Michaela Esau is a Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) participant with the Tucson, Arizona, unit. This article was adapted from a blog entry on her website. MVS is a program of Mennonite Mission Network. Apply now for the 2023-24 MVS term, and join the neighborhood!
I have seen Tucson in almost every season,
a place I once naively thought had no seasons.
I have seen the snow fall and the creeks run,
the creeks dry up again.
I have felt rain enough to stop believing it is a foreign thing,
yet it still always takes me by surprise.
The smell of creosote is back. The UV index still screams "very high," but in the afternoons, there is a respite. A heavy-lidded eye in the sky, a rumbling and a pattering on the roof. I don't think it's normal — monsoon season shouldn't start until July — but it has been welcome. I love the contrast of dry desert mornings and stormy afternoons.
We had our first goodbye this month. Harper, who was taking a few months to volunteer at Casa Alitas in between graduating high school and starting college, moved out of our house in early May. She left us with a quarter of a bottle of Dr. Pepper, a vinyl sticker she made of us, doodles of bagel people, "Wildflowers" by the Wailin' Jennys in our heads and so many happy memories.
Harper's vinyl sticker of the MVS unit. Photo by Michaela Esau.
After Harper left, our unit went on a vocational discernment retreat in Silver City, New Mexico. We spent two days doing exercises in decision making. One exercise had us envision three different lives. In the first, we do what we are doing now — or what we plan to do next — for five years, only it's the best it can possibly be. In the second, we can do anything but what we're doing now/have planned. In the third, we can do whatever we want, money doesn't exist and nobody can laugh at you.
I dreamed about my three different lives, and they all are in the same bright colors. Each time, I am active. I create often and am at peace. I have a little house and art and mugs from every place I've lived. I have season tickets to touring Broadway productions, and I play tennis every week. I see my people, from every part of my life, frequently and in different places.
My "plan A" for next year is to be in Tucson, working full time at Literacy Connects. I love my job, and I'm excited to get to do it full time. Tucson is a city of corners, little clumps of town that feel like other worlds I haven't yet fully explored. It is too small of a city to have boroughs, yet it does, and burros and burritos and people who love the sun. And of course, there is always my "plan B" and my "plan C." Maybe it is because I am entering adulthood during the pandemic, or maybe it is just my wiring, but I am always in possession of many backup plans.
Not knowing all the details of my future is difficult for me. I've been in awe of the number of different things I've been feeling each day.
Hope, for a year whose details are only just starting to file into place.
Purpose and competence and joy.
Relief, gratitude, silence, surrender.
But also, a tightness in my chest I can't seem to loosen.
I have been overwhelmed a lot lately.
Exhausted, fearful, uncertain.
Other painful emotions I can't quite name but that I can't quite shake.
Evening in Tanque Verde Canyon. Photo by Michaela Esau.
One day, I was feeling all these things and went to Tanque Verde Falls.
I felt the cold water and did a handstand in sand.
I shielded my eyes from a moon so bright it looks like the sun.
I watched the cacti bloom.
As I climbed out of the canyon, pink light shrouded the mountain.
I felt relief as I reached the top of the canyon, just as the sky faded to black.
My sandals were wet from the falls, but they still gripped the trail.
The road was rocky and the brakes of the unit van shrieked, but still stopped.
I felt as if it had all been washed away, all except the exhaustion and wonder of being capable of feeling so much.
On her last night in Tucson, Harper climbed onto our roof. She put one foot on the aluminum wall of the outdoor shower, palms pressed onto our shingles. She could see all of Tucson from up there, and down below, I waited, ready with a hand that could serve as a foothold, with a phone that could call for help.
I am not a risk-taker or a roof-climber, and yet I move to new places where I know nobody. This is the joy of reaching the top of the canyon, of dripping dry, of knowing that I dove in, and not only did I not drown, but I chose to take the plunge in the first place.
I feel made of so many things.
It is overwhelming to not just have one dream or one emotion or one job — to be both a risk taker and a person who loves stability, to be sad about goodbyes and excited for the future, to be a dry desert with rainy afternoons. It can be overwhelming, but it also can be beautiful.