“Hello friends, this is the first post of the blog I never thought I would write…”
-Me, July 2015
Before composing this, I scrolled back through all 14 of my previous blog posts reading the summaries underneath them and allowing the memories to sift through my mind like the sand that surrounds me on this island. The line of text above was what caught my attention because not only was it the “first post of the blog I never thought I would write”, but it was also the first step into a life I never dreamed I would have. Even now, I sometimes stop to take stock of life and am shocked by where I am and what I have done in the past few years.
I’m currently living on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall islands, and this is the morning of day 5. The last week has been packed with travel, emotions and general busyness, and I am going to attempt to spread it out and make sense of it all. The first of a sequence of four flights to Kwaj left on Tuesday, July 25th at 9:11 am. It was raining, and I was exhausted from staying up too late packing and getting everything in order. Many hours later, I landed in Honolulu, Hawaii, and after getting settled into my hotel, called my family to check in. I chatted with my Dad for awhile before getting ready to leave the hotel to get some dinner. Before I left, I saw that I had missed a call from my Dad which was odd considering that we had just talked. I called him back, and his first words were, “I’m about to ruin your stay in Hawaii.” Something about police. Something about an accident. Something about a life extinguished far too young. I sat desperately trying to wrap my mind around our conversation for the rest of the night. My mind chased itself in repetitive circles over how much I’m missing at home by being gone–the life events and milestones, the relationships, all of the good times and the hard times as well. I’m missing them all. The deafening question echoing through my hotel room was “Is it worth it?”.
At 4:45 am Hawaiian time, I dragged myself out of bed and to the airport to complete my journey to Kwaj feeling raw and emotional. I was reading the book Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon on the plane which was just released as a movie this year. If you have never read the book, it’s about a girl with a severe immune deficiency disease who has been inside her house for 18 years with insanely detailed measures taken to keep her alive. In the book, she wrestles with how much of life she has missed, and if it has been worth it to have lived to 18 without experiencing anything that the world has to offer. It was resonating with me on such a deep level, and I was highlighting and bookmarking passages all over the place.
Suddenly, we were landing, and when I looked out the window, I saw Kwaj for the first time after hoping and planning for almost a year, and I felt a thousand emotions in an instant. I couldn’t stop smiling like a fool, and I simultaneously felt like crying and laughing hysterically because as you know, when you’re exhausted and feeling any sort of strong emotion, the line between laughing and crying almost completely disappears.
Three days of signing my name on every piece of paper presented to me, meeting innumerable kind people all friendly and helpful, and trying to process all of the things led me to yesterday. Yesterday, I went to church in the morning and then spent time in my room feeding my soul with silence, “me” time, and missed episodes of The Bachelorette. The same question that was echoing through my hotel room that night has been doggedly pursuing me ever since insisting upon an answer. Last night, I found it.
I was eating dinner and finishing Everything, Everything when it happened. The quote that reverberates throughout the book is “Love is everything”, but I would like to add my interpretation of the main character’s experience and extend it to say “Living is everything”. Being alive isn’t the same as living. Living is being offered experiences and opportunities and accepting them joyfully instead of backing fearfully into a corner. It’s pushing yourself to discover who you are and all you’re capable of accomplishing. In my life at this moment, living means moving to new places and experiencing life through varied lenses and with different cultural perspectives. It means leaving home. It doesn’t mean that my family and friends aren’t precious to me or that I don’t think of them every day. It certainly means that I’m leaving bits of my heart in all of the places that I have lived, and I have to work hard to stay in touch with the people that I love. So, yes, it is worth it. Life is beautiful and tragic but mostly beautiful, and it is meant to be lived and experienced.
I think my cousin, Ethan, understood that. He moved away from home and pursued the things that he loved–his girlfriend, his passions, all of the things that he wanted to do and be. I hate that his life was cut short, and I hate that we will never get to see what he could have become. It seems like such a cruel and senseless thing to lose someone when they still have so much life to live, so many things to do, so many opportunities to experience. Do I understand the purpose of him being taken? Not in the slightest. Do I trust that there is one? Absolutely.
As I biked to the beach last night after dinner, I felt overwhelming peace and gratitude for what I’ve been given including all of the people who have worked to include me in this community and make me feel welcome, the beauty of the island where I get to live, and the love and support from my friends and family at home. At the moment, I may be living in a constant state of feeling like I’m forgetting something (my personal brand of jet lag?), and this may be the jumbled rant of someone thrown 17 hours into the future (jet lag again), but in case you were looking for my view on life and meaning, you just received it. Hopefully, you were able to find bits and pieces of coherency in the mix.
I also highly recommend the book Everything, Everything so I attached the link to Amazon for convenience if you’re interested.