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With Open Arms

In many of the meetings I attend, we focus on how we can make our college a welcoming place for students. Recently, when were discussing this, I was paying attention, but I was also doodling in my notebook. I carefully wrote the word Welcome on the faint, graph paper lines, giving the letters shadows and shades. It’s one of those words I’m drawn to, like grace and resilience, and it has stayed with me. Even now, I’m thinking about ways that I want to be more welcoming, not just with students at my college, but with all of the people I know or want to know, and even with ideas and adventures and new approaches to life.

As I get older, part of me thinks I should have things figured out, know what comes next, be acutely aware of what scares me or annoys me.

No one who knows me would say that I am unwelcoming, but I’m sure that people who don’t know me well might describe me as “nice, but often in a hurry.” I am frequently moving quickly, partly because I’m usually working from a long to-do list, but it’s also a convenient defense. If I look at my watch and indicate I have to rush to the next thing, people are less likely to expect me to be fully present, which is easier than taking down my defenses and simply being there for those moments. I’m not chastising myself; I’m simply telling the truth. As an introvert, it isn’t initially my favorite activity to engage full-on with other people. Still, to me, that’s not particularly open-hearted.

Being more welcoming—like if I set that as a New Year’s Resolution—would mean being more authentically present in more situations. It would mean resisting my urge to rush away, to distract myself with my phone, to think about something else. When people are welcoming to me, I have the sense they are greeting me with open arms, eager to talk to me, to hear what’s been going on with me, to connect with me in a real way. When I feel welcomed, it makes me more open, more trusting, and more likely to be a more welcoming person myself.

It occurs to me as I set my sights on 2018 that I could also apply that same sense of openness and acceptance to ideas, circumstances, and gloomy days. Why not try greeting each of those willingly and openly rather than with my dukes up and my heels dug in? It couldn’t possibly take more energy to relax my body and look for something that intrigues or inspires me, could it?

As I get older, part of me thinks I should have things figured out, know what comes next, be acutely aware of what scares me or annoys me. But instead of being filled with self-knowledge, this end of life feels more like graduating from college and facing all the new possibilities. So, as opposed to taking pride in knowing exactly what my life is going to look like now that I’m an old wise soul, I’m going to greet 2018 with new eyes. Rather than looking for the comforting and familiar, I’m going to work on just seeing what’s there. Will there be a new road, a unique opportunity, a different path, a surprise journey? As always, I’ll wait and see—but my goal is to welcome all of it with as much grace and resilience as I can.

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