Ezra Tucker King

Ezra, I still don’t have the words to describe your entry into this world, your entry into our arms. You were born on August 8th at 9:41pm and life has been a beautiful blur ever since. A sometimes sleepless, often messy, mostly joyful-tear-filled, also overwhelmed-tear-filled, always-thankful-blurr. All I can say for a fact is that you are so loved. We are so loved. And I’ve never been more in awe of creation. Ezra Tucker King, I am enamored by your tiny smiles, your toes, your cheeks and your tiny sounds. I sometimes pick you up while you are sound asleep just to hold you again. Just to smell your hair and touch your smooth baby skin. Love doesn’t begin to cover it. Words fail altogether. After watching women labor all over the world, holding hands and sweeping sweat off focused-furrowed brows, I am so in awe of what our bodies are capable of. Of what my body is capable of. I am so simultaneously proud of myself and forever indebted to the support-crew that I had by my side (both near and from afar).

As I write, you are sound asleep on your father’s chest. He is reading with his feet up on the coffee table. You have your tiny arms wrapped around him as if you are hugging him with the most gentle embrace. You don’t like wearing hats, but you are allowing it this time because you just had a bath, you were just fed and you are too sleepy and peaceful to protest.

I’m going to share these photos of your birth, and then I will join you in exhausted peaceful slumber. Until you decide you are hungry again. And the dance will continue.

We are so thankful. Perhaps I will write more when I  find the words. Until then, I’ll continue to look through these photos and I’ll continue to pick you up only  an hour after putting you down just to whisper (again) that I love you more than anything.

The words of “I’m Ezra’s mom” are still sinking in.

With love,

Sara, Galen and Ezra

 

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Facetime with Uncle Tucker and Bella!

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And on Sundays, I miss you the most.

And on Sundays, I miss you the most.

Sundays here used to start with comforting-familiar-early-morning-kitchen-noises.
Sounds of clinking earth-toned-handmade-mugs that hold the smells of coffee. Those mugs have our names on the bottom and the fingerprints of a friend from the mountains of North Carolina.

On Sundays, you and your favorite slippers used to quietly nudge the creaky door to our room. Balancing the mugs and a cup of milk on the hand-painted-breakfast-tray. You’d bring the milk in a separate little cup because you know that one of the most overlooked, most beautiful little things in the world, is the way milk swirls in coffee. (Number 175 in my book of favorite things).

Sundays used to involve me taking a tiny bit too long to get dressed and you collecting the car keys from the funky hooks downstairs as I skipped out the door. We’d listen to NPR on the way to church or one of our favorite CDs. Or just talk. And hold hands. Mostly, all the time.

We’d sit in our “normal seats” just a few rows up on the right. There is something comforting in being a regular. And something comforting in the routine of worshiping and praying and remembering to keep things in perspective. On a daily basis, but especially on Sundays. Hitting re-set.

Sunday afternoons involved outside adventures with bikes or boots or climbing gear. Inside adventures with movies and forts and new recipes and lots of music. Sundays often involved laundry and fresh towels and list-making for the next few days. And sometimes (more than I’d like to admit) Sunday also involved hours studying by the window while you read or cooked or reminded me that everything was going to be okay. Again.

Sometimes, Sundays held the voices of family members, voices farther from Tennessee than I’d like. After watching-the-evening-light-fade by the river, Sundays ended early because Mondays started early. Your boots by the door and my books tucked under my desk. Ready for another day.

You’ve been away for just over two months now. I read your thoughts and see your face through a screen with about 10 hours of time between my now and your now.

I still catch myself thinking you’re just in the kitchen. I still wait for the clinking-mug-sound or for the shower to turn on. Now I open the curtains and dust off the picture frames and sticky notes and water the plants (although, I’ve learned they are happier with less water). I still drink coffee- reusing one favorite handmade mug over and over each week. I get up early on my own on Sundays because I have a hard time sleeping in this bed without your heartbeat to my right.

I come home to this house just on the weekends now. Sleeping in Nashville during the week so I can walk to the hospital and walk to class. So I can have the wonderful company and the happy-friend-noises that fill the room when my roommate comes home or when I return from a 12 hour shift.

I still go to our church and sit in our seats, just a few rows up on the right. I’m still always just a little bit late. And everyone there seems to know that you will be back. They smile and nod when they see me with my sticky-note-picture-filled-journal. They pray for you too.

