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a southern yankee abroad

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February 2017

Divine Intervention

Last week, I received the sad news from home that my Grandma Dot had passed away. Even though she had been in poor health for some time, it is never easy to hear news like this. It’s impossible to ever be fully prepared to learn of and internalize the news of the loss of a grandparent. I feel very blessed to have known 3 out of 4 of my grandparents for my first 27 years of life, as I realize so many aren’t able to get to know their grandparents as long as I have. I didn’t have the chance to get to know Grandma Dot as well as my Smith grandparents, but I am very happy for the times we had together here on earth. I was able to visit her in the hospital while I was home for the holidays last month, and I’m so glad we had this time together.

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Dot was born and raised in Tippah County, Mississippi, but also lived in California and Texas at different points in her life. She was a nurse during her professional life, spending her time caring for other people. I will always remember her as kind-hearted, good-humored, and thoughtful. She was the biggest Ole Miss fan I ever knew and will probably ever meet. In fact, one of the last gifts she ever received was a personalized autographed football from Coach Hugh Freeze. She was very proud of it. Grandma Dot was a special lady.

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After I heard the news, I found myself numb from shock, but also kicking into gear to organize my travel back to Mississippi for the services, and to read ahead and tie up loose ends at school before heading out of town. On Friday morning, I left my apartment at sunrise heading to Newark airport. My flight would leave at 10am to Atlanta, and then I would connect to Memphis after a 45 minute layover.

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About 10 minutes before we were set to board, the dreaded announcement came over the intercom—“Delta flight 2343 to Atlanta has been delayed indefinitely due to mechanical problems. We don’t have an estimated new departure time, but when we do, we will let you know.” As we all let out a collective groan, the gate attendant added (for good measure), “It’s not looking good, folks. Sorry. We will try to rebook everyone as soon as possible.”

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The flight to Atlanta was packed full, and 50 or so people immediately swarmed up to the gate counter to get a place in line for rebooking. As my layover was so short, I already knew that I, too, would need to rebook. However, I just didn’t have the emotional energy to push my way through this frenzied crowd, so I sat back in my seat and decided to watch, at least for a minute. Through the hullabaloo, I heard (or imagined I heard) an announcement—“Elizabeth Smith, please report to Gate 44.”

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I didn’t think anything of this. First of all, I have never, ever been paged in an airport, and I fly pretty frequently. And there was no reason I would be being paged right now. Secondly, I feel like Elizabeth Smith is a pretty common name. (Some people are shocked to find out my name is actually Elizabeth Grace, and I just go by Gracie as a type of formalized nickname, I guess. It gets confusing!) Newark is a big airport—I was sure there was another Elizabeth Smith about to miss her flight.

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The shouting, shuffling, and complaining continued at the Atlanta-bound gate, and I stayed seated, watching it all unfold. I was about to call Delta’s customer service line to try to rebook to arrive at a decent hour, when I heard it again. “Elizabeth Smith, please report to Gate 44.”

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Why not? I thought.

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I walked over. “Hi, I am Elizabeth Smith, but probably not who you’re looking for?” I started.

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Without missing a beat, the gate attendant looked directly at me and said, “You’re flying to Memphis, right?”

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“Yeah, I am!” I said, surprised. I looked over my shoulder at the 50 other people still waiting to rebook at the Atlanta gate just a few feet away. I was fortunate to be singled out in the best way possible.

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“Great,” she said. “I’ve already rebooked you on this flight through Cincinnati that will still get you to Memphis this afternoon. We’re about to board now.”

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As someone who has been stranded overnight and/or had to cancel weekend trips due to airline failures on multiple occasions, I was truly surprised and deeply grateful. “Wow, that’s amazing! Thank you so much!”

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She smiled as she printed my new boarding passes.

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Then, half-jokingly, I said, “You’re like my guardian angel!”

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As soon as the words left my mouth, goosebumps covered my arm and my hairs stood on end. I thought of my Grandma Dot. Tears came to my eyes.

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Maybe she wasn’t always physically or logistically able to take care of me here on earth as much as she may have wanted to, but this was Grandma Dot’s way of looking out for me now. I had arrived at the point of emotional exhaustion—the point where you need a grandmother’s hug, and maybe some fresh-baked cookies. And, in a different way, that’s exactly what I got there in the Delta terminal. I felt taken care of and looked after in that moment, and I felt my grandmother’s love. I laughed as I pictured her pulling some strings for me up at the pearly gates, intent on making sure I could arrive and reconnect with our family with the least amount of frustration and exhaustion possible.

