Ducks and the College Castaway

I like castaway stories.

In fact, the 2000 film, Cast Away had eleven-year-old me so hooked that, in the theater, I prayed Tom Hanks’ volleyball companion, Wilson, would come back after drifting off the raft into the deep dark abyss.

I think that was the first time I ever prayed for a volleyball.

I was a castaway, too, once.

On my third year of college, I moved out from under my parents’ roof for the first time. I rented a room in the basement of a lady’s house. My new campus was a far walk from the house, and I didn’t have a car. It was just me, my bicycle, and the daunting approach of a cruel Upstate New York winter.

Until my first night alone, I didn’t realize how much I clung to my parents, friends, and cozy life at home. The instant my parents drove away, I was struck with fear.

Everything made me panic. I spent what felt like hours trying to attach a U-lock to my bike like my life depended on it. I kept telling myself: “If you don’t get this on right, someone’s going to steal your bike and you’ll spend the semester trudging through snow. You’ll get sick, fail your classes, and spend the next 20+ years paying back thousands of dollars for nothing”. The same panic occurred when I was in a rush to get to class and unplugged my phone during an update (NEVER DO THIS). It went black and I couldn’t breathe until it was fixed.

It was like I spent my whole life floating on a tube that suddenly popped. No more parents arranging my rides, or means to communicate. I had to buy my own groceries, do my own laundry, remember to eat and pay bills. It was like learning to swim by gasping for air.

Solitude strips you of everything. It isolates you from relationships that made you feel loved, important, funny, pretty, or intelligent. It leaves you with no one. No one to blame, and no one to impress. It leaves you with nothing. Just skin and bones.

And you finally see what’s underneath it all.

What’s under the skin and bones.

What lurks inside your core.

On a warm day, I worked on grammar homework near the canal. A paddling of ducks flapped out of the water and waddled over to a nearby tree to gobble up cherries. I plucked some cherries off the picnic table and fed them to a duck. The scene reminded me of words I’ve read:

Look at the birds of the air;

they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,

and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not much more valuable than they?”

It’s remarkable to watch ducks approach random trees, expecting a meal, and be fed. It’s even more remarkable to think I can do the same.

This sobering thought kept refining itself in me until my final semester, when I applied for an English teaching job in South Korea. The night I was officially hired, I lay in bed awake, trembling.

My old panic returned: “How will you get your visa on time? How will you eat without knowing Korean? How will you use your phone in a foreign country? What if you can’t stomach the food? What if your glasses break?” – but then it cut short.

I remembered my first night of panic in my room, and that my bike never got stolen, and that God even feeds ducks.

I allowed my comfort to drift off into the deep dark abyss, and my summer in South Korea went on to be one of the most defining seasons of my life.

Next Week…

Speaking of castaways, my next guest is my very own Californian brother, Joshua. Enjoy the sweet, yet unsatisfying taste, of this mock preview.

See you next Monday, October 12th, for the actual episode!

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