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The Things We Carry

Keychain? Harem pants? Hammock? No, too big. Towel? I need to get out of here. I’m wasting precious daylight. Yet, I can’t. It’s my last day in Manuel Antonio and I have nothing to bring home with me. How am I supposed to remember this feeling without some thing to anchor me to this place? What if I forget? There it is! I can hang it right over my front door – a smiling sloth hugging the words “Pura Vida”, carved in wood. That will be my anchor. I will see it and remember that life can move more slowly. Life can be measured in sunsets, that there is beauty, and grace, and love and friendship all around. I will remember that I don’t need more things. In fact, this will be my last purchase. “Ring me up, mae.”

The next day, with the realization that we’d be back in the States that night, something shifted. My aunt was frantic, “What if we miss our flight?”. For a moment I let myself fantasize, what if … “How long until we get to the car return?” a friend added. I hadn’t looked at a clock in over two weeks, and I was annoyed that I was being forced to find one. “I don’t know. We’re fine. It’s fine. We’re going to make it,” I said, followed by a silent prayer, “Just let me be here for as long as possible”.

We’d lived in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for two weeks. I’m purposely not using the word ‘vacation’ here. Vacation implies an escape from your everyday real life, and that’s not what we did. If anything, life in Costa Rica was more real than anything I’d experienced in the months (years) prior. I was teaching at a children’s world school within the national park, and we stayed on campus. Campus? We had a room with a bed, a toilet, and window. There was an open-air communal kitchen and living area where I guided the kids in yoga. It was in the middle of the rainforest, which meant the occasional monkey would join my class, and a cat would try to steal our dinners. We cooked and composted together, and road-out torrential downpours.

My daughter attended the world school, and after teaching I would hike, surf, or explore. Sometimes we would all be together, sometimes not. We were like waves mixing, crashing together, and then drifting apart. There were no coffee dates, play dates, or really any set time to go anywhere at all. Life was good. It was pura vida.

Nearly four years later, the sign hangs on my gate. I see the sloth’s message as one of opportunity. It seems to say, ‘you can live differently or you can jump back into your old life’. It’s what I ask myself after returning from each country, and it’s what I’m considering now after four months of the coronavirus pandemic. To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat relieved when the initial lock-down was announced. Clearly, not about the illness, deaths, or financial impact, but for the chance to pause. My heart breathed, and I was grateful for the chance to slow down – to move through life as a wave, without timetables or deadlines. For four months, my family and I have been able to rush together and drift apart, following nothing, but the pull of the moon.

Although I have moments when I worry about health and safety, I’m equally worried that we’ll return to “real” life too quickly. What if this time was more real than what we’d been living prior? What anchors us to the experience and the lessons? If we thought of this as a trip into Corona Country, what do we want to bring home with us? There’s no corona souvenir shop, but if there was, I’d look for a sloth holding the words, “There’s another way”.

There’s a lot that I love about my life before corona, but there’s also just as much that needed to change. On the macro-level, there’s a lot that was good about our society, but there’s a lot that needs to change.

Question a government that wants us to return to “business as usual” as fast as possible. We are changed. Therefore, we are not returning to normal. We are dreaming up a new life, carrying with us all the beauty that was gifted us during one of the most challenging times of our collective existence.

Here we are holding up our souvenirs. “I lived that. I felt that. I was there” we say, “I will not be gaslit. I will not return to a life that was less than living. I will not sacrifice myself, our children, or my brothers and sisters for the sake of the economy or an ideology that does not benefit all of us. This is what we’re bringing back home. It now hangs in the most prominent place – our hearts.

Photo by Chedi Tanabene from Pexels


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