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Grandma Dot, thank you. I love you. I hope you are at peace and enjoying good health, and are reunited with many loved ones in a place of joy and happiness. Hotty Toddy.

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Multiple Lives

I read an interesting fact recently—the average lifespan during the Middle Ages was estimated to be around 36 years old, give or take a few years. Today, the average life expectancy for an American female is 78 years, and 76 years for an American male. This means the modern person is living over twice as long as he or she would have lived a thousand years ago. 

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(Of course, there is variance in the so-called average lifespan based on different factors, some as straightforward as genetics or gender, and others rooted in conditions fueled by global and regional socioeconomic inequality. Today, the most obvious impact on disparity in global life expectancy is evident in the effect of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Also, it’s hard to peg just one average number for such a large period of history (“Middle Ages”), but it’s probably a safe claim to say life expectancies have been significantly lower with exceptions throughout most of history as compared to now).

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For the sake of argument, it is safe to say that modern medicine, technology, and sanitation standards have succeeded in achieving the mystical goal of extending a single life to encompass multiple lifespans. To understand the magnitude of this, imagine that a thousand years from now people are living to be 160 years old, on average. That is essentially what has happened to the human race over the last millennium (or really, in the last century or two).

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On a micro level, I have found myself thinking about what this means for our lives, or my life in particular, now that I realize I am living a predicted lifespan that, until recent history, is a length of time that encompasses multiple lifetimes. How many careers can one pursue or justify? Is this why so many people marry more than once over the course of their lives at different points? Do people outgrow or outchange one another? How much of the world is it possible to see, if you entertain the idea our lives are likely to be twice as long on average than they have been historically? How quickly can and do societal values shift and change, given that folks are living longer? How quickly can and do values change in a person who lives long enough to perceive these societal sea changes? How does all of this impact an Earth that is struggling to support us all as we live longer and crowd in, even as people deny that her climate is changing?

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Also consider the fact the pace of the world has picked up substantially given industrialization and technology at the same time life spans have increased. Given this dynamic, how many mini-lives do we begin and end every few years? “Millennials” (if you can stomach that term) are a very accomplished group (according to certain criteria, as we fall far short of being near the level of the Greatest Generation) and “we” are still within the historical lifespan borders. I think about the fact I have completed several years of school, taught high school for 2 years, worked for 3 years in finance, backpacked around the world, and started my law school studies—and I have a few years yet until I turn 30. I am certainly not unique either… I just feel fortunate I was born where and when I was. Most friends of mine and people I know have been fortunate enough to accomplish many of their personal and professional goals while still in their 20s and 30s. And to think we would be in our twilight years now in the Middle Ages…

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I can’t decide if the idea of a long life means we are meant to accomplish more, or if we should strive to go deeper in those things we first set out accomplishing in the first 36 years. And what about the exhaustion factor? Are humans meant to have a shelf life? Will science and technology successfully continue the march toward immortality, and if so, do we really want that? Perhaps the answer is quality over quantity. And then the question becomes how to define quality—do we accomplish more during our years, or accomplish more with our years? 

6 Ways to Show a Little Self-Love

Happy Valentine’s Day / Single’s Awareness Day, blog readers! Today is all about love, although I woke up on this cold, icy NYC morning feeling like death (or at least like I had the flu). Somehow, I managed to make it to class on time despite hitting the snooze button for an hour straight (very unlike me, as I am typically an unapologetic morning person). As the day progressed, I really didn’t think about the fact it was Valentine’s Day at all (despite the fact my sweet mom sent me roses and chocolates yesterday…thanks Mom!) img_2252

However, after I got home and curled up under my electric blanket with a mug of tea, I found myself realizing that it was, in fact, almost the end of Valentine’s Day 2017. So I decided to recognize the holiday with a little reflection on self-love.

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Shout out to my besties…y’all know who y’all are! ❤

Last year was the best year of my life in so many ways, but I feel like it was perhaps only setting me up for the year that is ahead. I am so excited to the point I am almost restless for the next few months. Below I’ve made a “list of love” to share the ways I’ve practiced self-love so far in 2017. It doesn’t matter if you’re coupled or single as a pringle—today is also a day to realize you need to love yourself before you can truly love anyone else.

