Do you ever look back at your life and think that some of your most intuitive, least logical ideas actually led to the best experiences? Often, at this time of year, when we are self-reflecting and finding a way to lean into gratitude to love our story, I find myself remembering a younger me who was fiercely brave and willing to follow her dreams. As a result, some of the best relationships and adventures will stay in my memory bank to give me such deep joy and satisfaction. And…even 35 years later, I am still using my heart as a compass and celebrating them all over again.
When I was in college, I felt a constant urge or calling to go to Australia. I could not explain this, and no, it was NOT just because I shared the name of one of its most magnificent cities. There was just something pulling my heart in that direction – an always-present tug that felt like an invitation to my soul. It did not make any sense to my thinking/logical brain…I was a college student who was responsible for paying all of my expenses, anything beyond tuition, and I had not lived in any other country at any point in my life. What was up with this? Why Australia, of all places? It was also hardly convenient – the long travel, the 14-hour time change. There were only 2 universities in the US that even supported college kids doing an exchange program there (mine was not one of them, meaning applying to, getting accepted, and getting the credits was going to be effort and a lot of logistical headaches). One other fun fact – circa 1986-90, no one had email or cell phones, so any communication was going to be incredibly difficult. I am a bit surprised my parents did not shut this down, but they were not the type to be too involved or worried since I was also pretty much a rule-following, people-pleasing type of kid. It would have been so much easier to go where other kids were trending then – to take a safer option and ignore “the big wild and adventurous dream.” I am still a bit puzzled that I didn’t change my mind since the entire world seemed to think this was completely outrageous.
I made a commitment that I was going to make this happen and started planning for the long game. I worked extra jobs and saved enough money, and away I went in my junior year for a semester. In six short months, I grew up in more ways imaginable: immersing myself in a new culture, studying subjects that were so different and interesting, and making new friends, but the best part of it all was my Australian parents. Ron and Marilyn are two of the brightest lights on our planet. Both college professors with brains for days, but their hearts are even bigger. They were the “cool house” where all of us misplaced US exchange kids could sleep it off after the pub crawls, write (yes, by hand) last-minute papers due, or even rent a van and go borrow their house by the water at Airey’s Inlet. (I am not sure they were using their rational minds with that decision…) Ron would often be singing show tunes around the house, and Marilyn would encourage me to try cooking “anything American,” which was usually a disaster, but they were too nice to say so. We would be taken out to local restaurants to try new foods and encouraged to explore all of the nature and ecosystems around us. They included us to learn more about their love for their country – Aussie rules footie, Aboriginal art, birds, and plants and animals. However, the greatest gift by far of the entire study abroad experience was bringing these two inspirational people into my life.
While we have kept in touch over the years, I had not seen them in 9 years since when I took my daughters there when they were teenagers. At the start of this year, something again was pulling on my heart to make the trip to see them. Since one of my closest friends was also on this exchange program, and we now live 15 minutes apart, I was able to convince her to join me for a bit of a “reunion tour.” We also had the pleasure of staying with another host parent couple in Melbourne who took us on incredible adventures with birding, wine tasting, and visiting the Australian animals in their natural habitats. We revisited Tasmania and Sydney and then spent almost a week with Ron and Marilyn. Their company fills my heart cup in such a unique and memorable way. They inspire me by just being themselves more than they will ever know. And while all of the sites and experiences were beyond amazing, the most fulfilling moments for me were just being in their presence. Being with the people who add meaning to your life just by being themselves.
Who in your life (past or present) do you feel this way about? What experiences are calling you when you get still enough to listen? Where do you need to go to follow your intuition and heart’s knowing to feed your soul? We only have one magical, mysterious life to live…do what matters, and don’t wait. And most importantly – hold on closely to the ones that do matter, even if they are on the other side of the world.