on being back from belize and a second-semester senior

I’m back from Belize in one piece, aside from a mild case of sun poisoning (on the tops of my feet, it looks real nice)…and additionally, here’s hoping that everyone adjusts well to my newfound love for reggae music. 

I don’t think I have much to say that’s especially profound or whatever, and I kept a journal while I was away, but if I don’t blog about the trip I’ll forget everything important that happened. If I had to cram the it all into one sentiment, I’d say that Belize was a battle between me and my comfort zone in which I usually ended up surprising myself by the end of every day. I’ll just go through a snapshot of the itinerary.

We spent the first half adventuring around the jungle and the second half “roughing it” on a couple of different “uninhabited” islands. The air quotes are there because it’s not really roughing it when you bring a personal chef camping with you or when you sleep in a tent on an island that also happens to be home to a resort with showers and indoor plumbing and a bar, but I was thankful for the move and certainly didn’t hate the  whole being able to shower part. The jungle portion of the trip was all kinds of legit; we hiked through a cave that was full of water that was either knee-deep or “awesome, can’t touch the bottom”-deep, and that was just the first day. We saw Mayan ruins in Guatemala with the most thorough tour guide of all time and learned that the world isn’t really going to end in December. (Oh, good.) We went on a 6km straight vertical night hike up a mountain (that our guide couldn’t even handle) in a wildlife preserve where there may or may not have been jaguars. We toured a cacao farm, made our own chocolate, and had dinner with a Mayan woman who made us tamales out of her garden.

We switched to the islands after that, spent too many hours in a van and found out that one of the professor’s favorite songs is Single Ladies. I found out I got an interview at App State for their counseling program and started freaking out about my future. I saw sunsets that literally took my breath away and ate fresh cut pineapple for breakfast and spent so many hours in a hammock. I snorkeled, I found out I was afraid of snorkeling, and stuck to sea kayaking after that. I loved kayaking; it’s just you and your boat and the ocean and it felt like quiet meditation and prayer. We sailed around and listened to listened to too much reggae music, we caught lobster and cooked it for dinner, and almost got taken out by falling coconuts. But really. I wondered what Peter was up to in France and what Carson was up to out west and what Katy and Laura were doing in SC and if they were still vegetarians. I felt like I would never really be clean again until I got back to America.

I know I say I like alone time, and I do, but I really like island time. It was great being with people, having nothing in particular to do, having a lot of much-needed hammock time, that sort of thing. We all know that I’m introverted and contemplative and that I’m sorry I’m not sorry, so I read a lot while everybody snorkeled because after I heard that there were big school of barracudas during our first snorkel that I was unaware of, I refused to get back in the ocean, so sue me. Anyway, I read a Donald Miller book on the island that really got me thinking because it was all about how your life tells a story to other people. And so I realized that my life has sort of been like this:

“I am a person who daydreams and then writes their daydreams down. Sure, there are other characters, neighbors and friends, but I’m not living any kind of sacrifice. My entire life has been designed to make myself more comfortable, to insulate myself from the interruption of my daydreams.”

And that was sort of a rude awakening, to read that and be able to identify with it. I do structure my life to be comfortable, I do arrange things so that I can be alone as much as possible, and I’ve got all these little plans to keep things that way. And that makes me wonder what kind of story I’m telling with my life. Because right now I think it’s one about searching, but also about playing it safe and thinking in worst case scenario mode and structuring your life so that you can always be comfortable and I don’t know if I’m happy with that at all. 

I want my story to tell people to be gracious and kind and thankful, to not get so angry all the time, to not miss out on things because you’re afraid, to let people get close, to stop putting up walls, to not sit around and make lists of all the reasons why something could go wrong or be bad. Because some things could be awful or hard, but they could be great and freeing and marvelous and exactly what you’ve needed for quite some time now. That’s what Belize felt like. It was like an invitation to live a better story and throw away all my lists and burn down all my walls. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are still up, this is all a process for me, but it was still the invitation I needed. Progress, even if it’s slow, matters. I’m trying to let people in, I am. It’s a not a reflex, but I’m getting there. I have a grad school interview this week and my psychiatrist just told me that I only need to check in with him every three months now because I’m doing better. And I give hugs now. It’s the little things. My whole story has made me a different person than I would have been if I had skipped all the hard stuff. But I’m not sitting alone in my room anymore (well, I am writing this, but you get my point), I’m chasing a goal and a new story. And it’s going well. 

Here are a couple more quotes from his book that made me think about my life:

“It’s like this with every crossing. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliff, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat to shore.”

“The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is “do not fear.” It’s in there over 200 times. This means a couple of things. It means we are going to be afraid and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around. Before I realized we were supposed to fight fear, I thought of fear as a subtle suggestion in our subconscious designed to keep us safe, to keep us from being humiliated. And I guess it serves that purpose. But fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe, it’s a manipulative emotion that causes us to be tricked into living a boring life.”

“I wonder if we were designed to live through something, not attain something, and the thing we were designed to live through was designed to change us. The point of a story is the character arc, the change.”

“You can call it God or a conscience, or you can dismiss it as that intuitive knowing that we all have as human beings, but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. The Voice I am talking about is a deep water of calming that says, ‘Hold your tongue; don’t talk about that person that way. Forgive that friend. I want to show you a sunset. Look how short life is and how your troubles are not worth worrying about.”

One last thing. I went by and visited the office people at Windy Gap the other day. It was weird being back there, but the best kind of weird, where a place is like a bookmark in your story and brings back a lot of good things that you’d forgotten about. Driving in, driving out, it just felt right to be there, and I think I’ve come a long way in the last six months.

I can’t stop listening to “drop it like it’s hot” and I’m pretty worried that it’s about to start affecting my friendships.