anna-field-story3.jpgA few things I should probably confess about myself:

  1. I love school. School has always been an anchor for me, a place where I can feed my love of learning and quench my thirst for discovery.

  2. I am change-averse. I’m a creature of habit, I thrive in routine, and I can be as stubborn as they come if I have a mind to drag my heels about something.

  3. I am really bad at goodbyes.

With these few things in mind, you can imagine that I’m not exactly living my “best life” at the moment. Graduating from Candler was going to be hard enough, but graduating in the shadow of a global pandemic after a semester that has forced us all to uproot every semblance of normalcy we had? Talk about an insuperable hill to climb.

I’m so immensely grateful to Candler for the things it has given me over the last three years: For the things I’ve learned, for the people who have blessed my life, for the time and space I have been given to grow, to wonder, and to explore in. I’m grateful for the patience of professors, for the kindness of friends and strangers and strangers who became friends, and for the guidance and wisdom of those far sager than myself.

I’m also grateful that, as the world ground to halt for many people and as we all held our breath in uncertainty and anticipation, Candler worked tirelessly to make sure that at least a few things would stay as much the same as they could. I may be in the minority on this, but as I confessed at the beginning, I’m a creature of habit and school is an anchor. While I haven’t loved everything about distance learning and probably never will, the sheer fact that I’ve had something familiar, something as normal as doing homework or going to class to hold on to has, ultimately, been a gift for me.

But even so, in the midst of all of my gratitude, the plaintive tones of melancholy’s song can’t help but find their way in. There is a profound sadness about the tragic losses of life and livelihood that surround us, and a creepy-crawly fear that seems to have taken up a semi-permanent residence in my heart. It’s the kind of anxiousness that makes my shoulders tense, my jaw clench, and my thoughts race.

But melancholy doesn’t just sing about those things to me; she sings about the smaller things, too. The selfish things. The things I feel guilty about, but feel, nonetheless. She sings about the fact that I didn’t know that the last time I saw friends, classmates, faculty, and staff at school would be the only goodbye I was going to get. She sings about the fact that I won’t be able to celebrate commencement with my peers and my family in the way I expected to, or to give Candler the proper thank you it deserves. These are minuscule woes in the grand scheme of things, I know, but they are still small sorrows that I will carry with me. This is not the way I wanted things to end.

When things are final, a period marks the full stop. It’s the needed pause as we transition from one complete thought to another. I expected this semester to end with a period, and what I’m getting instead is a comma. Now, to be fair, there are some who might say that all of life is just one big, run-on sentence no matter what, full of commas threading us along from thought to thought, idea to idea, inspiration to inspiration. But for me, there’s something satisfying in having those clear marks, the pauses that keep things neat and orderly as we make sense of our life stories.

For some people, maybe ending the semester on a comma isn’t so bad. Maybe they still have another year or two at Candler to come back to, so the thought-line of the semester or their program isn’t truly finished with begin with. Maybe they’re the kind of person who’s untroubled and unfazed by the dangling uncertainty that kind of punctuation leaves behind. I know I’ve met plenty of brave souls who have no trouble stepping out of the boat into the unknown. They’re the kind of people who grow the most when there’s no instruction manual telling them which direction to spread their leaves.

I also know that, in most cases, I am not one of those people. More often than not, I’m the vine that would rather latch onto the side of the familiar and unmoving house than sprawl freely into the sun and soak up all life has to offer. I love the satisfaction of snapping a final period onto a finished sentence, paragraph, or paper. It reminds me that I’ve reached a milestone, even if it’s only the first line of a 20+ page Credo paper or research project. I wanted that period on this semester, on these years, to remind me of how far I’ve come, to prepare me for transition, and to help me to say goodbye to an institution that has changed and challenged and shaped me for three years. Instead, I’ve got this pesky comma to wrestle with, this anticipatory breath I have to hold as I wait to see what’s next. This semester is my last. It’s the end of my MDiv journey, but nothing feels final. And I’m trying to be okay with that.

As much as I wanted to end this chapter with a period, there might be something positive lurking in the tension of the comma. Learning is, after all, a life-long task. Just because I won’t be a Candler student anymore doesn’t mean I don’t still have plenty to learn and to discover. I still have to nurture my faith, cultivate my spiritual development, and grow deeply in my relationship with God and my neighbors. There are books I haven’t yet cracked, thoughts I haven’t yet penned, worlds and perspectives I haven’t yet opened my eyes to.

A period might have given me the closure I wanted, but it might have closed me off, too, and that would be a terrible shame. In this way, I think I can make peace with there being no period. I’m working my way towards being bold enough to make peace with the comma. I’m not there yet, but I’m doing my best.

In the meantime, grammar has seen fit to give me a middle ground to rest on while I grow. A semicolon is a tricky little piece of punctuation, but it works perfectly in those places where one needs to tie two independent clauses together. The first thought is complete on its own, sure, but it’s still strongly connected to what comes next. It’s a way of allowing something to be final without it being the end.

My time at Candler isn’t ending the way I thought it would; I’m learning that’s okay.

Top photo: Anna leads worship at Stone Mountain UMC during her year in Con Ed II. (Cindy Brown 09T)