I remember sitting on the plane to New Zealand with the distinct feeling that this was the beginning of the rest of it, the beginning of everything that came after the linear formula of youth. I was sitting alone in the middle seat, pointed toward a side of the world I’d never been before, pointed away from everything I had known up until that moment. The tingle of giddy excitement and anxious terror that heralds adventure shot up through my fingers as I gripped the armrest, watching Boston disappear below me. It was all out there, waiting. Yet to be.
I remembered this moment viscerally flying back to the United States from Chile last week, how it had felt to be on the verge. On the verge of everything that had just happened. It felt like the end in some strange way, though of course it was not. It was the end of the first year, maybe, but as always things would keep moving and something else would be next. I had that strange feeling I often get that time that had passed and the things that had happened between the two flights could not possibly map onto each other. I remembered that flight to Auckland like I had just gotten off it, and yet thinking of everything that had occurred between then and now made it seem like a distant memory.
I remember one afternoon in New Zealand when we were stranded at an organic farm in the Marlborough Sounds for a few days and after a false-start launch delayed by surly-looking storm clouds, we all took a hike around the cove. The trail was damp from days of rain and surrounded by dark, heavy pines and Justine was talking about Japhy, the main character from The Dharma Bums, a book she tried to read at least once a year. We walked back to the large sheep barn we were taking shelter in and Justine realized she’d lost her camera. She had insisted on going back for it alone, even though it was a long walk and it had started to rain, and not till months later when I met Japhy on the pages of The Dharma Bums did I understand why Justine came back a while later from her solitary walk, soaking wet and smiling so big it filled the entire barn.
I remember sitting in a hostel in Argentina with Marielle, using my Speedy Stitch to do surgery on the fraying back of my ever-present travel companion Bag of Wonders. She shook her head at me and told me to just buy a new purse while I tried to recall the steps that Colt had taught me after having to repair his backpack hip strap and various parts of our tent in the Arrowsmiths. I remembered his tall frame hunched over in our tent, parked on the banks of a river, making sure each stitch was even, slipping into his goofy seamstress alter-ego to amuse Connor and me while we tried to put away our third bowls of cold rice. I remember looking down at my own stitches on Bag of Wonders and knowing I was light years away from matching Colt’s handiwork, but that at the very least I was able to prevent my valuables from falling to the sidewalk through a fist-sized hole in the bag’s lining.
I remember feeling nervous but capable when my head teacher asked me to teach 90 minute classes alone to a group of ten students from each grade instead of assistant teaching in class with her like I’d been told I was going to. I thought of leading the girls’ nordic team on a warm up run of the course and going over technique tips and race strategy. I remember having the same feeling of purpose, of exhaustion but satisfaction in the classroom and on the trails. I remember thinking that no matter where they grow up and no matter what they’re doing middle school kids are essentially the same, all a little unsure of themselves and funnier than they realize.
I remember sitting on my bed in my house my senior year of college, spiraling into a panic while everyone I knew put on suits and went to career fairs and practiced case studies, feeling like I was suddenly being thrust into something I hadn’t prepared for and didn’t want. Why hadn’t I gotten internships during college summers? Why didn’t I own business heels? Was this all there was after graduation?
I remember sitting in an international phone booth in Chile interviewing for a job that did not require a suit or heels, calling effortlessly on my past experiences to answer questions and realizing that everything I had done in the past had counted, had led me to this exact spot, had in fact better prepared me for this job than any internship could have.
I remember standing outside in the driving rain at four in the morning at our snow camp with Colt and Jared, trying to fix our tent so it wouldn’t be claimed by the angry winds. I remember standing in my driveway as a light snow fell in December and feeling like I didn’t want to or know how to go inside. I remember yelling and crying as my parents and I tried to figure out how this whole living-at-home-after-college thing was going to work. I remember getting dropped off at a random street corner in ninety-degree Calama with Marielle after a creepy, sleepless overnight bus ride and having no idea where the bus terminal was. I remember spending four hours waiting in the cramped, noisy extranjería in Santiago waiting to pay a fine for my visa. I remember checking my email one day at school in Copiapó and discovering that my great aunt Angela had died and I hadn’t gotten a job I’d interviewed for in the same minute and a half. I remember having a panic my last week in Chile that I was making a huge mistake by leaving. I remember looking at my flight confirmation in the airport in Santiago as I was leaving and realizing that I’d missed my plane and would need to dig into all of my savings to get myself home. I remember feeling miserable, confused, frustrated, scared, disappointed, and lost. I remember feeling that maybe I had made a mistake in choosing this uncertain, nonlinear path, and wouldn’t it be easier if I were just living in an apartment with a full-time job somewhere.
I remember creeping out of my tent in the early morning clutching my sleeping bag to watch the sun rise over Lake Ohau with Justine and Colt and Babalu, I remember the overflowing pride as my middle school skiers crossed the finish line at their state meet, I remember feeling like I’d been punched in the gut when Marielle and I rounded a corner in Glacier National Park in Patagonia and were suddenly staring up at Monte Fitz Roy, I remember laughing until my jaw hurt playing the Chair Game with my students in class, I remember hiking to the top of one of the many mountains surrounding Copiapó with Natalie and Diego, gazing out over the sprawling Atacama desert. I remember feeling exhilarated, awestruck, joyful, accomplished, fulfilled, and lucky. I remember feeling that I was in the right place, doing the right thing.
I remember while in Chile in 2011 reading a book called Even Silence Has An End, by kidnapped 1990s Colombian political candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Held captive in the Colombian jungle by guerilla forces for six years, she used her prior knowledge of needlepoint to keep from losing her grip on reality. She wrote, “Now I realized that life supplies us with everything we need for the journey. Everything I had acquired either actively or passively, everything I had learned either voluntarily or by osmosis, was coming back to me as the real riches of my life…”
I remember realizing that everything counts, that everything we do somehow contributes to who we are as people, to what we do and where we go and who we are next. That what we do inherently informs what we do next, that we cannot stop everything around us from shaping not only our present experience but also our future experiences. If we do things for the right reasons, for reasons that feel true and organic and necessary, those things will naturally lead us to the next right thing. Everything builds off everything else. Nothing we do mindfully is useless or pointless.
I remember sitting on the chair on the back patio of my house in Copiapó reading The Dharma Bums before the sandy mountains that looked blue in the morning light, and Ray saying “I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.” I remember smiling and knowing that it had been true all year and it was still true now, looking forward.