Planes

As we started the day today, my mind was flooded with memories of 9/11/01 when the world fell apart for America. Sitting at my desk at work, I remember a friend opening the door and telling us what was going on in New York. I immediately called my mom to see what was going on and, as we were talking, the second plane slammed into the South tower of the World Trade Center.  I will never forget that day and the days that followed. The fear for our country and the sadness for all of those families who lost loved ones in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. Those planes represented hate filled destruction, anti-American sentiment, pain, sorrow, grief, fear, guilt for those survivors who questioned “why them and not me?”, so many emotions. For a long time, I was afraid of flying because of the events of 9/11. Those passengers had no idea what was about to happen to them when they boarded those planes. Sometimes I would look up at the sky and see a plane flying overhead and my mind would go back to that day and I would want to cry from the deep sadness that I felt. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how much an event can touch our hearts so deeply that we can’t control the tears. I have felt like that many times in the years since that day.

Today, sixteen years later, as I was getting my daughter ready for her first day of school, I was again experiencing some of the same emotions of that day but for a couple of reasons:

Since moving to St. Kitts in 2014, air travel has become the norm for our family. It’s simply how you get anywhere when you live on an island. So, as I was looking at her, I thought about how hopping on a plane is just a normal thing for her; like getting in the car to go to school. I could not imagine how those passengers felt aboard those planes that day. Honestly, I can’t allow myself to ask all the questions that run though my mind about what it was like for them during those final moments. If I did, I would probably never fly again. It was such a sad and confusing time.

The other reason that the emotions have been running the gamut today is because of the recent passing of Hurricane Irma over the Caribbean islands and into the US. While our little island was spared the worst of the storm, many neighboring islands were destroyed leaving many without anything except the clothes on their backs. One of those islands, Sint Maarten, holds some special significance for our family because it’s where my husband also works in addition to our island. He travels there frequently and we rarely travel with him so we were extremely blessed to be able to ride out this storm together in the safety of our home in St. Kitts. Some of our friends weren’t so lucky. For one reason or another, they ended up being separated from their loved ones during some of the scariest days of this disaster. Because the airport in Sint Maarten was not operational from just prior to the storm until now, no flights have been going in or out of the country. During these days, our emotions have ranged from joy upon hearing that everyone was ok to sadness over the level of destruction, relief for our own safety to fear for our friends’ safety. There has even been some “survivors’ guilt” because it could just as easily have been our island instead of theirs and now were are back to “business as usual” while they are in a state of uncertainty. It just doesn’t make sense. These past several days, the planes have represented frustration, fear, and desperation for all of those whose loved ones have been stranded without even basic necessities while we were left feeling helpless just a few miles away. If only a plane could get there and bring them home.

We’ve been hearing reports of evacuations starting for several days with one of my friends hopeful that she would be reunited soon with her father and another praying to be reunited with her husband. I’ve heard that planes were being chartered by different groups to get people out but the process is slow and none of us wanted to get our hopes up. Then, this afternoon, as I was driving to pick my daughter up from school, I looked up to the sky and saw a plane take off. When it banked toward Sint Maarten, I started to cry. That plane, that tiny plane…represented hope. It represented people whose loved ones would be reunited with them very soon; after days of waiting and praying.

I was struck by the two extremes in my emotions today; both represented in my mind by planes; both bringing me to the point of tears; both shaping what this day will represent to me in the years to come. I think the thing that I am realizing is that, even amidst the worst imaginable destruction, after all the pain and suffering, the worry and the fear, there will always be hope.

Fly little plane…bring them home.

Pack Mentality

February 4th, 2017 will mark our three-year anniversary living on the island of St. Kitts. During this time we’ve met and said “goodbye” to many friends and co-workers. The joke between us has been that it seems like everyone travels in packs. Each group seems to come and go at approximately the same time.

Some of the “packs” move on as their time as students comes to an end and they move along to their clinical rotations while other moves are brought on by new opportunities for faculty and/or researchers. We have been lucky enough to have gotten to know quite a few of these nomads.

