Monday, July 23, 2012

Wish You Were Here

Today marks the 9th year since one of my dearest friends passed... I remember the day I received the call telling me he was gone. My first reaction was denial, "You're kidding, right. He's standing there- that's not funny, it's not fucking funny" that rapidly shifted into knowing it was real.  It was as though the life had been kicked out of me; I couldn't breathe. In a numb haze I somehow found myself flying back to PA from Hawaii. Everything that happened after was a whirlwind of foggy, yet painfully and explicitly clear, memory. Part of me was still in denial up until the viewing. From that moment on, I felt as though I had been left to wander the face of the earth alone.

He was the first one to see through the darkness that encompassed me at the time. He was never afraid of my life, and sat with me through some of my most desperate and helplessly lost moments. Inexplicably, he would frequently make contact in some way when I was in the midst of one of my meltdowns, even when we were 6000 miles apart he was somehow still present with me. I always thought the idea of soul mates was a crock of shit... until I met him.

My last adventure to Kenya reminded me that, in spite of how much I miss him, I am incredibly grateful for the lessons I've learned through his complete love and acceptance while he was here, and for teaching me how to live through his death. He is why I've learned that the people and relationships in my life are what matter the most. At the end of it all, I will want to know that those I loved knew just how much I loved them- that I endeavored my utmost to be the best version of myself for not just my benefit, but for theirs. He is why I am teaching myself to make decisions out of love and not fear- to live boldly, openly, passionately, and honestly.

Though, that all said, there's always an underlying bittersweet melancholy I have in every place I go because I know they are experiences he would have loved.

It has taken me years to find the so-called silver lining of such a devastating blow, but I finally resolved that the best way for me to honor those I've lost is to LIVE. My part of the story must go on. 

"There's no second I've lived that you can't call your own." 
-House of Leaves

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Out of 'The Heart of Darkness'

It already feels like a dream. Ten days on a different continent meeting new people, seeing new things, and learning new bits about life and myself... here I am sitting on my bed in my temporary home doing my best to relive each experience, to remember, to carve each moment into reminiscent stone. 

Arriving at the airport completely unsure of myself and surroundings, I quickly found my friend and we took a taxi to where he lives. Guess what? He doesn't live in a mud hut. He lives in a beautiful well-lit house shared with 3 other wonderful people. Exhausted after over 20 hours of travel, I went to sleep fairly early. Over the course of the week I walked the chaotic (sometimes unnerving) dusty crowded streets in Nairobi, camped under a majestic tree in Naivasha, biked through Hell's Gate while watching zebra, antelope, warthogs, baboons, and other wild animals sprint across the land, rode in sardine packed janky matatus (minibuses), swam and lounged on the beach in Diani, feasted on fresh fish prepared by new found friends, and gazed into an endless spectacular star-filled night sky while listening to jazz and drinking whisky with unforgettable people. 

the tree we camped under

in hell's gate

diani beach upon early morning arrival

In so many instances I found myself wishing the moment would never end. Among all of the incredible things to remember, the one that stands out the most was the absolutely sublime night sky. Like an addict, I felt obsessively compelled to partake in its depth whenever I thought of it and it was available for the viewing. I felt so indescribably full of contentment, peace, and joy I wished I could take off and be a part of the endlessness of the brilliantly lit darkness. 

There was virtually not a single other place I would have rather been. I experienced eternity in those precious moments- complete and utter presence in the one and only moment that mattered- the one I was in. 

"If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present." 

I know a lot of people wouldn't have chosen Africa as a place to visit, but I'm finding the majority of the places I want to go aren't on most people's list of desirable places to visit. I want to see as much as I can in the time I have- I don't just want a comfortable novelty; I want the down and dirty of just how different life can be. 

On the flip side of the beautiful paradise like experiences, there was the dirty, chaotic, unnerving, and heartbreaking- every reason why I was warned not to go. I had to be mindful to not drink any water save what I saw properly filtered, boiled, or came in a well sealed bottle. I squatted to pee in holes in the dirt, thankful there were at least walls around it. Walking through the streets would frequently evoke racist slurs yelled at me- much like here, many seemed to think I was Chinese- and it was not well received. I did my best to brush it off and joke that it was like being at home (which, to some degree, it was), but it's off setting to be violently misjudged based on something on which I have zero control. Nairobi at night was scary and I would never walk the swarming streets alone. My friend's bag was skillfully stolen from right beside him at dinner- thankfully it was nothing expensive or irreplaceable, though I was reminded to be grateful for my friend's reminder to hold onto my things before I left. I saw structures that our homeless here wouldn't touch, inhabited by families- small children outside playing with random pieces of plastic in the dirt. Everywhere people were aggressively trying to sell things, to cheat and trick, to make the most money they possibly could to make a living. 

Before arriving at our beach house, we stopped at the police station to report the stolen bag. While sitting in the taxi waiting for our friends, we saw a man wander out of the station crying with blood pouring from a huge gash in his head- our driver explained that 4 men had beaten him. I watched helplessly as he climbed into the police vehicle and was taken to the hospital. 

 I could completely see and understand why so many people would never make the trip to this place that could be so hard, but I never once regretted my decision. The thing I think we tend to forget is that we have our own set of chaotic, unnerving, and heartbreaking situations and circumstances here too, though we are often unaware of how frequently they occur. For whatever reason, it seems to be all many focus on, not just in Kenya, but the entire continent of Africa. Am I saying our situation is the same here as it is there? No. By nature, by location, by resource, by so many variables we are different and we are lucky. But, by that same token, what so many see as a pit of hopeless destitute disease-ridden poverty and corruption is not all there is to the story.