And you will be back. And we will go on walks. And there will be new recipes and music and adventures and less studying by the window and even more hand holding than before.
And most days here are still full of beautiful things and lots of thanks. Sundays are still great too.

The milk still swirls in my coffee. And a pair of your boots still sit by the door.

I think on Sundays, though, I just miss you the most.

With all my love,
Sara Bates King

Creating Home

Till now, Home for me has been quite simple. The same home. The same house. The same old farmhouse with a big front yard and soccer balls. The same wonderful parents. The same hilarious younger siblings. The same small town and same set of closest-family-friends who share that unspoken agreement of serving as extra parents, should I ever need prayers or a hug.

Home has been a collection of summer fireflies in jars, hiking boots and dirty shoes on the front steps, too many coats on the coat rack and dishes drying by the sink. Home, for me, is a big backyard where I learned to ride my bike. The same backyard where I bruised a rib while keeping up with the neighbor-boys on their bikes. Home is a series of pets and names and dogs that are too big to call dogs, really. Dogs that feel more like siblings. Like Henry-dog. Home is a series of height-marks on the wall between the living room and the kitchen. Walls that remind us of how small we started.

Home has been those blue mountains in that same small valley and Merrie Woode family camp songs. Home has been old mountain ridge lines that I swear I could trace with my eyes closed. Home has been slippery dock-jumping, ring-neck-snake-holdin’ and porch-swing-swaying with ferns in the front yard. Home has been Lonesome Valley and spin-till-you-fall-down-happy-valley-dancing. Home consists of waterfalls and big rock faces that, for me, remove all doubt of there being an incredible Creator. A Creator and an Artist, for sure. Home has been the same family prayer spoken together, passed down through the generations. “Father, be our Holy Guest…”

Home has been 5 people holding hands around the same old dinner table, with at least one hopeful-hungry-dog somewhere close by.

Home has been defined in one word. Bates.

And right now… I am in sitting in a new home. One that is also mine. But entirely new. With fresh paint and new curtains and new little plants attempting to adjust to their new containers. Home here looks like new artwork and new gifts and lots of thank-you-notes that won’t begin to sum up my thankfulness. Home looks like Galen’s shoes by the front door and lists for what to make for dinner together. Home looks like sticky-notes left well before I woke up.

And while I will always be a Bates at heart, I get to be a King now too.

And I get to shake that deep-bone-feeling of homesickness I felt while Galen King was away. My heart has never felt homesick for a person before, till Galen. Not like that. And with that beautiful release of homesickness, I’ve recognized a new emotion. It is a gentle, subtle, quiet-tugging-homesick-feeling for all those I love at home. For those ferns and that silly dog and those hands around the table.

I’m creating a new home. Which I’ve decided doesn’t mean I ever have to give up those porch swing moments or starry nights. It just means I get to put new roots down, too.

Roots with Galen. Wherever those adventures may lead.

So, right now. I’m focusing on loving the photos on our walls and the furniture in our living room. Loving the running trails and new climbing routes and river-side-yoga escapes. Loving the way the light looks in the morning and the way that big tree sways in the window. I’m lovin’ this husband of mine and runnin on trails when the sun cools down in the evening. And while I am overflowing with happiness, I am still missing the family that brought me to this point. While I’m getting to know Tennessee, I’m still so so thankful for the Cashiers Valley in North Carolina.

With more love and more new emotions than I sometimes know what to do with,

Sara Bates King

This is why I am home.

It is one of those Shoot-I-am-just-so-thankful-moments.

It. Is. A. Wow. Moment.

A Creation Moment. A Bigness Moment. A Life Is So Damn GOOD Moment.

All the little logistics don’t matter. In this moment, life is as good as it gets.

Mountain trails and rivers will do that to me, from time to time.
‘Bout knock me over with their awesomeness.

Light on the trail, filtering through layers of branches that hold bright green leaves above.
A protective canopy hiding our path. Our Sunday-Afternoon-Adventure.

Just Me, Dad and Henry (the fluffy dog that might as well be another sibling).

Sticks crack and the path soaks up our weight as we skip down toward the Falls.

My Dad and I have always walked fast. Long legs, big stride, I guess. It is a Bates thing.
I’ve made that excuse before when asked to slow down… “Sorry, it is just a Bates thing.”
And I love being a Bates.

Even with our brisk pace, I am taking lots of details in. Locking them to memory. Sealing them for future reflection. There are lots of mountain trail moments. Memories of adventures.

