Delanie is an easy person to talk to. Even before we sit down in the sun-warmed Bethesda Tatte at which we’ve met on this December morning, we’re already chatting – about Gather, about the quality of DMV coffee, about how long it takes to break in a new pair of Doc Martens. Delanie has a small, purple, rolling suitcase with her. Not because she’s about to leave on another series of international exploits; she’s just headed to Baltimore for the weekend. But you get the sense that her next adventure isn’t too far away in the future. Read on as we talk about her solo trip abroad, open-mindedness, spirituality in the mundane, and more.
Samuel: Hey, Delanie! Nice to meet you – how’d you end up in the DMV?
Delanie: I’m from the Westminster / Baltimore area in Maryland. As I was finishing up undergrad, I was saving up money to live in the city. I’ve always wanted to. I lived in Mount Pleasant. It’s so green, and the houses are so cute, and I love that one row house will be a family and the next one down will be a group home. It’s so home-y. I felt like I was in the city but still surrounded by greenery. It was really good.
Samuel: I know you’re not living in DC right now, you’re up in Maryland because you’ve just returned from a trip abroad. So tell me about that!
Delanie: Yeah, so, I quit my job in August. When I was planning my trip, all I knew was that I wanted to go to Italy and Spain. I had to have two hip surgeries this year; for about a third of the year, I couldn’t even walk a mile. So while I was home recovering, it was nice, because I had a goal. I was like: Alright, I’m going to get my second surgery, I’m going to recover, and I’m going to be ready to go.
But I was sore all through my time in Rome and Florence because it was my first time doing that much walking [after the surgeries]. In Florence, I had made a reservation for the Duomo at nine in the morning and…I didn’t want to go. I had a cold. I was jet-lagged. I was sore. It’s a 463-step climb. But I went, and I climbed to the top, and it was just the most amazing, rewarding thing. And, for the rest of the trip, my hips felt fine.
Samuel: That’s incredible – it almost feels like in another version of the story, climbing the stairs and your soreness going away is a sort of spiritual, religious moment.
Stairs on the interior of the Duomo in Florence.
Delanie: It wasn’t. It was just rewarding. But there were other things that happened that did feel spiritual. When I was in Rome, I biked the Appian Way and got lost and, while I was going backwards along the trail, spotted this monument that I wanted to get closer to. So I’m in the middle of all these farms off the road, zooming in to try and get a picture of this ancient structure, when all of a sudden I hear bells. I look to my right and – I’m not joking – there are hundreds and hundreds of goats coming towards me. They all just ignored me and went into this pasture.
There was just something about me being in this place, feeling like a local, experiencing the normality of all these goats doing their thing as if I wasn’t there. They weren’t scared of me. It’s like I was just part of what was happening. I was having this amazing experience no one else was having. It felt like I was home.
Samuel: You spent all this time on your own in new places, diving into the unfamiliar. Did you learn anything? Do you feel transformed at all?
Delanie: When you’re challenged, the only thing you can do with it is learn and grow. All I’ve wanted to do since high school was to go on this trip. I knew I could come back a fuller version of myself, knowing myself better because I would have been forced to be by myself, with myself, entertaining myself. It can be lonely, but figuring out how to get out of the loneliness, I know now that I can trust my ability to be independent. I can take care of myself. I can be on my own and meet new people. It feels cliché, but I sort of fully understand who I am now.
Samuel: We spoke earlier [Editor’s Note: Off-mic, unfortunately!] about the tension of sometimes being in spaces where you don’t feel like you gel politically or philosophically with either people or institutions around you. I feel like there are some parallels with being able to navigate those moments and moments of being a traveler in a new place. What is your approach to those sorts of interactions?
Delanie: I like to be super open-minded but also assertive. If I’m talking to someone who believes something different than me, or is more or less religious than me – maybe they’re saying “Why do you do this?” or “Why don’t you do this?” – I’m going to stick up for myself, but I’m also able to put myself in their shoes. Being curious and asking questions, while also holding my own, usually leads to really good conversations! With politics, religion, or anything, I fully believe that I can’t have an opinion [on a topic] until I’m educated about it. So if someone asks me what I think, I say well, let me know a little more about it and then I’ll come back to you.
Samuel: If people are going to grow, they’ve got to be open to the idea in the first place.
Delanie: One of the things I learned at Beyond the Tent was the RAM scale – is something relevant, active, and meaningful? And I like to reference that with my Judaism but also just with everything. You can’t know if something is relevant or meaningful unless you’ve learned about it or experienced it yourself.
I had one of my favorite Passovers in 2021. I was with roommates who were Jewish and roommates who were not Jewish. We created a conglomerate of what was relevant, active, and meaningful to us. Being able to share that with our other roommates, who were open to learning and excited to be a part of things, was great.
Samuel: Alright, a couple of quick questions to close us out. You can invite three people to Shabbat dinner – who are they, and why?
Delanie: Gaudí. I’m going into user experience design as a field, and I think it was fascinating how he incorporated nature within his designs. My second person is John Mayer. I have a good reason – one, I enjoy his music, but also Shabbat for me has always been about reflecting on the week, and John Mayer’s music has always felt nostalgic to me. I’d want him to play my favorite song, “Why Georgia.” My third person would be Kathryn Nicolai. She has this podcast, Nothing Much Happens, with all these beautiful sensory details in the form of a story. I’d just want her to tell me one of those stories.
Samuel: Last one: When Jews of the DMV gather…
Delanie: They learn new things.
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