Night’s somber darkness settled above the street lights. Horns blared at the passive drivers. A brisk breeze snaked between the late-night walkers. Lexi and I stood at the corner of 16th Avenue and New Hampshire Lane. The light turned green, blinking 62 seconds for us to cross. She grabbed my hand, and we ran–across the street, picking up speed as we hit the sidewalk, darting between pedestrians. Men in suits gathered at corners. We brushed past a woman in a red coat, who gave us a dirty look. We past embassies–Portugal, India, Argentina, Kazakhstan. We ran because we were not in Moorhead, we did not have to fill out job applications, we did not have Spanish homework that demanded our attention. We ran because we had no other obligation to keep us standstill. We had freedom in the capital of nation whose foundation is built upon this concept.

And I almost did not go.

I am a part of a student organization called SALSA–Student Associate for Living and Studying Abroad. In February, Concordia College’s Associate Director of Intercultural Affairs told Lexi Robinson and Michaela Read, presidents of SALSA, about NAFSA’s Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. This two-day conference prepares students and educators to inform congressmen and women about the importance of American citizens becoming globally engaged through strategizing sessions and issue briefings.

The SALSA board jumped on this opportunity, first seeking Concordia’s assistance for the financial aspect of the trip. I did not think Concordia would fund the trip, but I was proven wrong. On March 5, Michaela messaged us, stating that Concordia granted us funds to go to D.C.

No way, how? I thought to myself.

We would be in D.C. from March 18-20. I flipped through my planner, discovering I would miss nine classes, including a lab. I had two projects due on the Monday we returned. The trip was smack-dab in the middle of my cleanse diet, something I knew I would have to forgo for those three days. Worry’s tendrils wrapped around my throat and stomach, thrusting questions and doubts to spurt out.

Is the stress of catching up on that much school worth this trip? Sage, you’re going to be missing school for another conference coming up, can you miss this much school? Do you have the money for this trip? I hesitated when Michaela asked if I wanted to go. After conversations with my roommate and parents, I finally decided at the last minute.

“Screw it, YOLO,” I sent in our group message.

Michaela booked my flight, I was going to Washington D.C.

5 a.m. on March 18, I boarded on the plane in Fargo, the first plane I have been on in seven years. I waited for the side effects of nervousness to set in–fidgety hands, sweaty armpits, short breaths, tapping feet. None of them came; I felt calm, comfortable. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was traveling with three others who have done this innumerable amount of times or maybe it was something else–a mystery I will not discover until I travel by myself.

The plane took off. Fargo sprawled out beneath me, the street lights I have walked past numerous of times had become glowing specks against the black earth, as if the sky and the ground switched.

We landed in Minneapolis around 6 a.m., then left for D.C. around 7:30 a.m. Still, not an inkling of negative energy seeped through my body. We landed in D.C. a little before 11 a.m., hailing an Uber as soon as we got off. As we drove to the conference, we past the Washington Monument and many embassies. My mind felt lighter, the baggage of responsibilities and worries left in my dorm room. I caught myself smiling, realizing that I was living an aphorism John Green wrote in Paper Towns.

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”

Where we live, where we work, where our family is, adds more weight to the backpack of responsibilities we carry. The older we grow, the heavier it becomes, making it extraneous to walk away. Finding the willpower and strength to take off that backpack is difficult, because we know that taking it off means more weight will be put in.

But what if we never take it off? Does that mean we will always carry this burden for our whole lives? Our muscles would grow weak, fatigued. Freeing oneself from the weight allows one’s muscles to stretch, to breathe, to grow. I have not been on an actual vacation in seven years.

I left, with only a carry-on to lug. And it was the best goddamned feeling in the world.

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