We, much like our animal counterparts, want to feel secure with those who are most like us so we actively (or maybe subconsciously) seek out friends that make us feel comfortable and accept us for who we are. That was the hardest thing for me during that first long year. We met a lot of people when we first arrived and there was no shortage of opportunities to meet people and make new friends. While Matt seemed to adapt well, I always felt like I wasn’t quite accepted into the group. Maybe it was because I was “just” a stay-at-home mom or because I don’t hold a Ph.D. or because I don’t speak multiple languages. Who knows the reason, I just didn’t quite fit in.

Thankfully, after about a year and a half, I started having coffee with some of the other moms that I had met in the PTA who had also recently found themselves without a job for perhaps the first time in their lives. We all seemed to be in the same boat; going through the same struggle with finding our new purpose after years of working and having careers of our own. This is no easy feat as many of them have advanced degrees of their own. It was only after joining this group of ladies that I started to relax and actually enjoy not having a job to rush off to. I was finally able to just be myself and relax without fear of being mocked for my accent or completely left out of the conversation.

Luckily for me, these ladies have families that also mesh well with Matt and Kylie so it’s like our own little island extended family. Most weekends we are doing something with at least a few of them like hiking, going to the beach, or even just going for a movie at the local cinema. It’s so nice because there isn’t this pressure to be anything other than ourselves and they understand when Kylie is having a bad day. They don’t judge her for being a child who is learning how to deal with her emotions and they recognize that sometimes, their children act the same way and they don’t blame Kylie for standing up for herself. No one talks about work; we just enjoy being with our families and each other.

Recently we had to say goodbye to one of our “pack members” as she and her family moved back to Taiwan after being here on assignment with the Embassy. This was a difficult goodbye because, not only were we losing one of our coffee moms, we were also saying goodbye to their two beautiful children from our little school and her husband who was always willing to help wherever he could.

“Many people will walk in and out of your life. but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart. – Eleanor Roosevelt

On one of their last nights in St. Kitts, our coffee group took the mom out for a night of fellowship and fun at the beautiful Salt Plage overlooking Christophe Harbour and Whitehouse Bay. While we were sitting around sipping champagne, I started thinking about all of us and how each of our personalities come together to make such a dynamic group of amazing women. In all, we represented at least eleven different countries and came from varying levels of financial, educational, and religious backgrounds. And here we were, totally accepting of all that we are and perfectly perfect just as we are. I know this happens in other places so it shouldn’t seem so surprising that our little group has become so close. But, with all the division in the world today; with all the division in my home country right now, I just wanted to be able to somehow show everyone that all they have to do is open their hearts and allow each person to be themselves and just see that there’s no reason for all this divisiveness at all. As long as a person is kind, that should be all that matters.

As an American living in another country (I choose not to say foreign because it doesn’t feel that way to me), I am so grateful that I have been able to find friends from all over the world that accept me for who I am. I have come to know about their backgrounds and their traditions and cultures and have been able to have a view of the world as a “World Citizen” that I never would have had if we hadn’t taken this journey. I just wish everyone could have this chance. I think it would go a long way in healing this world if we could all just be a little more understanding.

So, my advice to you is:  No matter where you go in life, don’t be afraid to find your pack, even if they are from different backgrounds. Your life will be so much richer when you open yourself up to another’s point of view.

 

I used to miss my flip-flops, now I miss my clogs.

You’ve probably heard the saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Well, maybe we should start realizing that the grass can be pretty darn green wherever we are if we’ll just give it a chance to grow.

When we moved to St Kitts two and a half years ago, we left our comfort zone in a big way. Life was good in our small town. We had a house in a quiet little neighborhood. Kylie had recently made friends with two little girls that lived down the street and life was moving along at a nice easy pace. We made weekly trips to the grocery store where we could find anything we were looking for and more. We had our favorite restaurants where people knew our names when we walked in. We were within a comfortable driving distance of Matt’s family, shopping malls and entertainment venues. We were close enough to my job and Kylie’s school that we could walk and enjoy watching the world come to life. We even had my parents close enough that Matt and I regularly enjoyed “date nights” together. And we had great friends that were there for us in good times and bad and were like a second family. We loved our life.

