Abroad and Beyond

Villanovan Editor

This ocean is beautiful, but it sure has a fierce undertow. Maybe you have to sink to the bottom before you can find your way through the waves.

Yet, here I am, stuck on shore, watching the flood from afar. I let the sticky sand sift through my toes, and I watch the water flow back to the depths of nowhere. Later, after the waves have run away, I find a tide pool left in the wake, like a forgotten soldier too tired to make it home.

Beneath the green glass of the surface, skittish crustaceans hide inside shell-shield creations, and they scamper just out of my desperate reach. Spend too much time here, they say, and you’ll become a scavenger too. Everybody needs someplace to crawl when the water gets too rough. So you find a shell, and you make it yours.

There are times when you are in a strange place, exposing yourself to the winds of change, when even the most intrepid travelers seek shelter from the storm. It knocks you down once, and that’s all right – just pick yourself back up, kid. But before you can get back to your feet the next calamity is upon you, and soon you find yourself lost in it, this great big world, and you realize this isn’t going to be as easy as you thought. I guess this is what they call culture shock.

For me, trouble began in the form of some parasites that found shelter inside of my feet. This wasn’t so bad, even a bit exciting, but before long, I had more unwelcome guests. Bugs in my bed, bites by the dozen, rashes on my rear and arms burnt by the sun. And parasites – more parasites – starting on my stomach and moving toward places I’d rather them avoid. As the tired days pass by, with those long itchy nights, they begin to break down my defenses. I lose sleep; I lose energy; I lose focus.

Once you enter this realm of confusion, you start looking for shells. You get trapped in the negativity and let it brew there in your blood. You think about home and hide yourself in that little pool like a hermit crab. And you fall back into habit, which allows you to trudge forward despite your indignation, like a sun that doesn’t want to rise. In times of confusion, habit can be a comfort. But often times, comfort can be the worst thing for us.

Comfort is like a hand that won’t let us fall, no matter how hard we try. It’s a life jacket, meant to keep us afloat – not to teach us to swim.

And while it can help us drift through rough times, if we ever want to find a way to progress in this great big ocean, we’re going to have to let it go. And after we’ve sunken, truly fallen and found the wisdom that waits at the bottom of the sea, maybe then we’ll know what it means to move forward.

Confusion is the cast that surrounds us and does its best to prevent progression, but every shell can be broken. Our job is to recognize the floor when it finds us.

It finally found me one afternoon in the pouring rain. Now, here in Brazil pouring rain isn’t anything special. It happens just about every afternoon in fact, but this day was special, the kind of day when God gets angry at the sun and decides not to let it show its face at all – a perfect day for delirium.

I grabbed an umbrella that afternoon on my way out. I walked down to the bus stop just like I do every other day. I passed packs of stray dogs huddled beneath their side-street awnings and stores where people were stranded, nestled inside dry islands to escape the storm.

I came to the end of my street and was about to cross the highway when a girl caught my eye. She wasn’t particularly elegant or attractive, but there was something about her that drew my eye to her for no reason at all. She was a siren with black hair and a sour smile. There were several men talking to her there, crowding the sidewalk and blocking my way. Without a thought, I maneuvered around them and gave the girl a second glance as I stepped into the street.

One moment, the world was gray and tedious and I was going through the motions of another drifting day. The next, I had fallen into the smelly abyss of a sewage ditch. Before I even knew what happened, I was chest deep in filthy, black slime. I stood there clutching the side of the canal with one hand, the other still holding my dear umbrella as if the Swamp Thing just ate Mary Poppins and was wondering what to do with it now. I looked up to the crowd of people above me, and when I should have felt shame or fury, I felt only relief as I came to the realization I was waiting for all along.

It cannot get any worse. I’ve got parasites in my pants, and I just fell into a sewer. Things have to get better now, right? That was all I needed to rebound off the bottom and surface again. I crawled from my hole – pride broken but still intact – and stood up to face the rain. Then, I dealt with all these bewildered, staring faces the only way I could – I laughed. As if on cue, they laughed, too.

Since that moment, everything has been looking up.