While growing up, my dad often said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” As a little girl, I thought this was hogwash, a play on words meant to trick me, and I found it silly that a grown man would state it with revelation, as if people forgot where they are.
As I grew older, I understood that, sadly, we often do.
I travel not to escape my current life or my surroundings, but so life doesn’t escape me.
I grew up in Okinawa, a tropical island of the southern coast of Japan. The ocean was, quite literally, my backyard. I saw it every single day for ten years. I watched the whales migrate passed the island every April on their journey to Hawaii. My skin was dark and my hair bleached by the sun. I sucked nectar from the neighbourhood hibiscus on my walk to school. I rescued sea cucumbers from the reef during low tide. I watched out my window in fascination, with a splash of fright, every typhoon season. I learned about war, the dark side of humanity, devastation and sadness. But I also learned about peace, and the respect for life, and that small things aren’t actually that small. くうさ かなさ。Simple joys are everything. This has shaped me. Who, and where I am.
It was early November when I came home from school to find my parents standing in the doorway to our home, our life in boxes. I don’t blame them, they were doing what they thought was best at the time, and telling a child they have to leave the only home they know is an incredible burden. They didn’t prepare my younger sister and me for the move back “home”, as they readily called it. One day we were home, the next day we were airport bound. I didn’t have time to cry. Everything a blur. The hum and putter of our old Nissan. Hibiscus zooming by. “We’ll be back, I promise.”
“ぬちどぅたから” is written above our departure gate.
I haven’t been back since.
I later learned that ぬちどぅたから is an Okinawan proverb, a message about the value of life and the resulting reluctance we should have in spending it cheaply. You cannot know the value of a person’s life. You cannot know their struggles, the secrets they’ve shared, the sacrifices they’ve made, or the love they’ve treasured. We, as a society (that intangible rascal) are quick to devalue others when it suits us. We don’t think of the things that make them who they are, the role they play in the lives of others. We only think of what they do to our own lives. So to me “Nuchi du takara” is a call to search out the value in others, a call to empathy.
Adventure is a path. Real adventure — self-determined, self-motivated, often risky — forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white again. You must force yourself to be present where you are in your moments so you can learn, grow, and experience all life has to offer you.
Life is precious and fleeting. May it never escape us and may we always truly be where we are.