we have become beautiful without even knowing it.

Where do I begin? I am a hundred times over filled with happiness. Returning to familiarity is like slipping on an old favorite sweater; reassuring, it stirs my heart to sing.

It’s the collection of all the little things that make the difference: sunshine, blue skies, the sparkling of sunlight on the ocean, the pure Santa Barbara light, and, most of all, old friends who have changed and recognize that I have changed too but still love me the same. I have a suspicion that it is not so much that we have changed but have grown more deeply into ourselves.

I do miss England. I do miss the frost on the windows, tea and scones, the deep glowing green of the trees, the gray that hangs over everything, the thick, heavy, almost yellow-tinged light in London. But England is far away now, a whole week in the past; England to me is dream-like. It’s as time though time had stopped for three and a half months and I had a long elaborate vision, hardly real.

Coming back makes me realize how far I have come and how much I have learned. In many ways, I feel no different now than I did before I left, just a little wiser from mistakes I have made, a little more knowledgeable of who I am, how I work, what I desire in life. I have seen how people can hurt each other, I have seen how people can love each other, can forgive each other, can move on, even when healing seems counterintuitive.

With only twenty-eight people living together for three and a half months, all things were magnified: drama, sorrow, joy, laughter. There were few places to go alone and there was little privacy [even the walls were thin, almost non-existent], and so we became a little family who wept together, laughed together, argued with each other, wrestled with each other, processed through our pasts and presents and futures together, danced and sang together, played together.

There was one night at the end of the semester when we all put on our best selves, and all things were made beautiful. In the darkened gymnasium we talked individually with each person on the trip, naming the good in each person, apologizing for mistakes and hurting each other, and showering each other with only truths. Actively searching for the good in people automatically revealed the beauty in these people that was often hidden because we were too lazy and selfish to look for it. There were tears shed, there was uncontrollable laughter, there were memories recalled, and I came out not only knowing myself more truthfully but seeing others in a more truthful, and therefore more beautiful, light.

After that night, I can look into these people’s eyes and say with all honesty, ‘Namaste—I see the divine in you. You are beautiful, you are God’s creation, and He has so much more in store for you. Do not cheapen yourself, do not settle for less, because you deserve more—you are God’s child, you are His beloved.”

Of course, not all things were made perfect that night. Deep-seated hurt takes time to heal and conversations are only stepping stones. But I am determined not to lose what I learned there even though the truths seem less relevant now. I find myself gripping on to these truths because I know they were true of myself then and are not entirely dependent on place and time, and so should be and must be true of myself still.

And now, today, in Santa Barbara, my circle of twenty-eight people has expanded exponentially. But still, my task is the same: to look deeply for the good, for the divine in each person without reservation, to name the beauty that is in the people around me.

And it is good to be back. It is good to see how much people have grown while I have been gone, a growth I may not have recognized if I had spent every day with these people. How wonderful, how beautiful—God is here, God is present, God is working. I am in love with life.

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