About the last several months…
Last Summer I wrote three of what I consider to be the best and most honest pieces I have ever written. (They can be accessed here, here, and here) They were the fruit of a sober reckoning with my past and my present, which had been growing like a crescendo for years.
I wrote those pieces during another episode of depression in which I had very intentionally isolated myself from friends and family, was considering suicide, and even refused to go to the graduation ceremony for my Masters program.
Many things have changed since I wrote those words in that dark place.
I began taking antidepressants and have done well on them. I reconciled with my family. I moved two times. I continued the trajectory that I was already on, which took me further and further out of the orbit of Christianity and the Church which had previously been the center of my life. I started working out at the gym regularly and got in the best shape of my life. I have seen many friends get engaged and married. I worked at a group home for foster care youth for several months. I applied to two PhD programs in Clinical Psychology and was rejected by both.
In the midst of all these big and small changes, perhaps the most important is that I have refocused and solidified what I believe to be the purpose of my life.
In the three pieces I did last summer I provided a quotation from Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he wrote:
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.
In his book, Dr. Frankl elaborates that what humans need to have meaning in their life is such a task that they fill they, and only they, can work towards with their life. This was born of his experiences in the concentration camps where such scraps of meaning were all that left to motivate men who had lost literally everything else, to continue to struggle to survive.
At the time I had lost sight of the tension I was called to but not even a month later, after driving back down to Pasadena from the trip where I had a major reconciliation with my parents in Modesto, my desire to and my thoughts about working in Native American communities long-term resurfaced strongly after being dormant for some time.
Whatever else happens or changes, whatever I come to believe about God or faith, I know that working to address issues of injustice and inequality in Native American communities makes the most sense of a lot of unique aspects of my life and it is something I have freely chosen to commit myself to.
(Me being me, this also culminated in another long blog post.)
This renewed resolve led me to where I am currently, Grand Forks, North Dakota. Right now I am working in the Seven Generations Center of Excellence at the University of North Dakota as a research assistant working on a grant with our pathology department and the Department of Justice. I am gaining research experience, writing, and learning this year as I prepare to reapply to PhD programs in Clinical Psychology.
Sometimes this move still feels surreal and I have to remind myself that I cannot simply hop into my car and visit friends and family like I have been able to for the last several years. I have only been here a few days and already I have realized that some of my preconceived notions about what life here would be like were wrong, for better and for worse. Regardless, I’m here now, and I’m pretty sure I’m in it for the long haul.
But what of the last three years?
As I enter this new season of life I cannot help but reflect a little bit on the last season of life which was tumultuous to say the least. Words fail me and maybe that is okay because I think a friend who walked with me through those years perhaps said it best.
As I prepared to leave for North Dakota I visited with many friends and one wrote me a very dear letter. In it were the following words:
“I have watched as you confronted your past head on with a tenacity that brought with it moments of reprisal. You did not hesitate to seek truth regardless of what is looked like and for this I am so proud of you. You are courageous Kevin Gonzaga! I know this because I watched as you struggled interpersonally in your relationship with God, romantic hopes, past agonies and an unclear future. But, even in the midst of all that chaos, your willingness to open your heart and home to the Fuller student body made you a catalyst without our community.”
This short paragraph managed to succinctly name the challenges I faced in the last season of life and the responses to them I very intentionally chose. I chose to explore my relationship with God and others, even the parts that scared me. I chose to be vulnerable with my heart romantically, even after being hurt, and being disappointed many times since. I chose to be open and honest about what was going on. I chose to make sure I was creating a welcoming place (in my heart and home) for everyone, especially those who did not fit in anywhere else, regardless of what was going on with me.
These decisions were deliberate and they were not always easy to follow through on. Sometimes I wondered, like I imagine many people do, if these choices I made for myself and the small sacrifices I made for others over the last several years had gone simply unnoticed. My friend’s words reminded me that they were not forgotten or unnoticed which was an unexpected comfort and affirmation as I prepared for another major transition in life.
In fact, unexpected words like these, from this friend and others, are what have buoyed my spirits and kept me moving through some difficult times in this last season of life. May I learn to be equally generous with words of encouragement to others and regard them as a meaningful act in and of themselves with no agenda other than to lift the spirits of those around me.