I feel my breath, the crisp air. I smell those unique mountain smells and I hear the predictable, almost rhythmic sounds of Dad and Henry marching along behind me.

Henry, the border-collie-mixed–with-something-much-much-bigger, wishes we would slow down.

But we don’t pause, we continue to hike and chat away.
In reality, this means that I ramble while Dad listens.
He has always been a great listener. A wisdom-giver, whenever I stop talking.

I bounce ahead reflecting out loud on the past, gushing about the present and dreaming about the future. In this moment, the world feels like it consists of just the three of us and this mountain trail by the water.

We’re goin’ toward Rainbow Falls. Toward Turtle Back. Toward Drift Falls- locally known as “Bust Your Butt” (for real good reason, too). To get feet wet and sit by the water and enjoy a Sunday afternoon.

And after soaking up the sun on rocks, bein’ lizards… I slide down the freezing and fast water way and feel alive when I feel my breath momentarily taken away. The drop and splash into the water below gets your attention.

We hike our way back up the trail and head toward home. Dad smiles and says casually over his shoulder, “This is why it is good to have you home.” And I know exactly what he means.
This.
All of this.

“This” sums up the afternoon. All of this laughter and adventure and honest-conversation-time and these wisdom moments. The building memory moments. The hiking and water splashing and laughing-Henry-coomme-onnn-buddddy-moments…

This is what we love to do on a Sunday. And sharing in THIS is why I am home right now.
And I have never felt more thankful for This.

With love from the mountains,
Sara

Maybe, you just need to pick peaches.

Maybe, you just need to pick peaches.
To walk in a peach orchard for a while.
Blue grass pickin’ still humming in your head. From fingers on a mandolin. Lady singing.
Probably about love.

And to get to pickin’ peaches, you’ll need to hang your head out the back car window.
Because it is hard to not smile when this happens. When your face is hit by wind and warm.
Swinging through windy mountain roads.

Keep an eye out. They’ll be horses happy, roaming behind black fences.
(I’d like to be a horse in my next life, if I have any say)

And once you are deep in that orchard, surrounded by lines of fruit, and laughter, looking around-
You’ll slowly start to remember how Life is everywhere. Start to slow down enough to let it sink in.
That everything is growing. Reaching higher. Changing. Turning kinda pink, in its own way.

Come to think of it, you should probably go ahead and take your shoes off.
(I wish I had thought of it at the time)
‘Cause, in the same way that it is hard to not smile when you’re head is hangin’ out of the car,
In that same way-
It seems hard to not smile when toes are covered in wet dirt deep in a peach orchard in Crozet, Virginia.
Barefoot, dirty toes are kinda like hitting reset. Back to the way things really should be.

And remember that the best peaches cave a bit when you squeeze em’. They’ll give a bit. And smell perfect.
And yea- You’ll probably have to just reach, and go for ‘em, I guess.
Because, you’re right. How else could ya possibly know if it is ready? If it will be right. Perfect on the inside.
Firm, steady, fuzzy outside. Secret gold inside.
Just promise you won’t rush, okay? Cause, really, you’ve got all day… and nowhere else you’d rather be anyhow.

Water droplets

I stand in the shower, and begin to flick water droplets at my map-of-the-world-shower-curtain. For the next ten minutes in the shower, I am temporarily an explorer. For the fun of it, I release the water that has collected on the tips of my fingers, and fling them off until they smack into the plastic curtain, into the sea that rests above Russia. Seconds later, I sprinkle more drops above Africa so that I can watch the two teams of water droplets race as gravity takes charge. Gravity still boggles my mind on a regular basis.

As the drops slide and twist and turn down the slippery shower curtain, I am also zooming through these wild and new terrains. Inside the droplets, I travel on buses, on foot, on fast moving trains, on bikes, on tiny roads that lead to nowhere; you name it- I am moving fast in new lands, with new people and I am taking in new things at a mind-blowing rate. The droplet that started above Russia moves faster than the water that is currently meandering through Northern….. now Eastern… now over to Central… now down to Southern Africa, and soon to be flipped out into the Indian Ocean. Flipped into a sail boat headed for the end of the world. Cause I still sometimes like to think that the world is as flat as my shower curtain.

This interaction (between me and my shower-curtain–map) takes place every morning. Sometimes, I let myself run away to new lands like this in the evenings too. I soak with lavender bath salts and haphazardly toss water droplets at the lowest points of the Southern Hemisphere. I laugh as I think about how I should warn the locals before I arrive. INCOMING. SPLAT. There I am, in a new place. Water droplet landing.

