Like a truly brilliant writer, I wanted to start this entry with a quote.
After ten minutes of trying to choose the quote out of tens of potential ones, I admit I might not be a great writer. But I still want to tell you a story.
It was January 1st, I was sitting a bit sleepy in the ferry heading to Phuket, watching the cloudy sky and thinking that it was indeed a good time to leave this paradise island. Because, you know, it should never rain on paradise islands. Salty sea water – OK, water falling from the sky – horrible, simply horrible.
As the ferry was filling up with people who, unlike me, didn’t rush to secure themselves a seat and so arrived on time and not twenty minutes too early, a nicely tan lady sat down next to me. Her husband rushed to the ferry bar to get something, while I asked her about what picture she had in a poster tube that caught my attention.
We started chatting and very soon I understood this would be no ordinary conversation.
It wasn’t because of some incredible picture she had in the tube. It was because of her unbelievable experience.
She arrived in Koh Phi Phi for the first time in the winter of 2004.It was Christmas time. Once again: December 2004. Christmas time.
For the ones who can’t put the pieces together let me remind you: it was the time when a powerful tsunami hit a vast area of South East- and South Asia.
She was there with her husband and two children. They weren’t one of those families that managed to stay in some multiple-storey building and film everything from high up to later post it on youtube where you can, if you wish so, watch for yourself what a tsunami can do to a tiny island.
She and the rest of her family got all separated. Luckily, after having spent some time in the water, trying to stay on the surface and, well, simply to survive, they got all reunited. That is why she was able to tell me about it, I thought, without bursting into tears.
Surviving a tsunami: that is a story worthy of a book, not a blog entry, for sure.
How much of an inspiring experience that seems I don’t even need to say. A miracle, a religious person may add. However, there is more to what she told me. In fact, that more might be even more fascinating.
“I thought there was no way I would ever come back to that island”, the lady said in a pleasant Swedish accent, “but then I’ve decided that to come back to that place is exactly what I should do.”
And so this winter, that is, the winter of 2011, was the eight time she and her husband have spent their Christmas in Phi Phi. They would come back here every year. Why? To show that life goes on, and that no fear would overtake it.
Certainly, I was listening carefully to everything she was saying, absorbing all of that unexpectedly engaging conversation, especially as for a day as tiring as January 1st. But that voice in my head – well, one of the voices… – that never stops seemed to have continued its own commentary. And the commentary was: this is so embarrassing! There was no way it couldn’t have been embarrassing: all the fears I myself have had and still have suddenly appeared so small and so ridiculous. It was almost as if for a second I have reached that next level of consciousness that so many books on spirituality teach you how to achieve.
When the lady left, I kept on thinking.
What are my tsunamis? My personal tsunamis which I have faced and overcome?
And then I realised how convenient my whole life has been so far. I might not have a lot of money or things but what I have – and what is indeed important – has never been taken away from me. That is one hell of a realisation. On the other hand, some fears remain. Fears to be fought – by rationality, talking to people, and simply by letting go of my own thoughts. But before I put some effort to stop some of the destructive ideas in my busy mind, let me share more of them with you. All on fear.
Today, when I asked a colleague to remove a huge bug from the net of the door to the backyard of our building, he said “you know it’s a just a garden bug, it can’t do anything to you”. I said “hey, it’s an irrational fear, of course I know the bug can’t attack me.” Just like this specific fear is in fact fine. It’s not the kind of fear that would inhibit my potentially happy future plans. Unless those plans were, naturally, to become an entomologist.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of fears that I myself and some people who are so dear to me haven’t overcome.
Fear of changes, fear of disappointing people, fear of growing away from someone, fear of appearing uneducated, fear of not knowing what to do, fear of showing your fears… So many tsunamis ahead, right?
When I was in Coimbra, Portugal, more than two years ago, I met an incredibly sweet Brazilian guy. He was in his late thirties, doing his PhD there. I can’t remember what he was studying exactly but I was deeply impressed by the choice he has made: to start over. You see, he had a PhD already! He was a lawyer for a long time in Brazil. Nonetheless, he decided that that wasn’t what he really wanted, and so he started again. Running through the jungle, fighting some poachers, avoiding flying daggers and other dangers is what a word ‘brave’ entails, according to all the adventure movies. But what that guy did, to my mind, is also pretty brave. Surely, it took him money, time, and other resources. But first of all, he wasn’t afraid. He, too, in a way, returned to his Koh Phi Phi.
And that is what we all need to work for, in our own ways, overcoming our own personal tsunamis.
Instead of having begun this entry with a quote, I thought of one to finish it. Jacobo Belbo, a character from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, explores the topic of cowardice multiple times throughout his own writings that another character of the novel later reads.
“How can you feel like a coward because you were born in the wrong decade? The answer: you feel like a coward because once you were a coward.”
Let’s forget of all the ‘once’. Once there was a tsunami…