Back 'Pon De Rock

Happy 2007, everyone. Hope things are off to a smashing start for you.

My parents' cat, Eunice, wanted to come along for the adventure.

After a few weeks at my parents’ place in Rhode Island, I am “back ‘pon de rock,” a phrase I heard a few times before leaving. My visit was great, maybe a little too good. Christmas is always a special time of the year for me. Ever since leaving for college I have boarded a plane to get back home for the holidays to see friends and family. It has become ritualistic in a way: deciding on my travel day, getting my tickets, packing up, shutting down, heading to the airport, and arriving. This was one of my longer Christmas visits to New England in a long time, which meant more visits with people who “knew me back when.”

The morning of my flight, I woke up and struggled emotionally with leaving. When I typically wake up with a flight to catch, I am up and about and out the door easily. This time I dithered a bit. “Home” has become a fluid concept for me over the years, but I always plug into this corner of New England with ease. I felt sad having to once again leave it and was trying to squeeze every last drop out of it. Or maybe it was because I had only slept for four hours before my alarm began chiming, and it wasn’t even a good four hours of sleep. I drifted in that in-between space of sleep and consciousness, my brain never powered down and fretted over whether or not I had completed all of my to-dos.

My day of travel was not the smoothest. A light snow fell overnight but traffic moved as if a blizzard had hit. I arrived at the airport and rushed to check in. International flights have a 45-minute cut-off time for checked bags and I made it with a mere five minutes to spare. The first leg to Charlotte was largely uneventful. I slept for almost all of it. My three-hour layover centered on breakfast, of which I had two. (Note: The Charlotte airport has some great eating options.) My second leg to Miami was equally run-of-the-mill. My layover, however, was more convoluted due to changing airlines. I arrived at one end of the airport and walked the length of it to the American Airlines terminal. The place was jam-packed with people heading for warmer weather. Miami is apparently a hub for connecting the US with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, that was the easy part. My 90-minute layover extended an hour. The pilot then noticed a tear in the landing gear during his inspection, which was fixed while we boarded. However, after having been pushed away from the gate, the pilot discovered he could not steer the front landing gear – the repair crew forgot to reconnect that piece. We finally got wheels up at 7:00 p.m., an hour after I was supposed to arrive in Kingston.

My arrival was not the smoothest. Travelers are allowed to stay for 90 days without a visa. Anyone approaching that limit or planning to stay longer has to show an itinerary or ticket proving they intend to leave. The island has had issues with people arriving and staying indefinitely. However, I had only printed the tickets I needed that day. Only after 45 minutes of bouncing between security personnel and airline ticket agents was I allowed through customs and able to meet Fr. Larry, the Jesuit who was sent to collect me. Our grumbling about air travel quickly ended when I noticed the New England Patriots bumper sticker on his car. He is from Warren, MA so we had plenty to talk about as we wound our way through some of Kingston’s mean streets to our destination.

I spent the night at the Immaculate Conception convent in a section of Kingston called Constant Spring. The grounds are a 19th-century luxury hotel acquired by Franciscan nuns in the 20th-century. We affectionately refer to it as the Immaculate Hilton. It serves as a retreat center or for lodging as religious come and go in Kingston. The priests of the Mission Society are very close with these sisters and use the facility often. I can see why. It is gorgeous, complete with a swimming pool and lush central courtyard. It almost feels like a large Italian villa. Much of the furniture adorning the place is original. The marble-floored lobby is open and airy with tall French doors at opposite ends though which sunlight floods in. The 20-foot ceiling is supported by square columns, and low, stylized chairs and small side tables are situated between them. Warm breezes pass through the room at any given moment, a welcome change from New England’s current below-freezing climate.

The Immaculate Conception convent today.

I spent the majority of the next day hanging around the convent. Not surprising, it is very quiet. Convents are not typically known for their rowdiness. It was a great setting or introspection and contemplation, and I used the time to review all the posts I have written since I started this blog. Over the holidays I often wondered if I am making any progress finding a vocation that feels more aligned with my skills, abilities, and passions. My current situation suggests I am, but it is easy to confuse a novel experience – like volunteering to help the poor in a developing county – with discovering a rather undefined end goal. If I am not any closer, it certainly is not for a lack of taking action. I have explored curiosities and kept myself open to new learning and paradigms with respect to careers, aptitudes, and purpose. One of the easy traps of following this road is the idea that the answer will present itself in a single “a ha” moment. It does for some people. If you read the book, What Should I Do With My Life?, you will find myriad examples of this. However, it appears the more common experience is that finding a vocation, profession, or passion unfolds over time. I suspect that is the experience I am destined for, rather than having the answer jump out at me in a defined moment. The degree to which my experience here in Jamaica advances that narrative (or not) is yet to be seen, but too much time spent analyzing it is about as useful as staring at a pot of water on the stove and shouting “Boil, damnit!” Sometimes these things have to develop when you aren’t looking.

The lobby of the old hotel, a quiet place to collect one's thoughts.

The remainder of my first day back passed comfortably. I may or may not have napped in the antique chairs in the convent lobby. Fr. Anthony had a radio interview scheduled at the University of the West Indies that afternoon and collected me shortly before. Rather than risk the three-hour drive back to Bull Savannah at night (you don’t drive at night here if you can avoid it) we spent another night at the Immaculate Hilton and set out across the south coast at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Sunise in Bull Savannah, Jamaica.

Settling back in has been easier than I thought it would be. I assumed I would be starting from scratch vis-à-vis the students and the daily rhythm. I was wrong. Classes had been under way a few days by the time I arrived. I slid back into my routine and, save a classroom fight wherein I applied a shoulder lock to restrain one of the combatants, things have been very much the same since before the break. In addition to teaching there are various odds and ends that need attention: deliver a piece of furniture to the orphanage, help move supplies recently arrived at the clinic across the street, repair something broken (something always breaks), etc. The Missions Society has also asked me to create a web site for them. Break’s definitely over.