But as I run out of reasons to stand in the shower and start to feel bad for wasting so much water… I start to slowly come back to the world that I am standing clean and barefoot in. I notice the droplets that are on the bottom of the shower. I reluctantly grab a towel and then look back to watch the trail of water that follows my feet from my bathroom back toward my room. And I am back.

Sometimes, the combination of thoughts and ideas and realities here and now and the realization that I am back and that gravity is still working really well even if I don’t know how it works… just feels like lots to handle. And thinkin’ about where to go next and how and when and why sometimes, just sometimes, makes me really enjoy throwing water at my shower curtain.

With love and hugs… and some trouble sitting still right now.

Sara

A Final Letter… Watson Reflection Report

Hey family and friends… I wanted to share my final report for the Watson Fellowship. It is a bit longer than a few of my other posts, so feel free to skim… or read with a good cup of tea. Its been difficult to write this last chapter…. But I am learning that the adventure doesnt have to be over. Ill be in Cashiers, NC for the next few months. May be building furniture for a bit and playing with pottery while making money at some of the best cafes in town. Going on walks with the family sounds good right now. Next, I might be shifting to California  to see about more furniture building or more medical things. If you have friends connected to maternal and newborn health or woodworkin’ in the San Fran/Bay Area feel free to let me know. My email is sarafbates@gmail.com

I may start a new blog, cause it has been fun to write and take pictures… and to share with you guys. Ill let ya know.

Enjoy… and thanks thanks thanks for all the support and love along the way.

To My Dear Watson Family,

While this is my last official letter to you, I might just keep writing these quarterly reports. It has been a fantastic way to settle, reflect, reconnect and recharge.  I am currently writing from the back porch of my home and soaking up the breeze that is blowing through the trees. I am living in Cashiers, North Carolina with my parents, two younger siblings, and my border collie named Henry.  And while the feeling of ‘home’ is completely overpowering at times, it feels good to be in the same place for a bit. It feels good to have all five of us sitting around the dinner table at the same time.

In this last quarter, I spent significant time in Ethiopia and Tanzania. Ethiopia came as a shock as I moved overnight from an easy Italian life with many friends and friendly midwives to a dirty apartment on my own in the middle of Addis Ababa. New cultures, new people, new languages and new challenges made me feel pretty exhausted for the first few days.  It took well over a week for me to get into an “African-time” mindset and took longer to adjust from “Ciao Bella” to the intense stares and sneers of Ethiopian men. I instantly dropped from feeling confident and feminine to feeling the need to hide and avoid male attention altogether.

My time in Ethiopia was spent with a variety of Maternal and Newborn Health Organizations. I worked alongside Save the Children as a sort of photojournalist, taking photos of newborns and midwives in two remote locations in exchange for assistance with transportation and translation. While the work was incredibly satisfying and a nice break from the delivery room, it was also difficult in a new way. One evening, after a long day in a very remote village with women and their newborns, I returned to my apartment and slumped down in the shower. Caked with mud and very dehydrated, I felt entirely emotionally and physically drained. Weeks later in Tanzania, I would learn that I had actually contracted Giardia (which helped to explain that drained feeling) but on an emotional level, I felt as if I had a parasite sucking energy out of me as well. I was horrified by the conditions these families were living in. I felt stunned by their reality and then shaken by my ability to remove myself from the situation in the evening, to enjoy a warm shower and clean bed, only to return to hearing their stories the next morning. The feeling of being so engaged in their world while simultaneously being entirely separate felt impossible at times to digest.

While in Ethiopia, I also worked alongside Jhpiego, an organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, and assisted with a conference to connect with the Ethiopian Midwives Association. I spent time soaking in the positive energy at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital and chatting with midwives that had trained at the Hamlin College of Midwives outside of the city. While Ethiopia felt like a place of great hopelessness in the realm of maternal and newborn health, I subsequently felt the midwives I met there were truly ‘Delivering Hope’ in a way that I had not experienced before.

In Ethiopia, I also scampered around in the ancient rock churches in Lalibela for my 22nd birthday weekend. Never before have I felt so comfortable and confident planning my own adventure for my birthday weekend, setting off on my own as a young female traveler in Ethiopia to pretend to be Indiana Jones for a bit. It was a perfect way to recharge and enjoy nature a bit before preparing to depart for Tanzania, my final project country!

