It’s been a few weeks since I kicked around this place. Aside from marking of anniversary of starting this adventure, I signed off with suitcase in hand, ready for a family vacation and my first visit to Hawaii. I really only saw the island of Maui, but it was enough. I quickly settled back into “island mode,” even to the point of answering, “the States” when asked by a local where I was from. You could have driven a semi through the awkward silence.
Between the beach time, jumping off various rock formations into pools of water, golf, and naps, I reflected on what comes next. I even revisited some of the original posts from this blog to remember just what it was I was looking for in the first place. Meaning. Fulfillment. Purpose. Intention. These are all words I jotted down as I reviewed my reasons - and anguish - regarding what seemed like the largest of jumps.
In August of last year I reflected on the first year of the journey. It was then I shared the possibility of putting my life in storage and heading to Jamaica to volunteer with missionaries. Doing so was the confluence of two experiences that had stayed in the back of my mine, glowing like embers that could be coaxed into a fire given the right conditions. The more I sat silently with the thought of following this long-ignored interest, the more it became clear to me that it was under my nose the entire time.
That idea of things "hiding in plain sight" has stuck with me ever since. I spent a lot of time in prayer while in Jamaica - easy to do when you are helping priests - trying to discern what comes next. Unfortunately, the Almighty never came and sat down directly beside me - as far as I know - to tap me on the shoulder and give me the answer. But as I look back, I think the answer might have been looking at me from a mountain range a mile away.
The town I lived in in, Bull Savannah, sits on the edge of a plateau that drops down to the southern coast of the island. My daily view was an incredible panorama of the Carribbean Sea and the breezes wee plentiful. Directly east of us was a valley whose other "bookend" was the Don Figueroa mountains. Atop the mountains was a wind farm with about 30-or-so turbines that, for the most part, rarely spun.
Power outages could be a thrice daily event there. What I found interesting was that the outages happened regardless of whether or not the wind farm was operational. I was intrigued. I could understand losing power when the wind farm was not operating, but outages when a wind farm was in full swing (or spin) only miles away made no sense. I also could not understand why one of the sunniest places on earth had such a paucity of solar panels. This technology is changing the world right now. How hard can it be to ship a boatload of solar panels to an island and cover it? (Probably much harder than I suppose otherwise it would have been down by now.)
I began asking questions. All I could learn was the wind farm was built in the early 2000s. I never received the same answer regarding who built it, who paid for it, why it was not working, etc. I heard people talk about the country’s utility company sending mixed messages about renewable energy, and that the poor energy situation on the island was the result of politics, technology, and money. I have never really considered there being much of a link between all of those factors but it appears to be a common story among developing countries. But it also seems solvable.
So maybe I want to try and solve it. And maybe I need to get my learn on to fully wrap my head around a problem like this. It is apparently a Venn diagram of the aforementioned factors, and perhaps ones I I have not even realized yet. All of this to say - while I have been wringing my hands about what to do next, perhaps the answer was right in front of me -- or at least across the valley -- the entire time.
Which means it may be time for yet another leap: graduate school. I thought about it couple of years ago and seriously considered International Human Rights law when I saw communities displaced as a result of the US invasion of Iraq. I visited the idea again when, while launching that community learning center, I saw immigrant communities living in fear of accidentally running afoul of the law simply because someone changed the rules and never told them.
Thoughts of graduate school now center around International Development to stay involved in the type of work that challenged and excited me while I was abroad. The idea scares the hell out of me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it has been a decade since I was last in school. However, this experience has taught me that the gut wrenching fear often indicates a right move.
The idea is also frightening because, as my informal questioning showed, I do not have the first clue about the roots of these types of problems (the engineering side notwithstanding). Being up on current events is not the same as understanding why certain conditions exists, why decisions are made, or how to solve daunting challenges. I feel my small stint abroad gave me a temporary peek behind the thin veil and that I grasped but a fraction of it.
Here again, though, I find myself revisiting the learning from my sessions with a hand analyst back in 2005. She taught me that one of the most impactful things I can do is continually put myself in situations of "not knowing." The more I make myself vulnerable to being a rookie, as it were, the more fulfillment I will find. And perhaps she was right. I had no idea how to launch a community center serving a Latino community, nor did I know much about being a volunteer teacher overseas. Yet I did them both and they provided me with some of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences of my life, while simultaneously advancing my search for a higher sense of purpose in my life.
Plenty to sit with, for sure.
In the meantime, I am enjoying a new passion that has been hiding in plain sight on my bookshelf for years: The National Parks.
A little background: Back in 2002 my good friends Jason and Karrie gave a National Parks Passport to those of us involved in their big day. It came with a map of the United States and showed all manner of parks, monuments, historic places, etc. However, I never fully understood what it was for. I had heard of the big National Parks: Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, etc. I had even been to the Grand Canyon and the Petrified National Forest, but beyond that, nada.
Fast forward five years and I’m on Maui heading into Haleakalā National Park. Before exploring the park, I stopped in the visitor center and saw the very same National Park Passport sitting on a stand with an ink stamp next to it. I inspected a few test stamps and saw that it was the name of the park and the day's date.
Suddenly, it all clicked.
Each National Park - along with many other places in the National Park system - has a stamp, and you use this book to collect them. I was like a child at Christmas. It amazed me as much as any mountain or sunset I saw that week. And then I remembered that the very same people who gifted me the passport led a few of us around parts of Rocky Mountain National Park a year prior to their wedding.
For the second time in as many years, time spent on an island may have revealed a passion that was sitting in front of me the entire time.
Which brings me to a final item. I may be starting a new blog. I am encouraged to write about my interests beyond finding a higher sense of fulfillment in life. Sports, politics, ... National Parks! I am considering branching those topics off to a different space so as to maintain this theme uninterrupted. Ideally, I would create my own web site where both would exist as opposed to keeping blogs at separate URLs. I am not sure about it yet but stay tuned for more.