Once, during my time at Wheaton, I went downtown to Chicago to observe tech at Lookingglass, a prominent theater in the city. As I walked through the streets, I noticed for perhaps the first time that my shell was growing tougher--my face was set in a rock hard expression that was unrecognizable as the woman I really was. I texted a friend and asked, “How do you walk around a city with an open heart, and not as if you own it?”
“What else is love?” he texted back.
I was amazed at the complexity held in that simple response. And since that day, I have thought back to his words and wondered at my own idea of love. Can it be so large? Can it be carried on the hips, and held in the fingers, so that people on the street can be witness to it?
Since my decision to move to New York City to pursue a masters degree in theater, there have been a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head. And the memory of that big city’s--well, bigness--has come back to me. The swinging hips and turned up nose feeling. The feeling that I am somehow less than everyone else, and I have to overcompensate for that. The feeling of being scared.
My acting teacher in college used to say, “If something scares you, it’s worth doing.” (Within reason, obviously.) In the context of acting classes, that usually meant taking a risk on a scene; wearing something you wouldn’t normally, or choosing to reveal something about yourself that was personal. But what I began to realize, through those small risks, is how much of my life was ruled by fear. How many situations I flee because I don’t have the right category to file them under. How many conversations I cut short because I’m afraid of where they might go.
My teacher also used to tell us, during class, to have “soft eyes.” My immediate response to this was emotional--having soft eyes, at the time, meant being open hearted and ready to take what came. And somehow, these two ideas--that of doing things that scare me, and that of having soft eyes and an open heart--became wrapped up into one single choice. The choice to live my life with these ideas as a reality.
My time in Pittsburgh, these last two years, has been almost like a rest--a quiet period of growth and settling. Looking back on it, I can see how everything I have done has been useful, and good, and has helped me grow deeper into myself and my faith. But Pittsburgh, for me, has not been a place that has challenged me to combine fear with softness.
My sense is that New York will be just such a place. First of all, because I am scared to go. Much less scared than I would have been two years ago, but scared nonetheless. Scared, rightly so. The city--and especially the theater scene--is one of the fastest and smartest in the world. I am a girl who finds it challenging to attend a new church by herself. The world of networking and connections will be crazy hard for me. But I can't help thinking that what's important is not being fearless--it's recognizing fear and being okay with it. Understanding what scares you, and doing it anyway.
And I know this: God has provided this opportunity, and he has been preparing me. I also know the truth that if something scares me--with that wholesome, slightly thrilling fear--it’s worth doing. But how am I going to walk around a city that frightens me, and still keep my eyes soft and my heart open?
If the answer was easy, it wouldn’t be worth discovering. And my story is my own, and no one else’s. There is beautiful comfort in that thought, because it means that even if I move to New York and hate every second of my time there, the pieces of my life will still add up to a story worth telling. But I suspect that if I’m honest about my fear, and own it, and reveal it, and keep my eyes soft and my heart open, I will find things to give and to take during my time of studying and creating and breathing stale city air.
Because really, what else is love?
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Eugene H. Peterson
The Devil in the White City
Peter A. Pitzele