I was sitting at a café along the beach in St. Vincent when Floyd approached me. He leaned over the balcony and asked for the WiFi password. “FrenchFries, both capital F’s,” I responded. And before I knew it, we were engaged in a long, deep conversation. Floyd was born in the UK but was Jamaican. He was a psychologist on a contract position living in St. Vincent, and working on a book about white supremacy issues and deep-rooted racial issues. I was intrigued, and ironically, sitting next me on the table was a book called ‘Caste.’ The timing was quite ironic and the insight I received, firsthand experience of Floyd growing up as a Jamaican in the UK, and then moving to St. Vincent and being ‘different’ than the people there, was truly fascinating. I hope he finishes his book and shares the knowledge he has. I know that I, personally, have so much to learn, and while I thought a week in the Caribbean would be nothing but relaxing, it was more than that this time.
I headed to the islands seeking some clarity. I was feeling directionless about my own life and struggling with the emotional struggle of seeing so much struggle in the world. I spent a little over a week bouncing around the Caribbean, moving rather quickly. Caribbean islands are difficult for me. They have these wonderfully amazing beaches, but 99% of them are lined in sand. Sand and wheelchairs do not mix, and thus, I’m stuck sitting at a restaurant or resort, overindulging in food and drink. And then, that’s not what I enjoy. I enjoy the conversations with the locals. I enjoy off the beaten path, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I like street food, and performers, and the conversation. It’s the people. That’s what I want – what I need – the stories.
I get great fulfillment out of talking with people like Floyd, or interacting with Joann, the hostess at my last guesthouse in St. Kitts. I appreciate the genuine kindness of people, like Joann’s friend who gave me a fresh mango as I was heading for the airport, reminding me to ‘eat it before I board, or else I will get into trouble with immigration control.’
I’ve thought a lot about what is causing my restless directionless-ness. It has taken me some time – and I fight it every day – but removing the noise of the world, of everyone’s opinions, is something that I am getting more and more comfortable with. Breaking the status quo is hard. It’s hard to not just live the life that everyone else wants you to live. And at the same time, it’s also the most liberating thing I’ve ever done.
Quitting my job mid-career, taking the time to ‘figure out who I am’ isn’t something most people would even consider. And it’s not been easy. It’s been almost four months to the day since I left my job, uprooted everything ‘normal’ about my life, and yet I fight the societal pull trying to get me back into a big corporate job, a big fancy house, overspending on Amazon packages every day. There have been days in this journey where I think, really think long and hard, about taking the easy path. I think about opening up that document titled Resume, updating it to perfection, and blasting it out to the big corporations. The job market is hot right now. I would likely be working that big job again, sitting at my computer eight to ten hours a day, and then having a lush dinner in my fancy apartment. But…that is the easy way. That’s not the ‘living’ that I desperately need to do right now. So, I am choosing to live. I am choosing to break the status quo. I am choosing to figure out me, whoever that might be, buried under years and years of society shaping influences. I am choosing the hard way, the scary way. I am choosing, and I suppose that might be the most important part.
Self-discovery is weird. Learning about this stranger that has been with us our entire lives, embedded deep in us, and suddenly free from the confines of society. It’s like living with a new roommate, uncertain if we like them or not, but knowing deep in our guts that they might be our best friends, our best advocates…that they might magically mold into us and make us better.
As I sit here and write this, putting these words onto paper, I am reminded of how fortunate I am that I am in a place where I can even begin this self-actualization process. So much of the world is searching for basic necessities – food, water, safety. For me, the emotional struggle that continues to creep up in my mind, is very much a part of my self-discovery and self-actualization process. I just can’t seem to forget about the rest of humanity, lined up somewhere on the totem pole of life, each of us having a role.
I left the Caribbean with one profound takeaway. I cannot continue to worry about May 6, which is the one-year mark of my sabbatical beginning and the date that Tony and I agreed I would venture into my next ‘income-producing’ role. It will come, and it will take many, many shapes before then. Maybe I’ll continue to check off the countries like a bingo board, or maybe I’ll stay in Ohio with my family, where I am now while my passport is out for renewal, or maybe I’ll trek off in a few weeks to live with wolves somewhere. It is one of the hardest things for me to do, to slow down, knowing that there is so much work our world needs, that there are so many people I could help. There are so many stories for me to hear, and my patience for hearing them seems to run shorter and shorter. I yearn for that random connection that changes me within minutes.
On my flight home from the Caribbean, as I was crawling from my seat to the door of the plane, I heard one of the employees speak with an exasperated breath as he entered the plane, assuming I needed his help, “Let me see what we are dealing with here…” I wanted to look up from the ground, deep into his eyes, and tell him that he was ‘dealing with a human being, a person with emotions and a heart and feelings.’ I wanted to tell him how hurtful his comments were, that ‘dealing with me,’ as though I was nothing more than a pure nuisance, was nothing but ignorant words coming from him mouth. Yet, I wasn’t in my home country, and the rules are different in other parts of the world, cultures are different, human rights are different, so I bit my tongue as he ordered me around.
When I landed at the airport back in Atlanta and followed the queue into the Global Entry line, I was stopped by an officer, who pointed me to the wheelchair line. I factually told her that I had Global Entry and she told me to proceed to the line I was already in, her face confused and disgruntled. There’s not a doubt in my mind that she assumed someone with a disability couldn’t possibly have a luxury like Global Entry.
These stories, and I have thousands, are exhausting. They weave so deeply into the stories I hear from around the world and I have a hard time separating them, the struggles and frustrations creating those human connections that are so important to me. And at the same time, these deeply intertwined stories are speckled with kindness.
My taxi driver in Barbados, which is my favorite Caribbean island, by the way, picked me up and helped me into his van. As we were driving away, he asked me about my disability which we spoke about at length. He could not stop telling me how admirable I was. He told me that he was having a rough day but that seeing me, so positive and happy to be in Barbados, inspired him and his day had just gotten better. The thing about it, though, is that I was just going about my way, living my life, and being grateful for the time I had in Barbados.
We don’t often enter our days with any explicit plan to positively, or negatively, impact a stranger’s life, yet a random set of words can completely alter everything they have going on. I won’t ever forget the words ‘let me see what we are dealing with here,’ but I will also never forget the taxi driver in Barbados who gave me a high five for just being ‘me.’
Like I am with my own journey of self-discovery, we all have the ability to choose, each and every day. I am not perfect, I am human, but I think a few more high fives are in my future.
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