Upon arriving in Tanzania, I felt a wonderful shift. The shorter flight, the fact that I was staying on the same continent, the fact that it was my last country… everything felt a bit easier. I stayed in Dar es Salaam for a majority of my time in Tanzania, staying with host families that worked for Jhpiego, USAID and Columbia University and soaking up their connections with urban hospitals, remote training centers and rural health posts. While in Tanzania, I continued to introduce myself as a ‘sort of photojournalist’ and enjoyed working closely with Jhpiego to document ‘midwifery success stories’ in a town outside of Kilimanjaro. Working closely with Jhpiego, I got to see health and midwifery from numerous angles… from the bureaucratic mess at the top level to the rural health centers staffed by one woman.

Before shifting to the base of Kilimanjaro, I shadowed a fantastic doctor from Burundi for over a week and assisted him with deliveries at two urban hospitals in Dar es Salaam. Upon entering the maternity ward on the first day of work, I was greeted by 27 women who were all in different stages of labor. Some women sat on the ground groaning when contractions would hit while others casually snacked on lunch and more women paced around the room or braided another’s hair. I was in shock, and they could all see it. In less than 4 hours, I had assisted with the delivery of 5 newborns (one of which took place on the floor because we didn’t have any extra time or any space to move her to).  The sheer number of women in these centers blew me away. The hospital had an average of 60 something deliveries a day… and while the staff did their best, the conditions were quite difficult for me to endure.

While working in these facilities, I stumbled upon a ‘newborn bucket’ where deceased newborns were kept ‘until the bucket was full.’ The hard realization that I come from an entirely different world, entirely different reality when compared to the mothers in these hospitals sometimes brought me to a complete standstill. At one point, the combination of sights, heat and smells made me momentarily lose consciousness.  Needless to say, I am glad that I saved my time in maternity wards in Africa till the end of my stay as I am quite convinced I would not have been able to physically or emotionally handle some of the situations I faced in those moments had it been earlier in the year.

In Tanzania, I also got into a fun routine of swimming in the Indian Ocean, kayaking at sunset with other friends and cooking with younger siblings. Without having to plan for another country (and avoiding any plan-making for next steps at home) I felt free to be even more present than before. In the last month, I also felt my emotions swing from feeling so excited to be heading home to absolutely dreading the end of this phenomenal adventure.  To get my mind off the fact that the Watson year was ending and to reflect on all that I had experienced, I spent the last bit of my trip climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro has been on my list of ‘things to do and places to see’ since I was about 6 years old. For the remainder of my Watson, I pushed myself physically and emotionally further than I had before, climbing for a total of 7 days to an altitude of 19,432 feet. Being outdoors, sleeping in tents and climbing all day created the perfect environment for me to reflect and recharge before ending this journey.

For this final leg of the adventure, in both Ethiopia and Tanzania, I felt myself shift into a new mode, a new mold and a new pattern of confidence and strength that simply was not there before. Even when moments felt difficult or overwhelming, I could recognize how much I had grown from the months before, how better I handled stressful or sad or scary situations, and how much more complete I felt on my own. It felt like the default to be alone, and it felt natural for that sacred-alone-space to be a place of peace and recharging instead of a place of fear or loneliness.

In the last chapter of the Watson, I began to see for myself that I did not enjoy working with an NGO or with international organization as much as I loved being in the field. I absolutely loved working with families and collecting their stories. I also recognized how much I needed to have space from stressful delivery rooms and how I didn’t see myself doing ‘this sort of work’ for years on end. I noticed and wrote in my journal about how much I loved the education, preparation, and counseling part of delivery and birth.  Better yet, in this last chapter of my Watson experience, I no longer felt the need to justify myself or my interests to others as much as I had felt before. I found myself explaining that I thought I needed a break from midwifery and birth after returning home when asked “So, what next?!” and I even found myself saying that I really wanted time to make pottery again and to learn how to build furniture instead of jumping straight ‘onto the medical track.’ I liked explaining to others that I could build my own track and that I wasn’t afraid of changing things up.

Upon reflection, I have seen that having a Watson Fellowship allowed me the opportunity to see vastly different people and contexts and situations without feeling falsely bound to their identities or held to their standards or beliefs. Once I recognized the importance of observing everything for myself, I felt more equipped to think for myself about how individuals or organizations or networks worked… and furthermore, I felt more comfortable with thinking outside of the box and going against the flow of the masses. This way of thinking, way of discerning, is something I hope to hold onto for the rest of my life.

