I went on a date on the 13th of February. It was the first time I’d been on one in…who knows how long?
Scratch that. Let’s be real. I know exactly how long it’s been.
Who am I trying to kid?
September. Early September.
(and, yes- maybe that’s even being generous)
So, I go on a date.
For the first time in six months.
(was it even a date? A casual night of dinner and drinks in the city. I don’t know- you decide)
I can’t say it was anything out of this world- I mean, there weren’t sparks flying by any means.
But still, it was a nice way to pass my final evening in Manila.
Well, he was sweet.
He looked at me when I spoke, and listened with his eyes more than his ears.
There was some sort of electricity there, I swear- vibrating, luminous.
The night ended with a polite kiss on the cheek.
Warm lips pressed to the side of my face without tenderness, but rather a simple kindness, instead.
“See you soon, yeah? Travel safe. And take care of yourself,” he said before I stepped out of the car and into the house.
Words falling from his mouth.
Light pouring from his eyes.
When I left the country the next morning, I can’t say that I paused for even a moment to think of the night before.
Nice man, sure.
But, not one who would continually linger in my mind.
We kept in touch afterwards.
Exchanging cordial messages of nothingness really.
A friendship was born, above anything else- a kindred connection that can only be found between the fellow world citizens of the Earth.
“I want to come to Flores at the end of the month. You’ll still be there, right? Let’s meet up in Komodo!” He wrote me on the 4th of March.
“Yes! Perfect timing, I’ll be in the Western part of the island the entire last week of March. You should definitely come out- the diving is incredible, and it won’t be too crowded. We know of a sweet place to stay, so you should just book a room there too,” I wrote back on the 6th.
After sending, I began checking my inbox regularly- almost anxiously so.
Why was I suddenly so transfixed by receiving a response when we often took a few days in between messages to respond to one another?
Why did my gut clench each time I noticed he hadn’t even READ my message yet?
Why was a dark cloud of nagging interrupting my thoughts?
Why could I not shake the feeling of something being just plain WRONG?
I continued to await the response that would never come for 3 full days before I found out the concrete answer to all of my WHYS.
He would never read my message, after all.
It was too late, you see.
He was already dead.
It’s taken nearly two months for my brain to catch up with my heart as I sit here now and try to articulate my reaction to this tragedy.
To be totally honest- I still don’t fully understand the intensity of my emotional response.
It’s not that I have yet to experience death.
Because I have.
I held my grandmothers hand as she took her final breaths.
Catching my hysterical mother in my arms as she collapsed with pain in the face of such unwavering finality.
I lost my best friend 5 days before my 19th birthday.
Bewildered with a dull, constant hurt I didn’t know was possible.
Yes, I’m familiar with the excruciating pain of someone being violently ripped out of your life without reason.
And, this is the thing- although Jenny’s death was sudden and unfair- my emotional devastation after the fact made SENSE.
I had lost someone I loved.
But this isn’t the case now. I had only known him for a grand total of three weeks- a mere blink of time in the midst of a lifetime.
And, as I said before- we were not pursuing anything more than a friendship - so, it wasn’t as if I was stricken with a deeper sort of romantic or intimate loss, either.
The longer I’ve examined each emotion as it bubbles up to the surface, the more I’ve come to this conclusion:
It’s simply not going to make sense.
Because death never really does.
Sometimes I cry in the shower because tears always feel a little less sad (or real?) when there’s already water pouring from above.
(I’m pretty sure this is a perfect example of my struggle to be outwardly broken in just plain sight.)
Other times, I’m angry.
I’m fuming at the idea of those last words, “take care of yourself.”
Take care of Myself?! What about you?! Why weren’t you taking care of YOURself?!
I’m irrationally mad that he could just go and DIE only three weeks after his 29th birthday in a different part of the world than even his family?
How could he do that to them?
It hurts to swallow when I think of this.
And, my hands clench into sweaty fists as pangs of shame rain down in livid pelts.
Shame at the reminder of my own fantastic selfishness in choice of lifestyle.
What if it was me?
If I died on the other side of the world from my family, after not seeing them for months at a time.
Sometimes I can’t breathe from the suffocating weight of guilt even at mere thought of my mother’s hypothetical grief
Death (and other great tragedies) have a way of sharpening our focus on the value of life.
Catalysts which trigger that truly Carpe Diem way of living.
More often that not, other travelers I meet have quit their jobs, bought the ticket, and ran free not because of a joyous instance- but rather from an intense heartbreak or disaster, instead.
We have this mentality of: “if not now, when?”
We say things like, “I want to experience the world before I die.”
But what happens if we die during that experience?
We’d say at least we were fulfilled.
We’d say at least we led a vibrantly colorful life.
I say we, because I’m a part of this world citizen tribe.
I say we, because this has very much been my own response before.
But, since the sudden loss of my new friend- my perspective has been torn more distinctly in two.
When I have those moments of- what if it were me that was gone?
There’s a large part of me that rests in assured contentment with my time here on Planet Earth.
I’ve lived passionately.
I’ve loved and been loved.
I’ve traveled many lands, eaten many foods, and been doused in a variety of cultures within each community which I’ve served.
I’ve been blessed with a certain richness of life well beyond the confines of financial standing.
Yet, the other part of me cowers behind a shadow of doubt in recognition of all the moments that I’ve missed (or will miss) in the wake of pursuing my dreams.
The weddings I won’t attend.
The children I might never see born.
The tiny micro-moments of bliss found just living in the ordinary.
I think I may always struggle with such internal warfare- battling between desire to wander endlessly, while yearning to plant roots with peace.
Although Simon’s death painfully magnified this paradox- his passing also unearthed the softest parts of my heart along this journey of discovering my own definition of home.
It’s kind of tragically wonderful how such a grand misfortune can inspire vulnerability and newfound strength, isn’t it?
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around the WHY when it comes wonderful people dying young.
But what DOES suddenly make a whole lot more sense to me is this:
If you love someone
If you miss someone
If you’re scared
If you’re lost
ask for help.
If you’re broken
If you’re excited
Over the past two months, I’ve taken a leap in trusting these vary principles- revealing those tender (and terrifying) pieces of the soul in a way that’s propelled me forward to places I’d never expected upon starting this whole adventure just five months back.
I am afraid.
I am unsure.
I am breathing.
I am liberated.
I am grateful
for the good and the bad
the ugliness and beauty, alike.
Because both anguish and joy are reminders that I'm fucking ALIVE.
And that is reason alone to rejoice.