Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Happy Trails, Palau

The time has finally come for me to say farewell to the land of coconuts.

I've wondered for weeks how to write this. And I can definitely say that what I will write is going to be so much different than what I thought I would be writing one year ago. My time in Palau turned out to be much different than I thought it would be one year ago.

I want to write this in a way that will give you closure, too. Because this experience hasn't been my own. We've shared it. You've been kind enough to me to hear about it and share the burdens and the laughs. The farewell doesn't belong only to the departing party (me). It belongs to all of us. And I guess in a way, we're all leaving Palau now.

I remember so clearly getting a ride through the dark jungle from the barn-like airport to my apartment on top of a hill one year ago. It was raining. And I had a sense right then, curving around one winding road, that I had just jumped head-first into an adventure. One that looked totally dark when I jumped--dark enough to keep me from really knowing what it was.


The next morning I took a walk down the road and saw Palau for the first time, by daylight. It was green, and loud, and humid, and suffocating, and hot, and beautiful. Pregnant dogs meandered through garbage and lethargic men lounged in front of their houses shirtless. I looked around and found myself in the middle of something very new. If ever I had left my comfort zone, this was it.

The months carried on and the challenge of isolated island living magnified everything else that could feel wrong in my life. The anxiety and the lump in my throat threatened to choke me almost daily. Things were not good. For a long time they were not good. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to really explain how not good they got. And I repeatedly felt myself stifling the personal inquiry of "what am I doing?" and "what have I done?"

It's odd to me--and the older I get the more I believe this is true--you don't really know who you are until you see yourself respond to feeling your own little world come crumbling down around you. That world-crumbling has the effect of peeling away all of the outer layers and showing us what lies at the most vulnerable point of our very core. I think this is because we suddenly find that our outer shell is not equipped to deal with unusual struggle. So if we're going to get through something, we have to dig deep to the most untapped resources of our artillery.

And I find it interesting to see what I reach out for and what reaches out for me when that world is crumbling. For me, in Palau, it was mostly what it always has been. I clasped onto my faith and my church. My friends and my hobbies. My analysis of life and ability to poke fun and laugh at that analysis. And as I did, I felt myself stabilize. The storms didn't stop. They never really do. They just didn't matter as much.

I met people. I was needed by some teenagers and adults who were battling their own personal storms. And the more I tried to fill those needs, the less I thought about my own needs. I felt myself change in the process.

I've changed.

I've turned into somewhat of a different person than I was one year ago. Probably more serious and possibly more calloused. More suspicious but less judgmental. More cautious about things that matter and more carefree about things that don't. All of it because of the adventure I jumped into head-first one year ago and because of the people who resided in that adventure along the way.

Last October, just moments before I boarded my final flight to Palau, I wrote about how I hoped then that I would meet people in Palau that I would grow to love. People for whom I would have to hold back tears one year later when it was time to say goodbye. I found those people. And bidding farewell to them is as bitter and sweet as difficult goodbyes always are. Bitter because separation from those you love is painful, but sweet because the fact that it's bitter means you got to experience love.

It's strange. All of it. And it just gets stranger. The unexpected turns of life churn up mostly expected lessons. Expected, in hindsight, anyway. And no matter how many experiences I have and no matter how many people I meet, there's always so much more to learn.

I'm excited to carry on--not apprehensive. Because I know more "Palaus" await me and you in the future. And we'll be able to fall into them head-first, eyes open, and with the knowledge that we're going to come out of them with a greater ability to love, a thicker skin to weather any storm, and a new batch of strange experiences to laugh at. And Strangers, if nothing else, that's what we live for.

Farewell, Palau. May your coconuts grow sweeter and your people, happier.

Twice up the barrel, once down the side.

Mesulang.

~It Just Gets Stranger

32 comments:

  1. Hope you have a safe flight back to the states. If you have any leftover packaging peanuts perhaps you could make yourself a nice safety suit. :-) Best wishes for your new journeys!

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  2. The way you described yourself crumbling and then finding your strength is exactly how I felt a few years ago! Thank you Eli, for your perserverance, your strong example, and for your faith! I only know you through your posts but I feel like I can honestly say that you are a good guy!

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  3. I can't believe it's over! This post is phenomenal. And I really do feel like I'm leaving Palau too. I'll miss it. Can't wait to read about the next adventure.

