“I’ve been gone too long from you” – Harry Styles, “Canyon Moon”
Three years ago I was in Massachusetts on the New England Saints interim trip. Actually, three years ago to this day, I’m pretty sure the trip was over. Even now I can vividly recall the ache in my heart as our bus departed Concord, Massachusetts, and started to make the journey back to Michigan.
If there’s something you should know about me, it’s that I’m a worrier. There are few things I can do without overthinking, without a twisting feeling in my stomach. I still have flashbacks to sixth-grade science camp, as I stood before a stream wearing a pair of waders. My own teacher was the one leading the stream study activity, and her familiar presence was enough for me to share my concerns. What if I didn’t put the waders on correctly? What if the current was too strong? What if I fell over and my waders filled up with water and I couldn’t get back up? What if I got washed away?
“Oh, Kayleigh,” my teacher said to me, smiling affectionately as she stood out in the middle of the stream. “I had no idea you were such a worrier. Come on in, you’ll be fine!”
I eventually made it into the stream (without washing away), and while I can’t remember the specifics of that day’s activity, the moment of self-realization has stuck with me ever since. I am a worrier.
Though I almost always enjoyed myself on school excursions, I remember feeling anxious before each one. I signed up for the New England Saints interim trip during my senior year at Calvin, and though I was excited to explore new places and learn about well-known authors, I started second-guessing my decision as the trip loomed closer. So many what ifs plagued my mind. What if I didn’t enjoy it? What if I felt homesick? What if I didn’t connect with my group? What if I regretted my decision?
The day we boarded the bus, however, I was glad to see one of my friends and some familiar faces from English classes. I stared out the window for hours, watching the landscape as Michigan blurred into Ohio blurred into Pennsylvania blurred into New York. (I managed to get a couple hours of sleep upon crossing into Massachusetts.) I tried not to dwell on my worries and to keep an optimistic mindset.
The next few weeks were nothing short of incredible. When I think back to the trip, I can remember each moment as if I were still there. Feeling the snow crunch beneath my boots as I walked along the frozen surface of Walden Pond. Gazing up at the ornate ceiling of Trinity Church in Boston. Hunting for treasures in used bookstores. Hearing the creaking of old floorboards as I wandered through historical homes. Laughing with new friends over card games or frappés from Helen’s Restaurant.
But my mind always seems to linger on my memories from the beach at Cape Cod. At that point I hadn’t seen the ocean in over a decade. As I watched the swelling waves and inhaled the salty breeze, I felt at peace—and I realized for the first time in a long time that I wasn’t worried. In fact, I hadn’t been worried. When I woke up each morning and admired the snow-laden tree outside my window at the inn, my first thought wasn’t a nervous one. I was excited. I was eager to behold what each day had in store on that trip.
The realization was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Standing there on the beach, apart from the rest of the group, I whispered expressions of gratitude to God. Watching the waves became a moment of worship.
When we left New England, I cried. I felt like I was leaving a piece of my soul in Boston, in Orchard House, in the bookstores, in the North Bridge Inn in Concord. I still wish I could go back to that time, to that headspace. It almost seems like a dream.
But there are times when three years ago still feels like just yesterday. Sometimes I’ll study the small rock that I stashed in my coat pocket before I left Cape Cod. It’s on my bookshelf, right next to some of my books I bought on that trip. When my fingers brush the surface, I can almost hear the waves again.
And, if only for a moment, I don’t feel worried.
Kayleigh (Fongers) Van Wyk (’18) graduated with a degree in writing and resides in West Michigan. She works as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine while also making time for freelance writing. When she’s not behind a screen, she enjoys going for walks, eating ice cream, and buying more books than she’ll ever read.
Ugh, I can’t believe that was three years ago. Every so often I run across the reflection we had to write at the end of the class, and in it I can see myself starting to recognize the importance of some ideas that are foundational to my sense of self today. I don’t know what kind of magic we were blessed with, but I too am forever grateful for it.
I can’t believe it, either! I want to go find my reflection paper now. Also, I’ll never forget the night we spent having dinner at your parents’ house. I remember so many laughs and feeling like we all really bonded as a group that night, thanks to your parents’ hospitality.
They loooooved hosting everyone (especially since there were students who drank coffee, unlike their stubborn daughter). Talked about it for the next couple months or so. Truly a blast.
What a beautiful moment to take to heart. Peace and clarity are truly a blessing to have handy at a moment’s thought. Keep hold of them. The anxiety will continue to come, but you will also always have those moments.
Every handout we were given, every little rock I collected, every receipt from bookstores–I can remember an exact moment from every souvenir I have of that trip! Every memory will always feel like it was yesterday just for the perfect combination of the places we visited and the people we were with! Thank you for another visit back with this piece! Gonna go cry now.