As good as things were, we both felt a need for something new, something completely different. We were both feeling mired down by the day-to-day routine of work and household responsibilities. Some days it was hard to take a breath and realize how good our life was. Then this email appears out of the blue…

Fast-forward two and a half years. We’re living the dream. Beautiful turquoise waters surround us. There’s salt in the air. We’re within walking distance of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Life is good. We are renting a nice house that’s large enough to host our family and friends. Our niece has moved with us to attend vet school and realize her lifelong dream. Kylie attends a wonderful little private school where she has lots of friends and life is again moving along at a nice easy pace. Matt’s commute to and from work has reduced from a high of three hours per day to a high of a half-hour per day. My job has gone from managing multiple design and print projects to managing our household and working a couple part-time jobs. Grocery shopping has become a multi-day chore and we still can’t always get what we want or need. There are no malls and a very limited amount of entertainment venues. We are multiple flights away from both of our families and “date nights” have dwindled to a few a year. We have our favorite restaurants where everyone knows our names when we walk in. We have made some wonderful friends from all over the world who have opened our eyes to many things. They are there for us in good times and bad and some have become our second family. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and grown so much from our experiences here. We love our life.

I know that everyone has also heard the saying that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes though, it’s worth repeating; even if only to ourselves. If you noticed, there were both good and bad things about both places I described. We can love our lives wherever we are if we just give it a chance. As long as we have the most important thing, which is love (that of our family, our friends, our community), we can be happy anywhere. I’ve definitely learned this lesson on our journey; no matter where we end up in the world, as long as I have the support of those I love and trust the most, I can make any place feel like home.

Learning to Live with Less

Growing up in the US during the seventies and eighties, I was like many children during that time. My parents worked hard to give me and my brother a happy childhood by spending as much time with us as they possibly could while both working outside the home and by making sure that, not only were all of our needs met, but that we also had many of our “wants” as well. As each generation before them, they wanted to give us more than what they were able to have while they were growing up. I don’t find any fault in that at all. I never went without anything that I needed and, by being a mostly good kid, I earned a lot of the things I wanted. I’m sure that there are some that feel that I was spoiled more than necessary. However, I always tried to make sure my parents knew how much I appreciated the things they gave me by taking care not to break them and by always thinking before I made a choice to do something so that they could always be proud of the person I was growing up to be. My brother and I understood that they were going without the things they wanted (and sometimes needed) to give things to us.

Having lived in St. Kitts for a year and a half now, I’m starting to wonder when each generation giving “more” material things to their children will be enough. When does it just become a habit? I mean, I don’t really need to give Kylie more than what I had growing up because my childhood was as close to perfect as anyone could ask for. So, is my obsession with buying her everything I think she’ll like really about making her life better? Or is it robbing her of the chance to learn how to earn what she wants for herself? Will having lots of things really make her a happy adult? Or would it be better for her, in the long run, to enjoy the things she has and find happiness in experiencing life? I think island life is going to be good for all of us because:

  1. I can’t shop all the time nor is it enjoyable when I have to.
  2. The latest and greatest name brand items are just not available here so I don’t feel the need to keep up with everyone else.
  3. The cost of importing non-essential items just isn’t worth it so you learn to live without them.

One of the things that I really like about the people here is that everyone is happy to have the things they have and they don’t seem to judge others for what they have or don’t have. Not that they don’t strive to better themselves and provide more to their children but they’re just happy living life. It’s not unusual to see a teenage boy riding down the road on a pink bicycle or carrying a pink backpack to school. The bike gets them to where they need to go and the backpack carries what they need. Who cares if they’re pink? It’s just not that important. This is the way I imagine generations before me grew up; before all the commercialization and constant push to have more things in order to validate your life. Continue reading → Learning to Live with Less

Community

What does the word “Community” mean to you? While there are many definitions, depending on the context, the one that rings most true to my opinion on the term is similar to this one found in the Oxford dictionary:

“A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

Back in my college years, I served as an Orientation Leader at the beginning of each fall semester. One thing I always recommended to my group of new students was to find at least one group or activity to get involved in. Whether that be sports, drama, music, student activities or whatever, just get involved; make some new friends. The reason I always recommended this was because I firmly believe it’s what helps bridge the gap between being a high schooler living under house rules to being a semi-independent college student who is also learning how to make their own rules. I believe it helps to relieve stress to have other things to occupy their minds when they need a break from studying as well as relieve the loneliness that comes when stepping out of the “nest” for the first time; because, as much as they always say they can’t wait to get out on their own, it’s still a reality check when they suddenly realize they are solely responsible for themselves. Life is hard and I think college is the time where we start to realize that.

“Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Continue reading → Community