A year ago today, I arrived at CDC a little after midnight, tired and sweaty, with no soap. Dave gave me some, and today that same bar is sitting on the sink in my bathroom. Bachelor move, I know.
It's smaller now, cracked and discolored. But it still gets my hands clean and I think it'll be around for a while longer. I don't know how long a bar of soap is supposed to last. I swear I've been using it regularly. But things like that – the longevity of a bar of soap – make you realize a year really isn't all that long.
It looks a lot longer beforehand than afterward. For most people, it goes by and life changes imperceptibly. Not much is different when it's over. Your age is +1 and there are new songs on the radio and your nieces are talking a lot more.
Life kind of plods forward. That's true for the people back home who must think I'm living some crazy, exotic life, and it's true for me here. It's not everyday that I'm swinging off ropes over waterfalls into jungle pools. That was last Tuesday. It's not everyday that I'm rescuing baby sea turtles. That was a few weekends ago.
Leaving home is a sacrifice, no matter where you land. There are trade-offs. I would trade jungle waterfalls for just one afternoon of lazy football-watching with my family.
I still consider Grand Rapids my home and I'm realizing that, though I've only been in PR a year, I've actually been gone a lot longer. In 2008, I was in Africa. In 2009, I spent a summer and fall at Grace Adventures then moved to St. Joseph to work for Whirlpool. In 2010, I left St. Joe to go back to camp and then moved here to Puerto Rico. For much of the last three years, I've been away.
Sometimes I get the feeling that while everyone back home is putting down roots and getting married and taking big, giant steps forward in life, I'm missing out on something. Most of my friends and family are back there, and most of the people I'm close to here are married or in a different stage of life. As a result, there have been some lonely days.
“Lonely,” for the record, is a terrible word. Just saying it, confessing it, affirms and exacerbates the feeling of it. But if I'm going to be honest, it's been a reality for me here that has colored my experience. I don't like being gone, being alone. But, you ask...
“How do you like Puerto Rico?”
Puerto Ricans ask me this all the time. It's usually a question rooted in pride in their island, especially for the older ones. I can tell that “You just love it, don't you?!?” is on the tip of their tongues.
Sure, I like Puerto Rico. I like 85 in February and never having to worry about icy roads. I like frappes and festivals and salsa and merengue music blaring from oversized speakers pretty much everywhere. I like waking up with the Caribbean lapping up just beyond my back door. I like exploring and the unpredictability and relaxed pace of island life. I like the creativity afforded me by a job that is directly related to impacting people's lives.
But there's still this big part of my heart that's stuck in Michigan, with its seasons and icy roads and – it's just home for me, and I've been gone for a long time. I can't help but look forward to returning someday.
My life hasn't synched up very well with everyone else's since I graduated from college. I've taken a different path, one with more miles traveled, more debt, less dollars earned. But I have to remind myself – don't take this for granted. These are good years and I'm hardly missing out. Someday, I'll miss the Caribbean and the salsa and jungle waterfalls, and I'll curse the biting wind and cold of Michigan in winter.
Tell ya what, I won't take this for granted if you, wherever and whoever you are, won't take yours for granted.
Scattered thoughts and further reflections on one year:
- I thought I would know Spanish by now. I don't. Learning a language is a long and difficult process.
- Top five frappes, in no particular order: Strawberry Oreo, Banana Oreo, Strawberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Coconut Banana, and Strawberry Kiwi (if the strawberries and kiwis are sweet.)
- I really don't mind public speaking anymore. At least not when I'm flanked by a translator.
- Dreaming and pitching new ideas is fun, but following through is far more difficult.
- I will never stop hating plyometrics, but I'm slowly growing more and more fond of P90X. Thanks, Tony.
- I cannot overstate the impact a package or letter has on me, no matter what's inside it. I've gotten a few from Michigan, one of which had a Tigers playoff towel that I will cherish and enthusiastically wave whenever the Tigers are playing or when I miss baseball, and a few letters from India. All of them were wonderful.
- Nobody is perfect. Not even missionaries.