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.


~It Just Gets Stranger