1- Travel! I feel so, so lucky (more so each day) that I am able to continue my traveling this year. I’ve realized over the adventures of the last few years that travel is my first love. I feel fully alive when I am somewhere I’ve never been before. I started off 2017 with a trip home to the South (which honestly feels like visiting another country sometimes) before spending 10 days in Costa Rica. Next month, I am traveling to Israel with a group from NYU Law. We had our first meeting together last night, and I can’t wait to explore with this group next month!

Then, I will be spending 10 weeks in Uganda over the summer as a human rights fellow through law school. And, I may be doing a 10 day safari in Botswana before I start! I feel so grateful to be able to continue doing what I love in the context of my career, education, and research interests.

It’s good to have a taste for traveling alone.

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A shot from last month in beautiful Mexico City. I can’t wait to be on the road again!

2- Getting off Facebook. I made the split-second decision to deactivate my Facebook account a few weeks ago. As I sat scrolling through my Newsfeed full of political posts, I realized that I missed having control of how I received information. And as much as we try to fight it, I feel like Facebook use is correlated with desensitization, as we tend to lose sight of the fact we are interacting with people, and not a computer screen, as we type out messages and send “likes” across the void. While I feel a deep despair at the state of the nation and world right now, I realized participating in the Facebook feeding frenzy was counter-productive for me. Instead of being on full emotional blast in reaction to what’s going on, I need to sustain a slow burn for the next few years. So, I deactivated Facebook for the first time since I got it 10 years ago. For the last decade, I could never have imagined life without this service that allows me to “keep in touch” with so many people, yet I haven’t missed it once. In fact, my head feels so much clearer now. And I have had a lot more time to read and write (which is maybe a bit embarrassing to admit, as it shows how much time I was really wasting on Facebook!)

3- DailyOm. DailyOm is a website that offers online journaling classes with a variety of focuses. Because I love writing so much (if you can’t tell already!), I decided to give their strategy of “focused journaling” a try through their course entitled “Heal Yourself With Writing.” The course centers on self-discovery and empowerment by writing and remembering the past from various perspectives. The course starts off with a Native American parable about a man who says he feels he has two wolves fighting in his heart—one vengeful and angry, and the other loving and compassionate. The man admits that the wolf who wins will be the wolf that he feeds, and he chooses which one is fed.

I’ve found the approach to remembering, refocusing, and writing to be transformational, and I am just a few weeks in. Whether it’s writing, meditation, or another mechanism, I would encourage everyone to take some time for self-reflection now—especially as the world seems to spiral into chaos around us.

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The new website I have replaced Facebook with!

4- A fresh approach to law school. The first semester of law school really was a blur to me. I hate to admit this, but I feel like I just showed up and went along for the ride when I returned from traveling back in August. I don’t think I got enough out of this education I am investing so dearly in last semester. This semester, I feel not only more focused, but more knowledgeable about what I need to do to get the most out of law school. For me, that means 1-handwriting all notes (no computer!), 2- hitting the library everyday (no more going home early, chilling, and getting distracted!), and 3- briefing all my cases (I didn’t think it was worth it last semester, but I’ve changed my mind).

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A nice snowy day recently at NYU. I feel a lot more grounded and connected to school this semester, and I am happy I get to come here everyday.

5- Be careful who you prioritize. As Maya Angelou once said, “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” The corollary, I think, would be to be sure to prioritize those people who are important to you so they never have to guess if they are priorities or options. I think this applies to all levels and forms of relationships—friends, family, and dating. For some reason, acting on this lesson of prioritization has become a “priority” for me in the last few months (for lack of a better term!). Not only am I trying to be more discerning about the level of importance I give people in my mind, schedule, and heart, but I am trying to be more intentional in staying connected in certain relationships and establishing firm boundaries in others. After all, if you don’t guard your heart, who will?

6- Take a lot of walks. Those of you who know me well know I used to be adamant about running almost everyday. These days, I like to take walks around Bushwick just about every night. I use this time to think, listen to music, and call friends. There is something about forward motion that’s freeing, no matter what speed you’re going. I surprisingly don’t miss running at all, and that’s ok–there’s a time in life for everything!  I love wandering around, both in big ways (see #1) and small ways (walking around Bushwick). And, it helps me accomplish #5 (staying in touch with friends).

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A pink Bushwick sky

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! Hope you’re feeling the love, inside and out! Xoxoxo

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