THE MAGICAL SUMMER (2010)

Summer 2010 stands out in my mind as one of the best of all time. It was my second year in the Pacific Northwest, and while I loved summer 2009 as well (during which I lived in Oregon), I felt that this year I was settling in to a new home, finding a new rhythm, and that adventures came one after another. 

I had been at World Vision for 9 months or so, after miraculously landing my dream job. That was the summer I went to Africa for the first time — Rwanda. Kind of a doozy of a first trip, but I loved it. I didn't expect this, but Rwanda was, and remains, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. 

On the way to Rwanda, we had a layover in Amsterdam, long enough that we had hours to explore the city before our flights to Nairobi and then Kigali. (Travel tip: try to make this happen if and when you fly through Amsterdam, because a two-hour canal trip in between awful flights is such a win.) 

On top of all this amazing travel, the whole globe was gearing up for the World Cup. The excitement in Amsterdam, Nairobi, and the Rwandan countryside was palpable. Africa was hosting for the first time, and it was a big, big deal. Obviously. 

The theme song that year, if you'll remember, was K'naan's "Wavin' Flag." I still get chills when I hear the first lines. I got pretty into K'naan's music after that, and loved when NPR featured him that same summer on their Tiny Desk Concert series. "Fatima" started to break my heart every time I listened to it during my time at World Vision, because of the work we do with children, and the implications that song carries for girls in particular. 

Anyway, I didn't care much for soccer before the 2010 World Cup (and to be perfectly frank, I'm no die-hard now), but I was pretty smitten that summer. I flew back to Seattle from Rwanda in June, and the opening game was the next day. Maybe it was because I was feeling raw from that trip, but the joy and passion of the "beautiful game" and the way it united the world for a few weeks totally captivated me.

I remember going to a sports bar for breakfast with my friend Dustin waaaay too early that morning, because it was one of the only places in Seattle where you could watch the first game. We made a little tradition of it that summer, and Dave joined us a couple of times at coffee shops to watch. Little did I know, Dave was plotting his first move to ask me out a few weeks later, so in hindsight, that World Cup season was extra special. : )

My parents came to visit in July, which is the most glorious month to be in Seattle, and I showed them all my favorite spots. They gave me lots of TLC too, because as I said, Rwanda left me pretty raw. I was good and angry at God for months after that trip, and honestly, I think it was a turning point in my faith. I had never seen suffering like that before, historic or present. I read too many books, heard too many personal stories, saw too many gruesome genocide memorials, and I felt ripped open. I had some awful dreams that summer, and heard and saw and smelled things I wish I hadn't. This year marked 20 years since the 1994 genocide that killed between 800,000 and a million people. The stories that are coming out of Rwanda two decades later are astounding, and I'm proud to have served an organization that has played a crucial role in the beautiful and messy work of reconciliation. 

Mom and Dad were celebrating their 25th anniversary, and the weather cooperated beautifully for them. I hosted them in West Seattle, where I was living in my friend Rawlins' condo while she was in Ethiopia for 6 months. It was close to my favorite park in the whole city, and proved hugely restful and relaxing as I continued to find my footing in Seattle. Rawlins, I'm still so grateful for my time in your place!

There was a run I often did from the condo down to Lincoln Park, which has a beach promenade. I took my mom there one night and we sat on the driftwood and watched the sunset, and I remember crying as I told her that I wasn't sure if I'd ever meet someone and get married (um, hi. I was 24). "Am I too forward? Too much of an ice princess? Is there something wrong with my face? Do I smell weird?" She comforted me, but she's since told me that she didn't really know what to say, and that I just seemed really sad. 

Though I loved living there, I distinctly remember feeling this sense of dread every time I flew back into Seattle. Seattle is one of the most beautiful places in the country to fly into. You cross the Cascade mountains (and see Mt. Rainier looming out your window if you're on the lucky side of the plane), fly almost right over the Space Needle and downtown, and can see a huge swath of the Puget Sound as you're descending. Once I saw as far north as Anacortes on my way in.

But this dread would overcome me, knowing that I was leaving whatever family time or adventure I had been on, and was returning to a place where I alone was responsible for my own happiness and well-being. That feeling was fun for a while, but I ached to share my life and the beautiful experiences I was having with someone else. 

A few weeks after my parents left, I went on the same run to Lincoln Park. As I ran down the sidewalk, I heard a motorcycle on the road behind me, and had a weird thought — "What if that's Dave Stalsbroten?" The motorcycle passed me, yellow and black, with a rider wearing a jacket that looked just like the one I had seen Dave in earlier that day. What in the world?! It was another spectacular summer evening, and I quickened my pace to get down to the beach faster, thinking (ridiculously) that Dave had seen me running and was waiting for me there. I made record time on that run, but, no Dave. 

Later I found out that Dave, who was borrowing the motorcycle from a friend for the summer, had wiped out just before I saw him, and knew that if he didn't get up and keep riding, he'd be too afraid to ride motorcycles again. So he rode 100 miles that night, and just by coincidence happened to ride by me on my run. Ironically enough, he was thinking about me on that ride too, as our friendship had developed to that confusing place just before you start dating. We were both crushing hard, but hadn't talked about it yet, and somehow kept finding excuses to talk/text/see each other every day. 

A few weeks later, Dave and I spent almost the entire day together with friends, stand-up paddleboarding and at a barbecue. I could hear our friends whispering about us when they thought we weren't looking. Seattle summers will bewitch you, and I think there was magic in the air on those nights and days in 2010. 

The next day, Dave and I went (alone!) to the same place we had rented stand-up paddleboards the day before, and got a double kayak instead. I sat in the front, and he was very quiet in his hatch behind me. I told an embarrassing story about myself to break the silence, which nearly derailed the words he was rehearsing in his head. I think his follow-up to that story was something like, "Wow. That's weird. Switching gears a little bit..." 

At home later that night, I wrote down the words he said next, but I can't remember them now. But he asked me out. And it was so much more than that. He was leaving for Nicaragua in eight weeks, so this wasn't a casual acquaintance. He meant business, and that gave me so much confidence. I trusted him. 

I remember returning the kayak and walking along Alki with him, talking about the future, which had just changed so dramatically. I was caught off-guard, which is just the way I like it. I love surprises, and hate knowing things in advance. But I was still cautious, and so I held my water bottle in the hand closest to his, to completely block any moves he might try to make towards hand-holding. The ice princess was still thawing — HA.  

We lived it up the next eight weeks, even though we were still separated for about four of those because of poorly-timed family vacations, backpacking trips, etc. It was a window into the next 15 months of long-distance love, which produced many emails and letters, all of which we treasure. I'm so thankful it turned out that way, because we have this beautiful record of our relationship instead of just foggy memories. 

So, summer 2010. Cheers to you for being one of the most life-altering, beautiful, and adventurous of my life. I wish I had more pictures of these moments — paddle-boarding off Alki, crying with my mom at Lincoln Park, the sadness and anger I felt in my heart after Rwanda, the motorcycle run, the mornings watching the World Cup, and the sunset kayak with Dave that redirected both of us forever. But each of those things are so etched in my consciousness that I think they'll stay there until I'm an old, old lady. 

If you've made it to the end of my rambling, congratulations. The World Cup and the perfect weather are both making me extra nostalgic today. 

Here's a playlist of what I was listening to that summer. You know how music takes you back.  

There is so much to say about summer 2014 thus far, but it will have to wait for its own post. Hint: there is a snoring puppy next to me as I type this and you've probably seen about a zillion photos of her on Instagram and Facebook already.