10.8.17 / 12:44 pm

@ Café Mogador, East Village NY

I’ve decided on Halloumi Eggs. Halloumi Eggs and a pot of Moroccan Tea. I’m not sure what Moroccan Tea is but it sounds nice. (The waitress just explained with curls and ruby lips: “fresh mint.”) A rainy Sunday afternoon in New York. 

The fact that this place is my home still confounds me when I really think about it. Ten years ago I left Abilene for Washington, DC. I had blind ambition and a crush on a boy who lived there; that somehow landed me a nice Smithsonian internship (and a pining summer—he got engaged). I remember being so excited to come home, take off my little snakeskin flats and not have homework. I get a paycheck?! Unreal. There were so many wonderfully novel things about being a working professional. I was liberated; I was finally somewhere new; my life was on the up and up. 

(I finished lunch and transitioned to my favorite coffee joint, Abraço. There’s some kind of wild music playing on vinyl by Cheio de Razão. They serve coffee and espresso, no tea, but the owner just waltzed over with his baby in a sling and slipped me a tea bag like it was illegal contraband.) 

After that first summer in DC, my goal was to get a full-time job at a major art institution like the Metropolitan or the Museum of Modern Art. I figured if I worked hard enough I could manage to accomplish that in fifteen to twenty years. Three years later I left my job as an office manager in Amarillo to become a producer at MoMA. By small town standards (and perhaps even big city ones), it really felt like I’d made it. 

I try to avoid talking about this time of my life as if I had anything to do with it, because the truth is that I asked the Lord for it, and in this particular instance, it was given. I’ve had countless prayers go unanswered, or denied, in my lifetime and I’m not sure why New York happened to work out. But regardless, the thing I want to say about success—about “making it”—is that it’s not really what I thought it would be.

In your lifetime—I say this with the humble wisdom of thirty-two years—you will have many surprises. Many. Some of them may be extraordinarily good: you will find yourself chatting with Chuck Close, performing John Cage, sipping tea next to Alexa Chung (that just now happened), riding your self-built Harley across the country, writing a screenplay that goes to Cannes, falling in love or even having a child, and you won’t be able to believe the glorious goodness that is life. Equally, some of the surprises you encounter may harden you. They may numb you, confuse you, make you question your ultimate purpose. And many will have elements of both—the beautiful and the banal. If I look back on the sum of surprises in my own life, I can see very clearly that what mattered most was (and is) loving God, loving others and loving myself. (Matthew 22)

My mother developed dementia six years ago and there is simply no worldly accolade that can amount to the feeling of making her laugh. Two years ago I became friends with an elderly gentleman in my neighborhood named Alan; a day spent in his company is more meaningful than any workday I’ve ever spent at MoMA. I cannot discount the magic that MoMA, or New York, have lent to my life; nor would I ever suggest that they have fulfilled my deepest longings. The last decade of my life would be nothing if not for the relationships that have developed, including the most important one between this mysterious being we call God, and myself.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Do not worry if you will assist Milton Glaser, find yourself designing in Michael Kors’ atelier, or gain acceptance as a Fulbright Scholar. Is not life more than getting a noteworthy job after graduation? . . . So do not worry, saying, “Where shall we work?” or “What shall we accomplish?” or “Who shall we become?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6 . . . paraphrased.)

I worry often, so I tend to take liberties with that passage. Fill in the blank. Do not worry about __________. The curious aspect about living in the kingdom of God is that as the Lord adds “all these things” to our lives, our desires change. Though we may seek it imperfectly, if we seek it earnestly, the kingdom of God has the ability to truly fill us. All the better for us to enjoy the blessings of burgeoning résumés . . . or maybe a cry, or a laugh, or a simple pot of hot mint tea.  


 Erin Elise Holland

Erin graduated in 2007 with a degree in Two-Dimensional Studio Art. She moved to NYC in 2010 and now works as an art director for The Museum of Modern Art, where she has continued to glean inspiration for her personal art practice.

Follow her on Instagram at @erineliseholland. Photographs by Mark Luebbers, @thruthebeard.