Don’t Ever Forget Me, OK?
In my mid 20’s a deep seeded feeling started to grow in me like something was missing. I had graduated high school with honors like I was supposed to, I had gone to a good, practical business school undergrad AND MBA (for extra credit of course) like I was supposed to, I had stayed with the same high school sweetheart for 10 years, and I had gotten a steady, safe job in the corporate world. All just in order, like ducks in a row, checking box after box, following rule after rule to get to the end of some tunnel that I was supposed to be going through.
When that same high school sweetheart and I broke up after a decade when I had “followed all the right rules” to follow the traditional stay together and get married path, I started panicking. When I got a job at the best company to work for in Indianapolis (the “ultimate goal”) where I was living at the time, but still looked around in meetings and thought, “What is my purpose here?” I had the house with a white picket fence (literally), the paid off car, the great job, the degrees, a healthy diet and exercise regime, and everything one was supposed to have to be a happy, contributing member of society. Yet I wasn’t. I wasn’t happy or really contributing in a real way.
In fact, I was filled with constant anxiety and a dis-ease that made me run around faster than ever and busy myself so I could ignore the rising discontent within me.
I would tell myself to just be grateful for what I had. Of course being grateful is important, but it’s also important to listen to that little fire in your belly that tells you, “Something isn’t right.”
What if doing what I was supposed to do the past 25 years had gotten me where society expected, but I actually didn't really love it? What if I worked all of those years to get to a place that I didn’t actually want to be? Had I wasted an entire quarter-century of my life? That’s when panic set in, and in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep yet again, I booked a flight.
I booked my flight for my first volunteer trip to Haiti. I needed to change something. I wanted and needed to feel needed and wanted. I wanted to feel ALIVE. I wanted to feel like what I was doing mattered. I wanted to that little fire in my belly to light up again.
And light up it did. Haiti was the first time in many years that I felt truly present. I felt awakened by this country. I was moved by this place that was just an absolute and utter MESS. Yet, full of smiling, happy, grateful people. How did they do it? I was fascinated.
How was I comfortable, taken care of, and stable in my life back at home, going through the motions and checking boxes like we do, but yet was unfulfilled? And here, here in Haiti I was free falling, out of my comfort zone, in the middle of nowhere, didn’t know a soul and yet, felt completely content.
I spent a week eating pikliz (you've gotta try this) and lobster, watching the kids at the orphanage eat only eat beans and rice (they only get meat on Sundays). I spent a week painting a mural on a crumbling wall on their basketball court that was really their only place to play. We left a bag of old toys and clothes that made the orphans giggle with delight. We drove along the streets in Port Au Prince and Jacmel, through protests and trash piled so high there was seemingly never a way to get through it all. We watched in the shantytowns as people threw bags of feces on their roofs so it wouldn’t smell up their home.
Yet, somehow, I started the trip feeling sorry for the way they live and ending it feeling sorry for they way we live…all the petty bullshit we get caught up in.
After all this, we went to a church service at the orphanage on the last day. Now, I’m not much of a traditional Christian church-goer mind you, I prefer to dabble in spirituality, mindfulness, and consciousness of all kinds. However, there was something about that service that day that snapped me awake.
I sat and watched quietly as about 35 orphans (most who had lost both parents in the earthquake or had been abandoned because of extreme poverty) sang their little hearts out. They tilted their little chins up to the sky, closed their eyes, and sang. The most beautiful, soft voices flowed out of them. It was all in French, and I didn’t understand a damn word. But it didn’t matter. I felt their pain. I felt their love. I felt their joy. All at once.
They were so purely human in that moment.
They were outpouring love for one another with their voices, singing gratitude for their gift of life as so many had lost it around them. They played instruments they had learned to play in the orphanage. These were instruments that you could tell were donated, half broken, rusted or missing strings. And yet, out in the middle of nowhere in Jacmel, Haiti the surrounding mountains echoed with the beautiful sounds of their souls. You could feel the world shift as their voices started a beautiful vibration that shook the entire island to its core (maybe that’s what caused the earthquake in the first place).
I, being the emotional American that I am, lost it. The tears started to stream and there was no holding back, so I let them come one after another. After all I had been holding back my authentic emotions for all but a decade now trying to live in another’s life that didn’t quite fit. And this… this fit.
So, I sobbed openly watching these children and their incredible saint of a woman that cared for all of them make the most beautiful music out of nothing at all.
Afterwards, we spent a couple more hours with these kids listening to them fight and love each other like a real family before boarding our respective planes and heading home. Before we left, each and every one of the kids came out to give us hugs and thank us, even though we had learned much more from them than they ever learned from us.
There was one beautiful little girl in particular that caught my eye. This adorable little girl shyly walked up to me, gently grabbed my face with her tiny hands, and looked straight into my eyes said, “Don’t ever forget me.” I pulled her in and hugged her tight and promised, “I would never forget you, little one.” And I didn’t.
That is why I started the Wandering Coast. These are the faces and lives that are behind us and within us. We promised we would never forget them, and a promise to a child is something you never break. My hope for the Wandering Coast is that we’re able to re-create these moments again and again and create change to influence real peoples lives for the better.
To be honest, I have no idea how to do this, I don’t know exactly what it takes to run a business. I don’t have all the right answers or know the steps to take when. But even more so, I REALLY don’t know how to go back to a life that doesn’t fit. So, onward we march. I love you all and thank you for going on this journey with me. Cheers to new adventures! <3
Leave a comment below and tell me about a moment you remember that changed you for good. I would love to hear about it!