I really barely even got a taste of Kenya in the short time I was there. From the little I saw, I can say there is so much more there than the average U.S. citizen is typically aware of- beyond the hardship, homelessness, AIDS, carnivorous animals, and mud huts there is growing opportunity, people working for a better life and world, friendship, hospitality, innovation, talent- in what has been labeled the heart of darkness, there is light. 

Remember when judging other people, a country, an entire continent that what you know is, likely, not all there is to the story. Novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, reminds us in her speech, 'The danger of a single story', "Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to disposes and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of the people but stories can also repair that broken dignity... When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise."

Kenya opened a new world to me- it, like every other place, contains its own versions of heaven and hell. In everything you do, in every person and place you hear about, find the other stories. It will transform how you think of them. It will also transform how you think of yourself. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Adventure Awaits

The result of another one of my random impulse decisions is coming to fruition today... 

I'm heading to Kenya. Seriously? I kind of can't even believe it myself.

But tomorrow (July 12, 2012 at 830pm EST), after 20+ hours of travel, I will be landing on an entirely different continent in a place completely and utterly unlike any other place I've ever been.

And a little nervous, but I suppose that goes with the territory of (yet again) having no idea what I just got myself into.

On that note, I know several people have voiced their concern over my destination choice... Africa- "The Heart of Darkness"- all people talk about is how people die there. I am going to find out how people live (in the midst of my touristy activities). Yes, I realize it is a different culture- there are things going on there that (thankfully) don't generally happen in the U.S. It's also highly unlikely that I'll be greeted by a lion when I walk out of my home here. But here's the thing, much of what people are concerned about (being shot, kidnapped, raped) happens here too- with alarming frequency, might I add. Additionally, let's not forget that we've had a strange flux of humans attempting to eat other humans. We have our own malfunctions here too. I imagine I will have more to say about this upon my return next week. 

That said, yes, of course I will employ caution, awareness, and general common sense. I will do my best to make smart decisions, but I will not let fear make my decisions. I know I talk about death a lot, but I hope I communicate not the morbidity of it, but that it's a big motivator in why I do what I do. Not only because the length of my own life is unknown, but because I want to honor the love invested in me by those I have lost because through their love, lives, and deaths, I am learning how to live.

This adventure is for my friend who I lost 9 years ago this month.

I love you always.

Monday, July 2, 2012


A note on freedom. (Disclaimer: for all of my very political friends, this is not at all addressing political/economic freedoms, so the door is closed for debate there because I am not presenting one.)

This kind of freedom is simply what I am experiencing at this.very.moment. It is 11:36 on a Monday when I would normally be working. But, I'm not. I'm sitting in my cozy little gently sunlit bedroom preparing to dive into the rest of my day. I'm not working at the job I hated! I left. I chose to leave and pursue a different path. Part of that path happens to involve 2 months of doing (more or less) whatever I want whenever I want. All of my fears and anxieties are currently at bay; held by the elation of seeing my future so wide open and ready to be shaped by me. I am back in control of the direction of my destiny.

It feels so amazing.

Yes, I am very well aware that life could throw any number of twists into my plot, but that's ok. I'm prepared for the fact that situations will arise for which I am unprepared. I'm ok with with it. I know I'll figure it out when the time comes.

For now, I can barely begin to describe what it feels like to have taken the giant risk of leaving my stable comforts behind for the opportunity to take full control of my life- to find and do what gives my life meaning and joy. Too many times we succumb to the belief that our lives are not our own- that we have to do what everyone else tells us to. It's easy to do. I did it. I believed everything I heard because it sounded completely rational, but here's the thing- it's not. It's not rational or logical if it makes you miserable. It doesn't make sense to spend YOUR life doing what everyone but you thinks you should be doing.

Be bold. Take a risk. Own your life and do what brings out the best in you. There is a freedom residing in the responsibility of taking the reins to your life that can not be matched by anything else.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Goodbye, Hello (also: Life is a Process of Remembering)

This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. Moving, that is. It's all just logistical detail until the day(s) arrive when you're actually vacating a space you've loved for over 6 years. My generally stoic father even got a little teary-eyed as our voices echoed a little more in the rooms with each piece that was taken out.

Currently, I am sitting on the oversized (for me) khaki microsuede couch in my friends' house, my temporary new home for the next 2 months. Watching Game of Thrones, passively listening to the family puttering around the house, reading over old notes, and composing this post, I catch myself wondering if I've made a mistake. Did I make a reckless idiotic decision?

But then I remember every conversation I've had over the past several months. I remember making this decision. I remember knowing early on that it would be a challenge and that it would be hard to leave. I remember that I know I need to give myself the chance to find out what I love because life is short, and sometimes we have to take a step back in order to give ourselves room to grow.

So while I feel incredibly sad and insanely fucking scared, I remember that nothing I love is being left behind because it is all a part of me. I am only saying goodbye to my old stuff, things, and routines in order to say hello to a whole new world of opportunity.

The most amazing realization of the process so far is this: I'm really doing it. I'm not just talking about it- I'm really doing what I said I was going to do. Nearly 7 months ago I said I would quit my job and change my life... I worked my final day at my miserable job last week (thank god!), I'm completely out of my apartment, and the stage is set for anything to be able happen. I am wide open for the unexpected, and it's the most intensely liberating feeling I've ever had because I chose it.

I own my days again. I own my life. I am making peace with my tired worn goodbye and embracing a radiant new hello.