When I begin to think of all that has changed in the last year, everything starts to feel numb. The other day, I imagined “myself now” talking with “myself from last year” over coffee, and the conversation that might have unfolded between those two girls would’ve been hilarious to have witnessed. While I might look close to how I look before I left, I know my head and heart have deepened in a fantastic way. I understand myself now, respect myself now and enjoy myself now more than I thought possible.

I now dream more than I ever thought possible too. I doodle, sketch, imagine and play on a whole new level. The ‘me’ from last year was afraid of what others might think. I felt as if I needed to justify my thoughts or stick to a track that I had set for myself. I was afraid to fail, to start over, to admit defeat, to mess up.  I am the oldest child in my family and always subconsciously took pride in doing things right, setting the mark for others to follow… and now, I have realized that in order to set the best example for my younger siblings, I need to be true to my heart and shake things up when they need shaking. To demonstrate what it might be like to live without fear, or with less of it, would be the greatest example for my friends and family to see.

This year, time and time again, I have been forced to shake things up. I have hit bottom and picked myself up again. I have felt exhausted physically and emotionally and spiritually and I have slowly learned how to take better care of myself. While I have always been good at taking care of others, I am now markedly better at being kind to myself and listening to my own needs. I am no longer afraid of being alone, but instead, long for the times that I can have quiet reflection time without distractions. After such an intense year of immersion in unique situations and new cultures, the layers of ideas and experiences that shape me feel deeper and richer now. Somehow, I am now more myself. I feel more defined and whole and centered… while simultaneously feeling lighter and more open to change and challenge.

When I pause, a flood of images, sounds, voices, smells and moments rush over me. This flood of feelings and memories makes it sometimes difficult to engage in the space that I am currently sitting in as I feel so pulled into the past, into the rich moments that pushed me, grew me and changed me. I see faces, hear voices and feel this inner warmth flow through my veins. The chance to be mentored by literally hundreds of different midwives and mothers and families makes my head spin. And yet, I must write down their names next to their photos… as the memories and moments have already lost perfect clarity in my mind. I struggle now to allow the ‘Watson Year’ to fade into the past as I attempt to remain in the present, engage with those that I am sitting with, and think about the future.

This last year taught me that I can do what I put my mind to. I broke habits, made goals, learned to deliver babies, made friends, changed homes, changed countries many times and climbed mountains. I realized that I am really and truly the only one that holds me back. My own fears, my own hang ups or moments of insecurity are the only real things that keep me from doing my best. Once I realized that I was more in control of myself, things shifted on a profound level.

This last year also taught me that I am strongest when I get humble, ask for help and get real quiet. Some of my strongest moments this last year were moments were I felt completely broken and alone. It seems strange that my moments of greatest clarity and strength and openness were moments when I slid down a wall outside of a birth room and sat down in tears after experiencing my first newborn death, moments when I cried at the moon and asked difficult questions to something much bigger than myself, moments when I felt horribly sick, completely alone or entirely out of my comfort zone. Because for me, when I really admit brokenness, give up and ask for strength and clarity… things open up and things get easier. At moments this year I honestly felt as if the shell I was wearing was broken, cracked and opened up… making room for new growth and new understandings and genuine transformation.

I know that I have changed in many ways. I have a feeling that it will take many years for me to begin to understand the shifts that have taken place and I no longer feel the need to understand it all right now. This year has made me learn to enjoy the present. To enjoy ‘being’ instead of ‘doing’ and to enjoy ‘soaking things in’ instead of ‘figuring things out.’ I have learned how to be more honest with myself and subsequently, I have learned how to be more honest with others.

I think about people and social interactions differently now. After connecting with individuals of such diverse cultures and contexts, I now look at people who would be assumed to be ‘like me’ in a more careful way. For a lack of better explanation, I look at people and situations with more vivid eyes now.  I assume less and listen more. I somehow believe that we are all connected, all similar…. And yet, I love getting to know the different places and perspectives that shape us to be uniquely individual.

The challenge now seems to be to return home without losing the vision and wonderful patterns and habits that I created for myself over the course of the last 12 months. At times, I feel overwhelmed by how similar things here feel, how memorable friends’ mannerisms can feel and how ‘known’ I am in this small town. The Watson provided me the space and support to grow in big ways… and my hope now is to continue on that path of growth for many years to come.

With more thanks and love than I could possibly express with words,

Sara Bates