In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that would die by fire and rise again from the ashes of the one before it. In Gabrielle Castillo’s life, Phoenix is the city in Arizona that gave her identity, purpose, and strengthened her for the journey to come.
Preparing for your final days in the place that helped shape who you’ve become over the past four years is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I sit on my bedroom floor, surrounded by white walls, shuffling through old notebooks filled with story ideas, while at the time, I had no idea it was my story I was writing.
I picture the days I spent as a terrified freshman in a new state, without a single friend. The days of comfort and security were burned in the fire I left behind (although it felt like I was living in a fire out here), and when I arrived, I was just a pile of ashes. Months passed, things changed, and I came to terms with my new beginning.
I’ll never forget my first day lugging 20 pounds of camera equipment through downtown Phoenix in the September heat, working in the edit bays until 1:00 am in order to perfect a news package, only to find out the mic was broken, which would result in a barely comprehensible phone call to my mother – in tears, no doubt. Fast forward a couple of years later, I found myself working for and covering two professional baseball teams and making connections with people who would ultimately get me to where I’m going today.
Not only was I learning what it takes to make a dent in the world of sports, but I was learning what it means to be a friend to every sort of person. My sheltered view of humanity was shaken in my first week on campus. Life wasn’t a movie or a television show; life was life and I hadn’t prepared myself for that. Venturing out to Arizona without a single friend put me in the position to meet new people entirely. It took me a while to do so, but the people I’ve met during my time at Arizona State and in Phoenix are people I will never forget. There were those who taught me life lessons, made me laugh harder than I could imagine, sat with me while I cried about finals (and boys), bought me coffee (God bless you), and prayed for me during the lowest times I’ve had. All of you challenged me and, in one way or another, made sure I was going to be the best version of myself at all times.
Once I had school and friends down, I thought that I was pretty much set. I thought wrong. The beginning of my junior year brought challenges in all of the areas I was sure resulted in security. School was taxing, living off campus made it more difficult to see friends on a consistent basis, and I was beginning to feel lost. Everything was going so well, what happened? God called on me one stressful night in October of 2012. He told me that I was okay, am okay, and would be okay. This overflow of love I felt ignited an incredible flame in my heart and all I wanted was Jesus. I had never felt that way before and suddenly I found myself in church every Sunday, spending quality time with God, learning his Word, and loving more than I had ever loved before. Redemption Tempe became a major part of my life in Arizona and I finally started understanding what it meant to live this life God blessed me with, fueled by the love of strangers who became family in Christ. God found me in Phoenix. I found God in Phoenix. My walk with Him began here and it brought me love and community I didn’t know existed in this city. It made everything I was doing beautiful.
I faced many trials during my time in Arizona. As a result of this, I’ve become a woman who is grounded in her faith, loves unconditionally, opens her heart to new opportunity, and knows how to rely on others when life gives me more than I can handle. Thanks to Phoenix, I’ve risen from the ashes.
Now, it’s time for a new journey – a journey that takes me across the country. Connecticut, here I come.