I was crying in my state room when I got busted in on, at the very worst moment possible.
After hearing – with horror – the knock at my door, and after attempting to shout out an alarming “busy” over my tears, my door swung open.
“Oh, sorry Miss,” the cruise-line attendant said in shock, immediately backing out of my room and closing the door.
I was sitting at the vanity, clutching my diary, tears rolling violently down my cheeks. In a moment of despair I had written:
“Channeling my inner strength – come to me now!”
Luckily the inner strength did come, and I pulled myself together. I put on my sunglasses, and found myself a seat in the jam-packed muster station for the mandatory safety review, the one which the disruptive attendant had failed to mention was in tow. As I walked back to my room, my troubles still pestered me. I was unprepared for the overly enthusiastic greeting that came from the knowing attendant, who likely pegged me as emotionally unsound.
I wondered how I’d make it through five nights aboard the ship, which to my horror, was filled with easily-entertained Americans, characters I knew I’d have trouble relating to. But I reminded myself of the purpose of my solo vacation, which had started ten days earlier in Orlando, Florida. The purpose was to be alone. To write. To figure out my life.
But as I stood in line, waiting to embark the ship, I had a sinking feeling of dread. And as I sat in my windowless state room, I envisioned myself retrieving my luggage and fleeing from the ship in a panic. Anyone who’s ever traveled alone knows the feeling. Amidst the joy and spontaneity and spiritual-enlightenment of this amazing journey, I would at times hit sudden, unexplained ruts of painful loneliness and despair. These moments always dissipated quickly, but this particular rut in the state room seemed to be extraordinarily deep.
I visited the buffet and picked my way through greasy entrees towards the fruit bowl. I decided I’d start my health kick now, collecting a pear, a banana, and a glass of water for dinner. I wasn’t really in the mood to eat anyways, I thought, as I settled into a quiet area in the adults only “Serenity” lounge at the back of the ship. I experienced a giant sigh of relief when I discovered this part of the ship. It would become my place of peace and solace over the next five nights aboard.
When I looked over and saw the familiar face peering at me, I was relieved. He’d approached me before in the internet cafe, post-meltdown, where I learned that my single gripping comfort wasn’t available. To my further alarm, the ship didn’t offer wifi. Perhaps he sensed my panic, and thats why he’d approached me, offering kindly to tether his data. But I was in no condition to socialize. I was losing grip on my sanity, questioning the purpose for this heartbreaking misfortune. Now, not only was I interminably alone aboard a ship of happy, drunken, American sailors, I was also unable to connect with any familiar comfort.
He was sitting next to my lounge chair in the serenity area, reading a book on a tablet. Although I’ve always despised these attempts at real book replacements, I quickly averted my attention. I was genuinely happy to have a friend, to feel a little less alone in my anxious melodrama. And as it turned out, this fifty year old Greek man was traveling solo, too.
The next morning we arrived at our first island in the Bahamas, Freeport, and Stavros – who’s name I’d finally worked up the courage to ask for again – disembarked the ship next to me. We’d become united as friends based on one similarly: traveling solo.
Stavros had taken his scuba gear into the water at Paradise Beach – a very fitting name for the crystal clear, shallow waters that surrounded it – and I took a moment to walk the shore alone with my diary. I found myself crying again almost the second I was alone, but this time it felt a little less out of despair, and a little more out of appreciation.
I found a wide, flat rock which rested just above the surface of the water, a few feet from shore. I waded my way through the shallow, warm water and perched myself atop this rock, enjoying this simple, peaceful spot. I attempted to meditate, listening to the soft waves of the surrounding water, feeling the light breeze in my hair, the sun warming my skin. I recalled memories that made me smile, both distant and near, and projected images of my future. I anchored myself to the rock, releasing my breath, allowing the vibrant images of the past and the future to leave me, resolute to enjoy the moment. The simple present.
Later, back on the beach, Stavros gave me some pointers.
“Let all the thoughts melt down to the bottom of your feet, and let them sink into the earth, grounding you to it. Don’t worry if more thoughts come in, just push them down to your feet. Focus on the sounds around you and let that fill your mind. Focus now on the smells. Now open your eyes, and look around you, take in the beautiful sights.”
I’d realized that Stavros was spiritual, and though I’d considered myself the same for quite some time, I hadn’t yet learned the proper tools to meditate. Opening my eyes after being patiently walked through the practiced meditation, everything seemed brighter and more vibrant. I felt calm and relaxed, and intrigued to learn more, the spiritual lessons on this unsuspecting day on the beach continued.
As I compiled my new sea shell collection on a colourful beach towel I’d picked up in St. Petersburg, Florida, Stavros began to tell me a story. This story, I now know, is a story I will never forget, and one that I have thought of often.
During one of his spiritual classes back home in New York, Stavros learned a profound lesson. The teaching was this:
Whenever you find yourself in a situation that troubles you, when you’re unsure of what to do, simply ask yourself this question: “What would a wise person do?” The objective is not to follow what you believe a wise person would do, but to simply continue on and do what you choose. The point is to simply acknowledge the right path, to be able to make the distinction between the two courses of action, and to someday rise and become the wiser.
I pondered this for a moment, immediately asking myself the question:
“What would a wise person do?”
The answer seemed close, when Stavros continued on.
“The week following the lesson, a lady in the class shared her experience. Her entire life she had been terrified of riding the subway, and living in New York, this is a major part of everyday life,” he said. I nodded understandingly. “She was always petrified that some tragedy was going to occur on the subway, so each time she had to ride it, she’d stand near the door, to be able to exit immediately if needed. After the class she went on in her routine, getting on the subway, feeling fearful, and standing near the door, when the question came to her. What would a wise person do? she asked herself. The answer came to her immediately, shocking us with its simplicity.”
He paused, and began to laugh softly. He looked at me, one eyebrow slightly raised, revealing the answer.
I smiled, and laughed softly at first, entertained by the irony of the story. But soon I found myself hollering loudly, Stavros and I laughing together. And before I could help myself, or stop myself, or avoid myself with a diary entry, it was happening again. But this time it was happening with ease.
I was crying tears of laughter.