Today, July 4th, is Independence Day in the USA. Therefore, it seems a fitting day to reflect on what independence means to me. I have always considered myself an extremely independent person and if you asked my parents, I’m sure they would confirm that once I turned 16, keeping me in the house was uncommon. I constantly was onto my next practice, rehearsal, party, church service, etc. Those last high school years I began to crave independence. I didn’t want to need others for fear that if they ever weren’t behind me, I would fall. This attitude continued into college, and at times I regret the way I handled those feelings. I rarely stayed at home other than school breaks, and when it came time for moving into and out of my dorm room each year I always said I could handle it. I wanted to prove to the world that I was independent. So, I made a sea between my life and others’ because I thought that was what it meant to be independent, but in doing so I shut down the ports from mainland. I didn’t need other boats on my isolated island. Not until the end of my junior year of college did I start to see that there was a difference between independence and isolation.
Anxiety plagued my senior year as I began to plan for life after college and again I tried to handle it myself. Friends were there to tell me I did not need to do these things alone, but a part of me never truly listened. To be independent was to only need myself. But that facade began to slowly crack senior year and finally culminated to an outright shatter on the day of my college graduation. Usually this day is considered a milestone, a start of true independence for young adults, the day when they begin “adulting.” So, naturally, on that dark night 13.5 months ago, I felt the least independent I had felt in years.
As I packed my car it soon became clear that not everything was going to fit as I had thought. My family had left earlier with my assurances that I could handle moving out, yet again. So, rather than call for help, I got into my over-packed car and headed home with an engine that was not doing so hot. About 20 minutes into the drive, I realized that my car was too overloaded by the weight of my books (the reality of a religion major), and there was no way it would make it another 2 hours home. I was crushed. My first night as a college graduate and I had screwed up.
The next hour was spent in a McDonald’s parking lot where I cried while trying to find somewhere to stay for the night, and finally called home to share the news that I had overestimated myself. I needed help, I couldn’t do it alone. The next morning my Dad arrived with his truck, and helped me make it home that night. He never scolded me, even though I considered it a ridiculously humiliating failure. Instead, he started to pack with me and said “I’m glad you called for help.”
Since that fateful day in a parking lot of Wartburg College, my understanding of independence has grown immensely. My families all over the world have proved that being independent does not mean doing it alone.
• When I wanted to learn what ingredients to buy so I could make Khmer food, friends took me to the market.
• When I needed to make candidacy appointments by phone, or mail in a housing deposit for seminary, my parents took care of it.
• When I didn’t know how closed down Phnom Penh would be for Khmer New Year, a sister gave me noodles so I could eat dinner.
• When I had any questions or problems that I could not control from across the world, my family walked with me to answer and solve them.
• When I went to a doctor and couldn’t speak Khmer, Pastor Daniel translated for me.
• When I ate any meal, I borrowed from others to have rice, or dish soap, or even just a plate.
This is a short list of ways I have learned to rely on others this year. The lesson is part of everything I do. And so all that leads me to this one, very important part: this year has taught me the importance of interdependence within a life of independence. I see it like this: I can still be my own island and mainland can still be mainland and no one will try to change the things that independently make us who we are. However, now there is a bridge from my island to mainland that says we are connected interdependently so that we can be better independently. Building up one another’s strengths, filling in their weaknesses. We accompany one another. We rely on each other. An interdependently independent relationship. Now, perhaps I have known this all along and maybe I am still learning, but this 4th of July I am grateful for a reason to reflect on what it means for me to be independent, and not be alone.