I grew up spending every summer in Texas. The seed was planted in a remote away camp, where I would ride around in pick-up trucks and swim in the Frio River for two weeks out of the vacation months. Year after year, I returned, flying from my home in Tennessee, crossing my fingers that the same friends would again bunk with me in my assigned cabin. Camp was fertile ground for relationships, mostly because in that place, to be unique was to be celebrated. Where standing out in school typically merited embarrassment, camp equated quirks to assets, and thus became a field of relief and expansion.
But then my time in Texas began to trickle outside of those two weeks at camp. Though the walls of camp signaled belonging, the bonds established there became equally suitable for that same breed of affirmation. And so, my friends and I would fly back and forth during the school year, and any part of the summer when we weren’t at camp. Through the years, I have reunited with my closest friends over Thanksgiving, New Year’s, music festivals, and any weekend free enough for a visit. I thought that camp was the destination, but it was really just the door.
One of these friends is Virginia—we met over a decade ago, and ended up in the same cabin almost every summer. As kids, all of us insecure preteens would stare at one another, wondering what was acceptable, what was allowed. Meanwhile, Virginia would be off doing exactly she wanted, wearing wild patterns and waving her arms above her head to the beat of another camp anthem.
Years later, Virginia remains unfettered. She is an artist, and creates the kind of pieces that feel like a punch of vivacity to the gut. She thrives in the wilderness, and leans into any relationship of depth. I have a tendency to run in short spurts with friends, and then move on once I start to exhaust. But with Virginia, she has been there all along, walking beside me. Sometimes we step so closely that our flaws become exposed, and our brokenness cannot be ignored. Other times, thousands of miles separate us, and we wave our encouragement across the country. Either way, Virginia remains a constant presence.
The transition from New England to southern culture is not an easy one. My college friend circle in Boston has instilled in me a deep sensitivity to surrounding minority perspectives. I have been challenged to question all structures, to ask over and over again who is benefitting from any construction. This critical awareness makes me feel disruptive in southern suburbia, and angry that most people here are not as impassioned by the same things as me, not as fascinated by social and systematic injustice. And so, I am incredibly quick to judge, quick to assume that one small uninformed reference reveals a negative character. In a flash, I globalize one statement and project it onto the person as a whole.
I am grateful for the amount of exposure I have experienced of different cultures and viewpoints. Simultaneously, I am severely muddled. I see Texas—with ground so flat that it seems to extend for eternity, sky wrapping and reaching past the horizon, and heat that never quits. I see faces here that would stop to talk to me at any time of day, always take the time to greet with sincerity. And inextricably bound, I see political orientations, systematic benefits, and exclusion. I struggle to reconcile the feelings of affection and discomfort.
But then there is Virginia. She sees the world around her with a perspective of simplicity. She is determined to find the good in others, to extend grace and sincerity. The action of love feels complicated to me, like an intricate web that is paralyzing to navigate. For Virginia, it’s like breathing—either you do or you don’t. She loves quietly, listens with a generous ear. Virginia is the truest reminder to me that no matter how much I learn, how aware I become, how hard I try—this is plain: the extension of grace is the most humanizing action in which to partake.
Combining my time as a camper and staff member, eleven summers bear the markings of camp now. Eleven summers with Virginia, and many other faces of whom I could brag for days. But this summer is distinct. Rather than spend a twelfth season at camp, I am headed in a foreign direction, taking an internship in the San Francisco Bay. Of course, I’m not going to California empty-handed. I’ve got unshakeable roots across the country, from family and high school and college. But thanks to people like Virginia, I’ve especially got a little bit of Texas, permanently inked, and perpetually bound.