Here I am

Stepping off a plane always feels abrupt and dislocating. More so when nearly all my possessions were stuffed into a few suitcases, making their way slowly around the baggage carousel. It felt like island hopping, now here and then there, no real time to transition, just some broad, vague thoughts during takeoff, and the flitter of anticipation when I was greeted again by hot asphalt and the blue sky at SFO. Unreal places slid by on the car ride to my new home in Berkeley, with billboards perforating a sunny, macaroon landscape of houses and streets and towers lavishly draped over brown hills.

My first year out of college has been marked by transience — I’ve held four jobs in three states — and with so much moving it’s hard not to let the Rolodex of new towns and faces flatten out into mere experience. How else can you live and move through places that are soon to be in the rearview mirror, other than with a glance, an impression, a few moments added to an internal narrative? Yet being here has given me the chance to become entangled in a new story, and to be changed by it. I’ve been given the time to learn about this place I’ve now called home for over six months. Time to lie down in the grass or scale a hill to see how the light plays with the pastel perspectives at the end of a day. Exploring, protesting, conversing, commuting — learning the rich and troubled history of “here,” and trying to capture “now” with a camera. Building community with a set of other newcomers and nomads that is embedded in this time and place.

Amid the surprises, sorrows, and joys of life here, I often am reminded of Jacob’s response of “here I am” when God calls to him. Much of our communal life is centered on that simple, yet radical declaration in the face of the deep needs of the world around us. But what about the reality that “I am here?” Is there a special call in that? What do you do with it? On a walk several months ago, I chanced across the imposing sculpture marking in large metal letters “here” and its sibling “there” between Berkeley and Oakland. The signs, surrounded by a homeless encampment, were a reminder of the power that place holds over us — especially here, in this beautiful, broken megalopolis that has somehow become one of the greatest generators of wealth in the world. Where money sloshes up the hills covered in glittering homes and manages to tiptoe around the poor and struggling — cracks in utopia. I’m beginning to realize how much being in this place, caught in this narrative, has changed how I see the world, God, and myself. “Here,” with all its extremes, exposes systems I never had to grapple with growing up on the rural outskirts of Boulder. I’ve found myself woven into a diverse and mind-bendingly complex ecology of which we are all a part and are all called to participate in faithfully. It’s led to many more questions, but I believe when you pay attention, the realization “I am here” inevitably must become a deeper call of “here I am.”