Gratitude. And relativity.

It’s true, I have been enjoying my time away from real life. I’ve been wandering around Portland seeing the sights, doing what I want, when I want. I’ve been loving the time with my sister and her husband, getting caught up on the family time that I don’t get at home.

But my trip hasn’t been completely satisfying; my book sales are not as good as I had hoped, which means I don’t have the money to shop or travel more, or eat at all the restaurants I’d like to try, not to mention the various thoughts that pop into my head that tell me I should give up trying to sell my book and go back to my desk job. I still haven’t met the man of my dreams. And I miss home, my friends, and all the activities that I enjoy. I haven’t even once had the desire to dive into the water here, and since so much of my time was spent in the ocean, my motivation for exercise has been slowly waning. But overall, the change of scenery has been good and I shouldn’t complain.

Tonight, though, news from home has brought into focus some ideas that have been floating around in my mind for a few weeks.

I took a train to Seattle to visit some friends whom I haven’t seen in many years. The visit was as big a contrast to happy-go-lucky Portland as I could imagine, and it made me question whether I’ve actually been paying attention to life, or just taking everything I see on facebook as truth.

I was fortunate to stay with friends, even though I had been pretty poor at keeping in touch in the eight years that have gone by since I last saw them. The married couple now has two children, one of whom is eight years old (my friend was pregnant when I moved away). What I learned of them in those eight years is that the children are smiling and happy, one is autistic, and everything is great. That’s what the pictures told me, anyway. In reality, I haven’t met many people who have had to face as many obstacles as this family, and their life has been anything but smiling and happy. I learned about the challenges of having an autistic child, and the incredible amounts of time and energy needed to provide her a life as close to normal as possible. Add to that the ongoing fights with a school system that didn’t believe autism existed; instead of helping how they could, as a school should do, they chose to add the child to the locked room of forgotten, mentally disabled students – which actually had feces smeared on the walls the day before my friend visited her child’s new classroom. Unable to tolerate her child’s potential, whatever it might be, wasting away in a room packed with every type of disability or obedience problem, she chose to sue the school system – not for money, but to give her child access to an education appropriate for her abilities. She spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours, and finally was able to force the school to recognize autism and provide a capable teacher. She now works for Washington Autism Alliance and Advocacy, helping to raise awareness, and fight for other parents and students who are denied help from their schools. Add all that to raising another small child with a strong will of her own, both parents working, and they have their hands full on a good day. But they aren’t defeated; they are a strong family and are doing their best. They welcomed me into their home without hesitation and I enjoyed my days with them more than I would have if I had stayed with a single friend and partied the entire time.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have a cousin with autism whom I haven’t thought about since I saw him last, a couple years ago.

I met another friend for lunch, again I’m guilty for not keeping in touch. His health has declined to the point that we both got teary as we were parting, not knowing if we’d ever see each other again. He will not be able to work soon, and his social security won’t be enough to pay for his meager apartment. And his car was broken into twice in the past month, but nothing was taken because he has nothing to take.

I spent hours walking the streets in downtown Seattle. Poverty and drug addiction were apparent everywhere. It’s hard to understand exactly why it looked different than Portland, where there is a small crowd of homeless people in every space that provides shelter, but it seemed like a harder life. Maybe because in Portland most of the visible homeless have dreads and they’re just trying it out for the summer, ready to go back to college in the fall. Maybe because in Portland they are young and white, as opposed to the greater racial and age difference in Seattle. Maybe Portland has better homeless shelters and programs, or maybe this is just something I know nothing at all about. But life in downtown Seattle looked hard.

Where was I while all this has been going on?

These thoughts were kicking around in my head when I heard about the death of Robin Williams, and that really made me realize that everyone is struggling in some way, regardless of what you see. No one is immune to problems. I already knew this in the back of my mind, having dealt with many of my own problems in the past, and having spent months traveling in third world countries; but seeing friends fighting for their lives, really seeing them for the first time, seeing hopeless, angry people in the streets, has opened my eyes and mind a lot wider.

What this means, I don’t know. Should I stop worrying about my life, my book, money, my love life, wanting to surf better? I don’t think that’s the answer. I haven’t come up with an answer yet; but I do have a stronger sense of gratitude for what I have, for my friends and family, the relative ease that my life is, when held in comparison. I don’t think my life is easy, no one’s is, but each experience I have lately shows me more to be grateful for. And hopefully I’ll see things clearly enough in the future to put my good fortune to better use.

 

My writing tonight was something that I had been thinking about, but hadn’t quite gotten around to – until my news from home. My friend is in trouble, and there is nothing I can do. I haven’t spoken to him since I left home a month ago, nor was he someone I saw on a regular basis before I left. But he was the person who helped me out of a jam when I was in trouble – waking up in the middle of the night to rescue me. I called him after the ‘friend’ I had been out with assaulted me, stole my truck keys, and left me on the side of the road, miles from my house. Without hesitation, he picked me up, drove me to get spare keys, made sure I got home safely, and checked to make sure I was ok. No questions asked, no favors wanted in return. He is a great guy. His life has gotten out of his control, I’m only learning this now.

I’m sending all my positive thoughts to you and your family, J. Please make it home.

 

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Wandering by Melissa Burovac

 

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Crocodiles, erupting volcanoes, and sneaking into Cuba—these are among the hilarious adventures Wandering relates when one woman responds to her midlife crisis by traveling around the world solo for nine months.

Travel humor!

