Davidson College, North Carolina
“Well, you’ve been through the ringer this year.” Special Agent Price shook his head as he scanned my resume.
“You could say that,” I replied. For the first few minutes of the interview, I was nervous and unsure how to behave in the company of a genuine FBI Agent, suit and all. Even his pen and the way it clicked seemed extra official. Fortunately, I soon found that he had a relaxed, genuine demeanor which reminded me of somebody’s dad and put me at ease.
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “I read your blog.” I was impressed. This guy was interviewing at least twenty students today and he took the time to investigate the little link I had pasted at the bottom of the page. I was also a bit embarrassed. I had not counted on anyone actually reading it, nor had I fully considered the reality of a federal employee knowing my private musings and some arguably reckless things I had done while abroad. I found myself rapidly trying to recall anything incriminating I had written, while wondering what kind of a turn this interview was about to take.
“How did you just wander around alone like that, with all that crazy stuff going on?” To my relief, his tone was one of genuine interest.
“Well,” I treaded carefully, “I wasn’t anybody’s target - I don’t look Jewish or Arab... As a girl, I felt pretty safe because there were guards and cameras everywhere, and almost every Israeli is armed, so if you’re going to sexually assault someone you pretty much have to be willing to die for it…. The bus bombings, though - those weren’t selective. That made me nervous.”
“It’s funny,” he said after a pause. “You watch these things happen on TV, but it’s hard to imagine what it’s actually like to be there – in the places we hear about all the time.” He shook his head again and it pleased me to see how engaged he was in our conversation; how he had likely seen too much in his own life, but was still wide-eyed and willing to listen to a twenty-one-year-old kid. “The people you met there, though - on both sides – they all seemed like good people.”
Every once in a while, there are moments which transcend the ordinary. You grasp, in that moment, that the questions with which you have been wrestling with for a long time can be answered quite simply; that life has been tempering you and carrying you toward these answers so that you may reach a definitive end of a journey; so that you can move on. This was one of those moments. I realized it and was emboldened by it, as if this was no longer an interview, but just two humans, talking. “There are good people everywhere,” I said. “I think everything is more nuanced than it seems.”
There were other, uglier, truths that I had learned in this past year. One was Hate and another was Death. These two specters were more abundant and real than I ever could have comprehended in my previously sheltered life. I had now met them face to face, and they haunted me at every turn. My pastoral hometown, my idyllic college campus, my loving family and friends – all of these were fragile. And they had been all along, I just couldn’t see it. Indeed, everything I had, I clung to more tightly, entirely from fear of loss. Or perhaps not fear so much as this knowledge of hate and death: the former is ample and dangerous, and the latter takes everything.
For a year, I had been fighting to escape this knowledge that hounded me, yearning to rewind my life and return to a time of blissful ignorance. I wished I could be like my friends, whose greatest worries were exams and unrequited crushes. I was afraid of the world, and of life. I spent many days trying to convince others that I had not profoundly changed, and many nights trying to hide from the fact that I had.
But I also fought it. In between periods of crushing boredom and crippling dread, there were moments of intense joy. These moments occurred when I was existing entirely within them, embracing their fragility and realizing, in a mighty wave, how very fortunate I was to be alive, to be loved, and to be so greatly privileged. I tried to focus on the people I met while abroad, and I remembered times in which they demonstrated bounteous lust for life in places far darker and more dangerous.
It took a long time, but I finally reached a point at which I could accept the knowledge that very few of my peers share. Like the mythical thestrals in Harry Potter, (unpleasant creatures that can only be seen by those who have seen death), this knowledge has a way of defining people. It was largely the reason why I sat in this room today: I wanted to work with people who knew - and were doing something about it.
Truth is always better than ignorance – no matter how terrible it may be, and joy that reveals itself in the midst of truth is the greatest triumph that can be felt. It was this kind of joy that enveloped me in warm resolution as the interview concluded. As I got up to leave, he asked me if I planned on writing any more about my travels. I told him that I was writing a book about it, although inwardly, I acknowledged that I had been unable to write for some time. I had tried to forget some of those experiences, as it had been too distressing to revisit them without some sort of higher purpose. It was as if I was waiting for the journey to resolve itself, because within me, it had not. I needed some distance, some time, some perspective. Suddenly, I had it.
I left the office with a past and a future - two entities which would allow me to move forward. I also know exactly how I would write my book: I would begin here - at the end.