Surrounded by turquoise oceans teeming with life, I often pondered one of my favorite quotes from J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.” I had sometimes been lost before I had wandered. Ever since I had started exploring the world and myself in the process, I was definitely far from lost.
Adolescence was difficult to say the least. I tried to fit in. But I wasn’t girl enough to be able to connect with other girls and I wasn’t boy enough to be accepted by other boys. So I decided early on to try and find virtue in being a loner. I immersed myself in books, wrote poems and short stories, pondered about Schopenhauer and Kant, and ordered books from Native American reservations, at one time even learning a Lakota dialect. My favorite pastime on weekends was helping frogs across the street or rescuing falcons from Arab sheiks. I was lonely as hell, friendly, smiling.
Kill them with kindness, I thought. Be yourself. Eventually, you will find your way and they will accept you. In these early days, it never occurred to me that I was already well on my way, just many years away from understanding an important truth: being me is enough.
As an adolescent, I was convinced that everything is important. Every move I made, every decision I pondered, every breath I took had to count for something and be a positive or at least a very profound statement. Naturally, I also expected the same from everyone else. Looking back, I can’t help but chuckle and feel slightly sorry for all of those whose path I have crossed. I am sure, I wasn’t horrible to be with, but my expectations were so high, they could never be reached.
Maybe my quest was so intense because, in the first twenty years of my life, nothing seemed to work out. My body wasn’t what it was supposed to be. Life had a way of throwing challenges at me faster than I could blink. Giving up wasn’t an option so I analyzed and anticipated each twist and turn in my life like a general, ready to dispatch his troops but needing to find out where to send them, for best results. I was on constant alert, trying to spot problems and conflicts before they arose, so I could take preventive measures and come out victorious.
I still take things way too seriously. I still care. Most likely, I still care way too much about everything, but I have also learned to sit back and relax. I have learned to laugh about myself. I am smiling right now, chuckling about how important it seems to compose these three little paragraphs. And yet, I am happy to write them and would want to do nothing else at this moment. I am smiling about my use of the word “victorious”. I can do my very best, and I will continue to do so, but who knows what will happen. And what’s a victory anyway? It’s a big planet, a gigantic universe, an unpredictable, beautiful life. I trust more now. I trust those around me. Most of all, I trust myself to be able to deal with whatever may come. Sometimes not accomplishing something is exactly what we need, even if it breaks our heart. Sometimes, losing something proves to be the best thing that could ever have happened to us. I don’t worry about failure anymore. If I have my heart in the right place, then nothing will be a failure. It will all be part of my odyssey, every experience to be treasured.
This little dust speck is waving to the universe, happy to be a part of it for a little while.
Home is all about the people you meet on your journey. It’s the quintessential meaning of life.
Additionally to relationships and friendships lasting a lifetime, I am humbled and awed by many encounters along my way.
I remember a friend from Bangladesh who still works on the same island in the Maldives he has worked on for the last twenty-five years. Like many, he is far away from his home and family, allowed only one vacation per year. After all this time, he is still living in staff quarters with more than twenty men to one room. He has one of the kindest souls I have ever known.
I remember meeting new workers from Bangladesh on their way to the Maldives, terrified on the flight, breaking the bathroom doors on the airplane because they couldn’t read pictures or symbols to figure out how to open these doors they had never seen before. Lining up at immigration, they held on to each other for dear life.
Or I remember an eighty-year old man in Macau, working in a parking garage, who stopped me every time to ask if I could teach him a bit of English. One time he pointed to a dirty shopping bag and looked at me with curious, smiling eyes, wanting me to teach him the slogan printed on the bag: “I am a plastic bag, treat me responsibly!”
I remember so many encounters in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa, the humblest people often teaching me the greatest lessons, reminding me how precious life is and how little we truly need, to live a good life and make a difference.