The author and her fellow Fellows standing on the AL/GA state line. Image courtesy ISJL

Embracing The Southern Calm

It's good to go with the flow sometimes, y'all.

A few weeks ago, I found myself on the border of two states. I was on a work trip, representing the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) at one of our education partner sites, Temple Israel in Columbus, Georgia. Columbus is right at the Georgia/Alabama state line. Walking across the bridge with two other Education Fellows and our host, we laughed as we put one foot in each state.

I thought: “This would be a great blog post! I can write something touching about the borders between states and places, and the way we can bridge them in ways both big and small.” Best of all, I had plans to go zip-lining across the river that separated Georgia and Alabama the next morning, and I knew that experience – the nerves, the world zipping by, the supportive friends below – would help me to write the perfect blog post.

Alas, it was not to be.

As I climbed up to the zip-lining tower in my harness, it began to rain. We continued with our session, and then it began to pour. As my “fellow Fellows” waited below, the thunder and lightning began. The whole group was soaked, and the zipline experience was called off.

About to zipline, but then…

 

As we climbed down and ran to the storefront, I knew I couldn’t wait around to give the zipping another go in a few hours. We had a six-hour drive back to Jackson, and the rain showed no sign of letting up. I removed my harness and helmet, collected my refund, and got in the car. My friends expected me to be at least a little upset – after all, I had been looking forward to this experience for weeks! And yes, I was slightly disappointed, but I wasn’t upset. After all, you can’t control the weather.

At that moment, I was able to see how much the ISJL Education Fellowship has helped me to grow.

I’m in my second year of this experience now. In this fellowship, we do a lot of travel – and nothing teaches you flexibility like travel. I have been derailed to the Little Rock Airport and stranded there for hours, laughing the whole time because there was nothing else to do. I have learned to say in the face of traffic, “We’ll get there when we get there.” And when one of the only forces of nature less predictable than the weather (children!) don’t behave according to my plans, I have learned to think on my toes and educate them in a different way.

As an admittedly Type-A person, this has been an uphill battle. I constantly write to-do lists, and am rarely without my beloved planner. In college, I could predict, more or less accurately, how long it’d take for me to write a paper or study for an exam. For the most part, if I spent long enough writing or studying, I’d do well. It’s just a matter of putting in the hours.

Surprise! The real world doesn’t work that way, and in the past year I have had to adapt accordingly.

While I will always be devoted to my list-making habits, my work at the ISJL has helped me to let go a little bit. A task that once filled me with anxiety – packing – has now become a near-weekly necessity. In college, my friends teased me for taking a full evening to pack for a week away. Now I pack at 10 p.m. the night before a visit, a speedy and stress-free process. Once I forgot my contact lenses, but I wore my glasses all weekend, and guess what? The world went on spinning! I once broke down in tears at a series of cancelled flights, but now I throw an extra book in my bag in case of delay and just wait calmly for my flight to be called. Simply put, I’m learning to chill out.

I expected to gain many things from my job at the ISJL – increased Jewish knowledge, deep friendships, professional growth and travel stories from around the South. I have gained all of these things and more –s ome expected and some complete surprises. It seems that some (but only some) of the slow Southern pace and laid-back Southern attitude has rubbed off on me despite my fast-talking, fast-walking ways.

And by going with the flow, I still got a blog post out of my experience!

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