So, this is it. My time here in DC is coming to a close. Less than week from this very moment of writing, I’ll be back in Massachusetts. In less than a week, I’ll be back with family I haven’t seen in months; I’ll be back with childhood friends; I’ll be back driving along all-too-familiar roads, eating all-too-familiar foods, and sleeping an in all-too-familiar bed. I’ll be home.
My initial reaction to this glaring truth is shock. I couldn’t understand or seem to accept how fast this summer has flown by. It feels like it was only a few weeks ago that I was boarding an airplane headed to Reagan International Airport. It seems just yesterday I was headed off with my apartment mates to begin classes at the William & Mary DC Summer Office. It’s almost eerie how time flies.
My second, deeper reaction was that of apprehension, which turned into worry. I worried that I hadn’t done enough with my professional life here – that I hadn’t met enough people, made enough good impressions, or done enough projects. I worried that I hadn’t done absolutely every single little thing that I could’ve. I worried that I should have come in earlier or stayed later (although most days I was working at least nine and a half hours, sometimes more). I worried that I’d look back at my time here and wonder what I could’ve done more.
But professional life aside, I worried long and hard that I hadn’t done enough personally here. I worried that I hadn’t taken the time to venture out into the city, to see the sights of DC, or to spend time with nearby friends, family, and my significant other (a worry amplified even more so by the fact that I will be in Beijing for the entire fall semester). I was worried – I was scared – that I hadn’t lived enough, professionally or personally, and it was this fear that was literally keeping me up at night.
But why was I so scared? One word: regret. My best friend once told me that her biggest fear wasn’t ghosts or gremlins or ghouls that go bump in the night – it was regret. She was, and is, terrified at the prospect of feeling regret. And she isn’t afraid of the variety of regret she might feel if she had done something she shouldn’t have, but the opposite – the feeling of regret she might get from not doing something she should have.
And it was that fear of regret that I was dealing with, right up until earlier today.
Earlier this morning, that very same best friend and I decided to go hiking, so we filled up our water bottles, packed away Subway sandwiches, and went on our way. We’d been to the trail we picked before – the Billy Goat Trail almost twenty minutes away in Great Falls, Maryland – and the day could not have been better. It was hot, to be sure, but we were familiar with the trail, knew when to rest and when to drink, and were able to take our time, relaxing in the silence of the woods and soaking in the fresh air and scenery.
There was a spot a little more than halfway through the trail where we had stopped during our first excursion to go for a little swim in the Potomac. We had some trouble today, but we had eventually found it – a little shallow outcropping of rocks near the shoreline – and waded in. The water was gorgeous; the scenery, immaculate. Every now and then the gushing of the Potomac would bring a kayaker or two into view and out again, but for the most part we were alone with the nature around us in an almost zen-like isolation.
We stayed for a while, but as we got up to leave I felt an almost instinctive urge to take hold of my surroundings. I realized in a few moments that I wasn’t simply admiring the view around me; I was looking for landmarks, beacons, or any other kind of way to be better able to remember this spot, so that my best friend and I might be better able to find it next time.
And then logic chimed in. I was leaving DC in less than a week, I thought to myself, and between now and then I would almost certainly not be returning to hike the Billy Goat Trail. So why was I even bothering looking for landmarks?
And then it hit me: I very well could come back; this summer might not be my last in DC. I realized that my fears were overblown and unfounded. I have been extremely successful in my professional life. I worked my butt off, met the right people that I needed to meet, and had set up a great contact base. Even more importantly, I had gained an incredible working experience that could springboard me to another, possibly even more incredible one, just as my Boston job last summer had brought me here to DC.
And what’s more, my more personal fears were equally wrong. I didn’t just “live” in the city – I lived in the city. I’ve been to the monuments at night, I saw the fireworks on the Fourth of July. I can tell you the best places to kayak on the Potomac just as easily as I can describe the bricked roads of Old Town Alexandria. I have memorized the maps and travelling times of the Metro, and knew just how much money I needed to put on my SmartTrip card to the individual cent. Every single weekend I spent visiting some odd collection of friends and family, and every day I spent time with my own best friend.
She and I made this summer what it was, and it was unbelievable – one that I’ll never forget. And this Saturday, when I’m walking through the terminals and getting ready to board my plane back to Boston, my head will be hanging high. Because I’ll know I just had the best summer I could, and that there are very strong indications that the good times, far from over, are only just beginning.
I’ll be back for you, Billy Goat Trail. Just you wait.