Life is OUR journey. There may be snags, hurdles, and dark days. There may be qualms, misgivings, and doubts. What do we bring to the table? Today’s post does a pretty good job of describing what we (the November Project community) brought, brings, and will continue to bring in 21, 30, 50, however many cities we’re in as we take over the world. Without further ado, here’s your Sunday Paper:
“Travel the world in search of what you need, and then return home to find it,” said someone, at some point in time. I found that quote midway through college and immediately took to making a Pinterest-inspired tribute to home, using a cork board, thumb tacks and string. Along the top read that quote. My basic b*tch craft project showed the shape of the state that meant the most to me, my favorite place in the world: New Jersey. That’s right, I said New Jersey.
Fast forward two years. I was in North Carolina visiting my best friend from Villanova. Graduation had come and gone, my closest friends dispersed around the country, the backpacking trip I spent all year sitting, waiting, saving up, wishing for had just come to a close, and I needed some time at home to figure out my next steps – what the hell I was going to do with a Communications degree, a thousand different interests, and this unrelenting blessing/curse called wanderlust. But that night I got a call from my mom; she wanted to tell me, before my siblings did, that her brain cancer had come back, and that she would pick me up from the airport so we could spend some time together before her surgery the next day. Although I cried myself into a migraine that night, I didn’t realize the implications of the situation fully – I guess you never really do, in the moment. The first time my mom had brain surgery, she woke up afterward, she acknowledged us, she even smiled as we joked about her mummy-style bandages. It was two days later, when my mom came out of surgery partially paralyzed and unable to speak, that the realization hit that the home I knew didn’t exist anymore.
I found myself being the only one of my siblings without a job or school to have to go back to, so I spent my days at the hospital while my dad struggled to be five places at once, keeping his business going and also being the best husband and father imaginable. At night, after visiting hours ended, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, so we walked. We would take Auggie Doggie on the trail and wonder out loud about the future and what it held for each of us.
As time passed, my mom found words, her toes began to wiggle, and hope came into the picture. So did the opportunity to work in DC. Thanks to the Esposito family, I had a place to stay, a job as a receptionist, and the ability to harass National Geographic and all of its employees enough to give me my dream [corporate] job. But with all of that came guilt, a few more emotional breakdowns alone in my car than I like to admit to, and countless weekend trips north. It didn’t matter where I worked because DC didn’t feel like home, and to be honest, I wasn’t going to let it. I wasn’t about to get attached to a city and to people that might make me forget about my original home and the time bomb ticking there. Layer my inexhaustible wanderlust on top of that and forget it, DC wasn’t anything more than a southern – yes, southern, when you come from the land of The Sopranos – city that hosts the National Geographic HQ and the bed I sleep in on weekdays.
But New Jersey wasn’t home either, or at least the home I knew. So I went through the motions of life; I drove to NJ just to make dinner with my family or do a few loads of laundry, empty the dishwasher, go to physical therapy with my mom, and go on walks with my dad. On other weekends, I would travel around, I would go anywhere and everywhere my bank account would allow, but traveling is more like running away when you don’t have something you’re happy to return to at the end of the trip.
Fast forward again – exactly one year ago. I was just cleared to run, and at the same time, my sister’s friend saw a picture of sunrise at Lincoln on my Instagram, told me about a crazy group of people that work out there on Wednesdays and said she’d pick me and Erin up at 5:13 AM. Twelve hours later we showed up [late] to the Lincoln in the dark for swim practice.
I have so many words (shocking, I know) that I have in my head about all that is November Project and what this community has done for me, but I have such a hard time stringing them into comprehensible sentences. Here they are anyway:
November Project is accountability without judgment, it is reliable, and it is a rare and beautiful example of so many good, kind, trustworthy, very determined, a little psychotic, stranger friends all in one place at the same time. It is the guaranteed rose you talk about at your dinner table at the end of the day, even when the rest of your hours were filled with thorns. It is a community, a social network, a family, even a LinkedIn group. It is frustration when you are running up Meridian Hill and you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel, but it is inspiration when you realize you are at the top and your new, very tall friend hops on your back and tells you to run, that of course you can do it, you’re not calling him fat, are you? It is really sweaty, really disgusting hugs that become a normal part of your morning, and awkward coffee shop run-ins where you can’t figure out from where you know this clean human. It is a lot of love, mixed with a little, I-don’t-think-she-likes-me-very-much, then some more you’re-great-no-you’re-great, and of course on top of that, a couple hundred is-this-really-happening?! Yes, yes it is. This shit is good.
To me, November Project is stability in a life that is fragile and ever changing, mostly unstable and sometimes confusing. It is the only thing in my twenty-four years that gets me up before the sun without being an obligation, and in bed trying to sleep before midnight. It has given me back my confidence as an athlete after my doctor fixed my leg by way of sawing my femur in half and I started from square one, on the dark steps of the Lincoln. It is the push to accomplish so much more physically than I knew myself capable. NP has given me true friends in a city full of acquaintances, and a whole lot of people just as stir-crazy as I am, willing to climb a mountain before sunrise, hold adult track practice, or mentally and physically abuse their bodies for 26.2+ miles just because they can. It is the reason I started setting athletic and lifestyle goals for myself again, why I drive back to DC from NJ at ridiculous hours on a Sunday night. And it is responsible for taking me out of a just-going-through-the-motions kind of life, and why, when I go home to my family, I am the best version of myself, which is the only person they need right now. At NP, I saw that everyone has their own battles, everyone comes from different places mentally, physically, athletically, culturally, and that we are all just trying to be the best versions of ourselves.
Through November Project, I learned that home doesn’t have to be the place you always knew it to be, and home is something you don’t have to search the world to find. Home is at the beach sitting around the dinner table with my family, or on a boat floating down the Mekong River as my little sister sleeps beside me, rare Sunday mornings at church with my grandma, or lost in Muir Woods with my older sister, and sleeping in luggage compartments on a bus in India with my brother, hiking high in the Alps or down in a canyon with my dad, and watching my mom walk, and then drive(!) again. Home is found in small, everyday miracles. And home is November Project, surrounded by all of you f*cking beautiful stranger friends, because home is where your heart is[ugh, I know], and as it turns out, your heart doesn’t have to be in just one place.
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