my junior year of college, i was sitting in a small classroom at 99 Great Russell Street in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London. it was mid-december and the end of an enlightening semester. the air outside was cold and still, while the air inside was vibrating with warm memories and goodbyes.
knowing we were all already scheming up ways to move abroad again as soon as graduation came, my literature professor concluded his final class by saying, "remember... you can go all over the world--to the most beautiful places imaginable--searching for happiness. but in the end, a pretty view is just wallpaper. it's people that matter."
i was preoccupied by flighty thoughts at the time and didn't digest just how profound a sentiment that was. in fact, i kind of scoffed at it, half offended. as though he were trying to persuade us to stay in the states with our families and get a boring job. as though parting with old friends for new experiences wasn't worth it. as though moving abroad like he did would be a shallow mistake.
two years (and six months of living in the caribbean) later, i FINALLY understand exactly what Dr. Crook meant that day.
he heard our young hearts yearning for tickets to pretty places that we could cross off our bucket lists. he heard us exclaiming we'd rather travel forever than ever settle down and nurture a family. he heard us joke about how we'd only get married if it meant dual citizenship of another country...
ah, what stubborn young girls we were.
it's people that matter.
after i graduated college last year, i wanted to jet straight off to the many european cities i didn't get a chance to see during my semester abroad. i didn't care if anyone came with me or how much it would cost or where i would stay... i was just so painfully bored of the monotony of school and work that i felt like i was going to explode if i didn't get out there.
and then the option of the virgin islands presented itself. i had never considered the caribbean before, because i was more interested in european culture. but after some thought, amber and i convinced ourselves it was a more logical route--a transitional baby step. and more responsible than flying to foreign countries without knowing what the hell i was doing. shallow adventure averted.
st thomas saved me from hastily venturing off into the great unknown without purpose.
and on the island, amber and i got outrageously lucky. instead of waitressing like we had expected, we were immediately hired on the boats. i learned exciting new skills and found new strengths i never thought possible for myself. i lived with the best friend a girl could ask for. i worked with the most incredible crew possible. and i had an illegal amount of fun with positive, like-minded people on my down time.
those six months in the caribbean were some of the happiest of my life. we created an island family. and we were hardly ever idle.
considering all of this, i was surprised to find the sadness that consumed me every now and then.
you'd think it'd be impossible to ever be sad in such a beautiful paradise, right? but the beauty alone was never enough to sustain me. because after a while, those views stopped looking so spectacular and started becoming commonplace. after a few months, i stopped craning my neck to see the sunrise on the hour-long safari ride to work. i hardly looked beyond the boundaries of our boat anymore while we were sailing.
of course, i could look up and feel fortunate to be there... but if i happened to be twisted about internal conflicts, that external surrounding simply couldn't pacify me. the views distracted me a little at first, when everything was still new. but then one day, i sat on sapphire beach with my toes dug in the sand and sobbed about things the sea couldn't heal.
i cried when my family couldn't visit for christmas. i shed tears over a boy i was hopelessly in love with. i caved inward on days i didn't feel good enough. i grieved for weeks after a woman died in the cove. and it came over me all at once while sitting on that crowded beach on new year's eve. because somehow, i felt totally alone.
although those moments of sadness were truly few and far between, the views could never comfort me or talk me out of my worries. it was the extraordinary people in my life that made them go away. that island family made it all worth it.
but then, near the end of my time in st thomas, the things that fulfilled me everyday started fading. my boat crew was broken up. the job wasn't challenging in a fun way anymore. and friends started leaving the island for the off-season. my island experience was stripped of almost everything but the beauty.
as soon as the caribbean became mere wallpaper to me, i decided to leave. i started craving deeper interactions and intellectual conversations and new cultures. it was high time to embark on that european adventure, with purpose.
you see, i'm not the same overly eager college grad that i was before i knew st thomas. i've learned of the vital importance of connections with people. about how hard it can be to enjoy things alone. and that a great view, though beautiful, is really just secondary---icing on the cake of a rich experience.
so i was naive. and this all may seem too obvious to some, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget what matters. because we're raised to be independent go-getters, to do whatever it takes for our own version of success. sacrifice for self-gain. but an overwhelming sense of independence can be so damaging.
it's not always an easy lesson to learn, but i think i learned it well. it sank in young and now i feel it through and through. and i'm glad it didn't take hitchhiking across america and starving alone in alaska to find it out, like poor Mr Supertramp from Into the Wild. happiness is only real when shared.
in planning my travels now, i'm revolving them almost completely around people. i'm taking time to visit family before i go, going out of my way to meet up with friends, and meticulously choosing where i volunteer in europe based on the people involved, rather than the sites nearby.
so, dear reader, this is all to say: surround yourself with people that fulfill you. because that's what matters most.