You know, it feels rather fitting that I am the last among us five to introduce myself. Just as I am currently a little late on the first-post train, so I was a little late on meeting the girls for myself. In fact, my first introduction to my fellow fellows was across my (admittedly dirty) laptop screen, blinking all bleary-eyed and yawny, for the only time we could all make work was 5 PM Memphis-time, or midnight Nantes-time. We struggled with technical difficulties, bouncing from Skype to Google Hangouts to Facebook video, the latter being the only medium to function through one of the girls’ cell phones, which everyone was kind enough to pass around and yell into for my benefit. My Memphis-based teammates clearly did their utmost to make me feel included from a continent away, but a certain degree of separation was inevitable. Aforementioned technical difficulties sometimes meant I missed 10 to 15 minutes of the discussion before we could get a reliable video connection, and it was clearly impossible for me to participate in location-specific bonding, like a group planting party or a cross-generational Ruka reunion for Dr McNary-Zak. I was always tagged in the pictures, mentioned with love and consideration, but inevitably absent.
Not only was I unable to directly participate in the pre-fellowship preparation, but I also delayed the very start of our intentional year itself, touching down in Memphis three days after the academic semester had already started. Four out of five were already in the Ruka house, some having been there a little over a week, and others for a month or more. Four-fifths of the Ruka were already learning to navigate each others’ quirks, preferences, habits, and their overall personalities in a far more intimate setting than before. And then here comes the fifth out of five, the straggler, a little culture-shocked and a lot stressed, working to reconcile nearly 8 months abroad with the reality of a pause-less transition into home and academia. It could have been messy–the last piece of the puzzle realizing too late she wasn’t quite the right shape to fill the dimensions of the hole she was too far from to judge.
But I was received with open arms and a blessed bottle of wine from my very first night. The next weekend we tackled our unorganized kitchen, giving each woman an equal space in the pantry and fridge, a visible affirmation that five out of five were finally living together, and we each have a clear, personal stake in the daily functions of the Ruka. From then on everyone was patient with me as I acclimated to spoken and unspoken house norms, such as don’t take secret spoonfuls of other peoples’ food when they aren’t around (which I now realize should have been an obvious one. Sorry ladies). Thanks to the intentionally affirming and open environment these four out of five had already begun to build, it didn’t take long at all for me to feel, at last, at home.
I know it’s been months since then, but I’m constantly reminded of the blessing of this community. For example, last week was a hellish one for each of us–for varying reasons. But when we met to plan and cry and complain and laugh, we five came together to offer mutual support and love. Out of the clashing of personal crises and academic stresses, the Ruka, at least, has been a constant and soothing addition. So here I am finishing our fifth post–the fifth out of five, expressing start-of-the-year thoughts long after everything’s already begun, a little late to the game, but comfortably part of the team.