I’m younger than that now.”~ Bob Dylan
My daughter’s 35th birthday last weekend prompted my mind to scroll through pages of memories. Not only of her childhood, but of a watershed year, one that followed my own 35th birthday. For a start, I managed to get away from my responsibilities (wife, mother of 4, fulltime nurse manager) not once, but 3 times, with 3 very different vacations.
Sometimes we need to get away, to take a break and completely change locations in order to gain perspective on our lives. It was only much later that I realized how much my thinking, attitude and sense of self changed that year. I gained the freedom to travel abroad thanks to Ronald Reagan. Despite having several paths to gaining legal residency in the US, I had been ‘out of status’, which sounds much better than the demeaning and dehumanizing term ‘illegal’. In Jamaica when we want to cut a long story short we say ‘horse dead, cow fat’. In my case it was ‘incompetent lawyer, fire in the US embassy’ and it took amnesty for me to gain my status. Thirteen years after arriving here, I was finally able to leave and know I could return.
So off I went. My first trip was to the US Virgin Islands (yes, I know I didn’t need a green card for that, but I was coward!). My niece was getting married, and I was gifted with a very brief glimpse of the idyllic island of St. John, an island that had me in awe of the abundance, at times the obscenity, of beauty. As I would gaze and try to take in the turquoise sea, the green hills, I felt my soul coming to life again.
But it was my second trip that set my soul singing and my spirit soaring. For the first time in years I saw myself as an individual, a person. Not a mother, wife, nurse manager, a role that I had to play. It was like coming out from under a pile of blankets and being blinded by the sunlight. Jamaica was the land of my rebirth. I saw the island with new eyes, as if I hadn’t spent my childhood there. To wake up in the cool Blue Mountains, with the mist draped in the nooks and crannies of the hillside; to hear the roosters waking us up with their early morning alarm; to see the dew dripping off the ends of the rose petals; to watch the hummingbirds flitting and hovering, beaks dipped into the slender necks of the sweet flowers; to smell and drink Blue Mountain coffee….I thought I had died and gone to heaven. My soul sang, my feet danced and the wings of my spirit unfurled.
But I also saw the stark contrast between island life and life in rough, tough, ‘Merica. My friend’s house was full of original works of art; on the verandah the plants were growing out of ceramics created by famous sculptors. There was a different vibe, a different sensibility. I had stepped off the conveyor belt of my regular life, and literally was able to smell the coffee, the roses, the clean fresh air of the country, and I felt my cells coming back to life.
But the trip did more than replenish my starving soul. It shook me out of an unhealthy pattern of living. For too long I had kept my head down and focused on getting through one day at a time. Seeds of discontent were sown in me during that trip, and although it took another 10 years for them to grow, I recognized that I was confined in a prison of my own making. I had set limitations on myself, and allowed myself to be defined by the expectations of others. But in my peripheral vision I would catch glimpses of the blaze of color and cacophony of sound that is Jamaica, and feel my soul swell.
Sometimes it is only in hindsight that we can identify moments, events, people, or even conversations that made a huge difference in our lives. And it is often in the telling of our stories that we diagnose our unhealthy patterns, and gain the strength to change the path of our lives. And sometimes it is in the retelling of our stories that we make sense of it all, we see that our journey took us exactly where we needed to be. And in the sharing of our struggles we give hope to another who may be facing the challenges right now.
My wish for my daughter is that she continues to learn and grow and recognize that the best is yet to come! Like the song quoted at the top of this page, I feel so much younger now than I did then! Or as Bernie Siegel said “An awareness of one’s mortality can lead you to wake up and live an authentic, meaningful life.”
On this Friday morning, I hope you are waking up and finding meaning in your life. I hope you are able to feel alive in the life you are living. And if your soul is starving, or your spirit needs to soar, I strongly recommend a trip to some place beautiful to reconnect with nature. Or find a way to rediscover the person that has been covered by layers of roles and responsibilities, that longs to break free.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!