to a bigger city close enough to travel home and visit whenever I wanted. One thing lingered though, and with my hands firmly gripping the steering wheel, I sat at my desk and filled out the Peace Corps application for a second time.
When I look in the mirror now I see strength, I see purpose, I see someone that I never want to stop learning new things about. When I look to the sky I see guidance, I see my eyes, I see inspiration. When I look at the home at the end of the river I see love… that’s all there is, love. I don’t recognize the kid I was two and a half years ago anymore, but wow, do I love him.
Read Michael’s other articles Falling in Love in the Peace Corps, A Big Gay Peace Corps Spiritual Journey, One More Time, See You Again on the Next Time, Not Taking It On, Love, The Mystery of the Tooth in the Sock, and An Island Curse.
Also, check out River Rise and all of India.Arie’s gorgeous work.