Thursday, January 18, 2007

Living Life to the Fullest

Quite a few people have asked why I chose to teach in Hawaii, of all the places Teach For America sends its corps members. For some people, it's an easy answer, but others would've never dreamed of moving so far from the things they knew. Today during my Master's class, I was browsing old files on my computer and came across this column that I wrote while studying in France. I found it to still be pertinent, and was relieved to realize that my perspective on life hadn't changed in the couple of years since.

"I awoke with fright, thinking the train was on fire, but much to my relief, I had only been sleeping in a smoking part of the train (oh how the French love their cigarettes). Thankfully, my dreams had been more pleasant than my waking hours of second-hand smoke inhalation.

These dreams were filled with voyages across the U.S. and the world. I am certain that much of the inspiration for these adventurous dreams came from my current read, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” But I also know that a part of the inspiration comes from the restless spirit I sometimes bury deep inside of me that constantly scratches the surface. It can only be described as the American, or possibly human, instinct to explore and conquer. Of course, I itch to do more of the former than the latter, because there is so much in our world to see and experience. The only things that seem to get in the way are time and money, and perhaps sleep.

I think that too often we accept our place in life without challenging it and without question. But life is too short to bury our desires, our longing for adventure. To do that is dangerous, as it is too easy to lose one’s sense of self. I even do too much of this myself – ignore my need for adventure and individuality in order to live life as it is “supposed” to be lived. Perhaps a part of this can be contributed to being complacent as well – it is much easier to rest where it is comfortable, without testing our limits, or stepping out of our box.

But Mark Twain was right on the mark when he said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Ahh! How true is that?? Don’t be scared of the unknown, of change, of adventure. The thing we must promise ourselves is to always work our hardest to keep those dreams alive and live life as our hearts long to live it. We must never bury our natural desire for adventure, but instead always feed it, allow it to blossom. I can’t count the number of people who have told me they wish they’d have taken the opportunity to study abroad when they were younger, but what I ask them is, “Is it really too late?” Sure, maybe studying in another country for a year is a bit impractical for some of you, but packing the car this weekend and taking a roadtrip for a couple of days with your family isn’t impractical. Sleep in the car, sleep in a tent, just get away and uncover the yearning for adventure that you’ve kept hidden for so long.

Our country is so diverse, there are literally thousands of things to see and do, and money doesn’t have to be a hindrance (just ask my good friend Christina Tietje about our very frugal roadtrip). Throw off the bowlines, explore, dream, discover. And do it now, there is absolutely no better time.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Christmas Whirlwind

The overcast skies and miles of brown grassy plains on the road from Houston to Hathaway invoked in my mind a familiar setting of Christmases past. The bleakness was a pointed contrast to the warm, deep hues of blues and greens that I’d left behind in Hawaii, yet it was uniquely comforting. Five years ago I couldn’t get away fast enough, but there’s a warm magnetism that draws me back a few times a year, further cementing Louisiana as “home” in my heart.

Dad picked me up from the airport on December 23 and in four-and-a-half hours delivered me from Houston to Mom’s house where my two sisters, Mom, and 30 lbs of boiled crawfish awaited. Mom told me a day or so before I left Hawaii that she’d have crawfish for me, and unfortunately none of my friends there understood the significance. Dinner was capped off with some of Dad’s home brew (last year’s Christmas gift was put to good use) of a mild Oktoberfest.

The four days I was home flew by as quickly as you’d imagine when splitting time between Mom’s and Dad’s as well as visiting with all the family in town for Christmas. On Christmas morning my sisters and I were afloat in gifts from Santa. We unwrapped them leisurely for at least two hours in what must undeniably be Mom’s favorite day of the year. She was somewhat limited by my luggage allowance on the way back to Hawaii, so she did some investigative research and provided Courtney and I with gift cards to all of our favorite places back on Oahu. In the grand finale of present-opening, I was bowled over by a zoom lens that I’d been eying for a couple of months.

Two days post-Christmas, Delta whisked me away to meet up with Courtney and her family in Jackson Hole, WY. My intermediate skiing abilities were further honed under the lustrous protection of the Grand Tetons. The weather was generous during our four days there, and I was soon whisked away once again by Delta with extraordinary soreness, but no broken bones.

Now it’s a brief New Year’s Eve stop in Atlanta, then on to five days in NYC. I hope the next 23 years are as exciting as the last.