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  4. There are moments, it would seem, that were created in cosmic theater where we are given strange and fantastic tests. In these times we do not show who we are to God, for surely He must already know, but rather to ourselves. (David Parkins diary - 1918)

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  5. Thank you for this. Grateful for closure. Looking forward to the next adventure!

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  6. What an adventure!!! It's funny, I've gone back to read your entire posts and I'm just where you have arrived there.
    What next? I wanted to see you at the airport, but it sounds like you've already arrived. How was it stepping back into SLC?
    (I wonder that when you DO get married, if you'll still be writing your adventures from husband to father.) Many many more adventures await for you.
    Welcome home!

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  7. That was beautiful. The perfect goodbye. Also, the use of "it just gets stranger" almost made me cry.

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  8. Beautiful farewell. I'm sure the people of Palau will miss you tons. :)

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  9. Very wise and beautiful words, Eli. Wishing you safe travels as you embark on your next adventure!

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  10. Safe travels Eli, don't talk to any strangers... wait, that came out wrong.

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  11. Bike ride when you unbury Paul Cyclemon??

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  12. I can't wait to hear how the cats survived their stay in the storage unit!

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  13. I'm so sad to leave Palau. I've been able to enjoy it without the inconvenience of sweating through my clothes every two minutes, swimming with snakes, or patching Leotrix-sized holes in my screen repeatedly. I will really miss those kids. They've taught me a lot. For example, I'm like a Japanese school child, and my husband is like a Palauan. The majority of our struggles really boil down to the fact that I look at the clock ALL THE TIME and he . . . well . . . doesn't. Ever. Safe travels, Eli, and if I see you on the street in Salt Lake City, I'll pretend like I don't know you. Well, at least I won't assume you know me. Because you don't. Technically.

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  14. This was a great post, Eli. There are so many experiences in life that give us the opportunity to grow. Thank you for sharing this experience with all of us. I'm sorry that you went through the bad times, but I'm glad you managed to find happy times too and that you've come out stronger because of all of it.

    Safe travels. I hope your trip back to the states is uneventful. Or, if it has to be eventful, I hope it is blogworthy.

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  15. I hope this is not the last we hear from you. I want to know your life journey, from here to....where ever. We've come to get to know you (in some small way)and we need to know that you are ok and doing well, pls don't abandon us...safe travels and welcome home. Hugs,

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  16. I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure the link on FB was posted by Jolyn!

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  17. Safe travels around Asia and back to the US, Eli! There are random people around the world who are looking forward to hearing about what happens next in your life. And while I meant that in a good way, now it just sounds really creepy. :-)

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  18. More cautious about things that matter and more carefree about things that don't

    this.

    all the feelings xox

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  19. I'm going to miss hearing about your Palau adventures. I'm sure that your Salt Lake City adventures would be just as good. I can't wait to read more from you. Keep writing! :)

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  20. This is beautiful, Eli. Simply beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing.

    xo <3

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  21. This really hit home, I had a similar experience moving abroad a few years back.
    Have a great trip home, looking forward to hearing about your adventures in Japan.

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  22. As usual, a beautifully written post by Eli! We wouldn't expect anything less. Lately, I have been telling my two sons, who are both serving missions, that to grow we have to be tested and challenged - that's really the only way people do grow. You explained this beautifully! Thanks for sharing it all and welcome back! You have an incredible gift and can't wait to experience more of your amazing writing! Thanks Eli!

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  23. I feel like I got to the chapter in a book where you figure out exactly why the book is called what it is. Where you finally here the title of the book in the context of the story. And its kind of a fabulous story.

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  24. Thanks for sharing my friend! You beautifully summed up how how it feels to live abroad, wherever someone's Palau might be. You will be missed here and no one will be able to replace you. Safe travels and I am looking forward to hearing about your next chapter.

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  25. Perfect ending Eli! Wondering where you are going to land now??

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  26. Ng kmal ungil a post er kau. Felt pretty similar for me--learned a lot there and pretty much changed my direction in life, but it was both painful and beautiful. I wrote right before you left & hadn't checked back until now--I'll have to check your earlier posts to see what village you were in & hear some more details. So miss the beautiful beaches, the clear ocean, the uum fish and kukau...

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