It was my second or third week as a transfer student at SCU. I was sitting in the garden, under a tree, doing homework on a beautiful sunny day. It was a day that I was feeling overwhelmed, feeling simply too small to possibly accomplish what people expected of me, or more importantly, what I expected of myself.
But being outside always helped to calm my nerves.
As I was sitting there, using the base of an old tree as my back rest, attempting to focus on my reading, a boy who looked vaguely familiar rode up on a long board, backpack thrown over his shoulder. Much to my surprise, he asked if he could sit with me. He said that this was one of his favorite places to study, too. Although I was a little wary of his honesty and forwardness, I agreed, glad to have the company.
I explained that he looked familiar but that I couldn’t remember why, and he said he was an orientation leader. I remembered, then, him sitting down at my table at orientation and saying hello.
As I thought this, he pulled one of my all-time favorite books from his backpack, one that had inspired me to write. I asked him about it, and the rest is history.
I thought briefly about how odd it was that we could have crossed paths at that orientation and never have known how much we had in common. Life is weird like that.
And yet, life also always seems to bring you back to the people you are supposed to meet, even if your human mistakes fail you the first time. I hadn’t taken the time to get to know him when he sat at my orientation table — I had been too busy, too stressed — and yet here he was again. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a second chance.
That day, we ended up climbing into the tree above us as we talked, sitting in the branches, bare feet swinging among the leaves. I don’t remember the last time I had climbed a tree before then. I don’t remember the last time anyone had invited me to.
We had over an hour long conversation that moved quickly from my new class schedule to the existence of God. It was as if him sitting there with me was an every day occurrence, as if we had been friends for years — I decided to believe it.
Most importantly, I realized something that day.
I think often we get so caught up in our own little worlds, working towards goals that we think will make our lives meaningful; running ourselves into the ground trying to fit the world’s image of success. In this whirlwind, it is easy to begin to think that the people and connections that matter the most are the ones who will help us to get ahead, the ones that will tell us to just keep moving when we feel like quitting.
But that day I realized that it is equally important that there are people in our lives who encourage us to kick off our shoes and climb a tree.
People like that are more important than I can put into words. People that want more for you than to just get through the day. People that mean it when they say “how are you?” People that encourage and support your dreams. People who see through your “I’m fine.” People that know your smile isn’t always as real as it should be. People that think it is more important to know your soul than your full name.
The other day, this friend and I were sitting in the garden once again, something that we do a lot. The best part about it is that we never plan it. We don’t talk all the time or make plans. We always just stumble upon each other and sit down under a tree to talk about life. I like to think that maybe the world puts us there just when we need it, when we need some honest feedback, some real encouragement, a reminder that there is more purpose in the day than homework and class, deadlines and stress.
The other day he said to me: “what do you want to do?” I repeated the routine answer I had been giving everyone since I left for college, my logical career plan and how I am going to get there. But he looked at me and said “You’re not answering the question. What do you want to do?” And he repeated it over and over again, my answer slowly morphing, until I was brave enough to answer more honestly than I ever thought I would. It scared me a little. But what better motivator is there than fear and searching for the bravery to overcome it?
A few days later, I was walking through the garden with a different friend of mine when I passed by my favorite tree. We weren’t in a hurry and had just been walking and talking, so I stopped and took off my shoes.
“What are you doing?” he asked, confusion in his voice.
“I’m going to climb this tree! Want to come?”
He looked at me like I was crazy, but a smile spread across his face as he, too, pulled off his shoes and followed me up the tree trunk. As I climbed higher and higher, he called out to me to be careful. But I found that I wasn’t afraid. Because in that moment, I had the chance to be brave enough for both of us, and I took it.
So I challenge you. Go find a tree (or a rock or a beach or whatever makes you happy). Take a deep breath. Kick off your shoes. Feel the sun on your face. Find joy in being exactly where you are in the moment, because it is exactly where you are meant to be.
But even more importantly, find a friend to enjoy it with you. Find the people around you that encourage you to take the time to climb a tree. Find the people that inspire you to run barefooted and brave into the future that you dream about, the life you want to live. And strive to be the kind of person who does this for others, who leaves footprints on their hearts and minds that inspire them to kick off their shoes and be courageously themselves.