 

Worst dive buddy ever – scuba diving on The Great Barrier Reef

An excerpt from Wandering, from the Great Barrier Reef:

 

I went with the same company but still had to fill out all the same paperwork about experience and medical conditions and such. All the certified divers were grouped together, again only about 20 of us. One English woman with a high-pitched, whiny voice had dozens of questions for the crew. One of the questions in the paperwork was “Have you ever dived in the ocean?” and she immediately flagged down a crewman and asked, “Which ocean? This ocean? What if I’ve dived in a different ocean? Does that count? Are all the oceans the same? I did dive in one but maybe it doesn’t count?” She had endless questions about the basic paperwork and the crewman sat down, realizing that he wasn’t going to get away from her any time soon. I was sitting with a Canadian woman, Tamara, and we were practically rolling on the floor laughing.

When we arrived at the dive site, the certified divers were called back to gear up and my gear was set up next to the crazy woman’s. She had trouble with her regulator, but not really, and called several crew members over to look at it. They all said it was fine, but she demanded that someone switch it out. Then we were seated, strapped onto our tanks and ready to go, when the boat ran over and severed the mooring line, which meant we had another 15 minutes to sit in full gear while they fixed it. Crazy woman started making small talk with me. “Have you dived here before?”

“Yes.”
“Is this ocean salty?”
“Um, I think that’s what defines an ocean, there’s salt in the water.”

“But is it really salty?”

“I don’t know how to answer that.”
“I’m asking because I’m really thirsty.”
At that moment I knew that she would be assigned as my divebuddy. It was my fate.

Crazy did ask me to be her buddy while we were waiting for the mooring line to be fixed. I tried to weasel out like before, crossed my fingers, and told her that we get assigned and couldn’t choose. I wished I had asked Tamara but completely forgot, and we were strapped into our tanks far away from each other. And, as luck would have it, I got Crazy for a buddy. I’m sure the crew was chuckling about being rid of her for a while. It was a group dive, but she was still my responsibility.

It was time and we finally jumped in. The first thing Crazy did was swim over and grab my arm; the dive hadn’t even started and I was already annoyed. I did my best with hand signals to let her know that at no time was she welcome to touch me, and I headed to the bottom. In the minute it took to get there I received six OK signals from her.

I like to dive with a little space, so if people are crowded around the guide I’ll hang back, or if people are doing their own thing I’ll go up front, just as long as I can see what I want and not bump into people. Crazy never got more than two feet away from me at any point; no matter how hard I tried to make some room she would swim over and touch me. Every time I looked up to see what was touching me, I’d see her flash the OK sign. I wanted to give her the finger but thought that might be a bit much. She went so far as to swim up to my head and throw an OK sign in front of my mask. I wanted to turn off her tank.

I’m not a bad dive buddy, but partners need to check on each other only so much. I was always aware of where she was, even when she wasn’t touching me; I looked back many times since she refused to swim in front of me, and she always seemed fine. That, in my opinion, is what was required of me.

There was a lot of great sea life on the dive, but my annoyance level was pretty high and I didn’t enjoy everything as much as I could have. Forty minutes of OK signals.

We were back on the boat for our surface interval, getting our tanks refilled and our gear ready. I only wore a skin suit for the first dive and was kind of cold, so I was trying to find a half wetsuit to wear as well. Crazy sat down and started to lecture me on the proper way to be a good dive buddy. She didn’t think I was doing my job.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d give me the OK sign more often when we’re under water.” I think I had given her one for the entire first dive. I let her know that I always knew where she was and she looked fine and I didn’t feel the need for constant OK signs.

“How do you know I’m OK if I don’t give you an OK sign?”

“Well, you’re swimming along normally and looking at stuff and look pretty OK so I don’t feel I need to ask.”

“But how will I know if you’re OK if you don’t tell me you’re OK?”

“Well, if I’m swimming normally and looking at stuff and I look OK then you should just assume that I’m OK too.”

“You need to give me more OK signs on the next dive, I need to know that you’re OK.”

I had to turn and start talking to the woman on the other side of me because I was afraid I was going to hit Crazy.

We jumped in for the second dive and immediately I had my shadow throwing OK signs at me. I refused to give her even one for the entire dive; I get a little stubborn when I’m annoyed. I looked back at Crazy several times; I did my job. But this time I concentrated on the reef and all the wild things living down there and ignored her as much as possible. There were squid, white-tip reef sharks, turtles, rays, unicorn fish, another giant Napoleon wrasse, and huge groupers; completely excellent.

We had about seven minutes left to dive when I felt Crazy grab my leg and pull me backwards. That’s fucking enough, time to turn off her tank for real. Her ear felt funny, she signaled, and I didn’t give a shit. I got the guide’s attention and signaled that my buddy was sick, then swam away in hopes that he’d send her to the surface. But she wasn’t sick, there wasn’t anything wrong with her ear, she just wanted attention, and after several more OK signals we resumed our dive.

During our lunch break I made it very clear that she was not to speak to me again.

The third dive was spectacular; I started it off by getting attacked by a good-sized triggerfish. It was mating season for them and they actually build nests and defend them ferociously. It would have been nice if the crew had warned us, since they dive at the same mooring every day. I was descending, minding my own business, when a big fish with pointy teeth charged at me. It was more funny than scary because trigger fish are so cute, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried to swim away but he kept nipping at me, and I could see Crazy having a minor underwater heart attack from the exertion of all the OK signals she was throwing at me, which I ignored.

Most surprisingly, though, on the third dive she mostly left me alone. I looked back for her here and there and she had given me several feet of personal space. Aaah. And when we surfaced, I never had to see her again.

 

 

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Wandering

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