"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life."
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The phrase “life changing” should not be underestimated. Those words are capable of bearing tremendous weight; they convey a transcendent power. To say something was life changing is to say: I will never be the same. It is to say: I am born again.
When I was 13, after my freshman year of high school I went to a summer camp in New York. At that time in my life I was angry, resentful and painfully shy. When I broke my arm I wanted a black cast so that no one could sign it. I didn’t want anyone to put their name on me.
Then I spent 2 and a half months sleeping in tents with young women from 40 different countries—building, creating and most importantly listening. The camp was full-scholarship so everyone came on equal footing. There was no phone service—we were allowed small sessions on the computer but most of us never utilized those moments. I laughed. A lot. I met my best friend. I went the following summer as a second year (kinda a cross between a counselor and camper). It changed my life.
Fast forward 11 years and one of my friends from my second year came to New Zealand to visit me. Aside from a brief reunion a year ago in San Francisco, we have not spent any time with each other since that summer in the woods. Meet Leah Amesse. INFP, New Yorker, nurse, listener, sincerely open human. I was not nervous to spend six days with a woman that, on paper, I shouldn’t really know. We’d developed an email correspondence that has become one of the most beautiful and honest friendships of my life. So I wasn’t nervous—I wasn’t afraid.
Your best friends are not always the ones you travel well with. And sometimes traveling with someone creates best friends. How do you handle stress? How do you make plans? How to survive many hours with one person?
Well—it turns out Leah and I have the same answers to most of these questions. Her visit was fluid, relaxed and profound all at once. Together we traversed the beaches of the Northland—seeing the very top of New Zealand where two seas meet and create a turquoise, white-capped demarcation line. We visited graveyards filled with the drowned, the young, the pioneers who died far from the familiar. We wandered Shipwreck Bay in pristine solitude, watching the wind whip sand over the beach in a thin, liquid veil. We were alone and then we were not—there was a dog and we were with each other. We listened to musicals (I can't describe in words how refreshing it is to be with someone who shares my love of musicals and the particular rush and swell of their songs). We spent hours in our own minds, watching the streets and the people, occasionally zig-zagging on our mental trajectories to meet with one another again.
Together we read our personality profiles on the beach. We made mind maps about what it means to be human over wine in Auckland.
We drew closer.
p.s. if you’re out there reading this and feel inspired, send me a mind map of “What it means to be human.” I’d love to read your thoughts and your ideas.
p.p.s. a super duper old short story of mine was featured in a literary blog/mag. Check it out if you feel inclined!