When I agreed to sign on for another summer with Rustic I had one condition:
please let me have the month of June to myself
My boss said, "Yeah, ok, maybe we can work that out," with a hint of skepticism in his tone.
She has another job.
Maybe there is a boy.
Probably exhausted from last summer.
All understandable thoughts, and to be frank, one or two of those may have been at play here, but if I am being truly honest with everyone here and myself for that matter, there was one reason that stood out above most. Any guesses?
OK. Step back a few years with me,
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
25, to be exact.
It was a time of uncertainty and unfamiliar territory for my mother. Some were telling her she was making a mistake, "What does this mean for YOUR life?" Others urged her to consider her options, you know for the baby's sake. Young in age but far mature in spirit she had made up her mind and when a Latina makes up her mind, she is NOT be reckoned with. (No Señor!) So with that true Latina pride and conviction, she gave birth to a funny-looking but quirkily beautiful little girl - the most incredible little thing she had ever held in her arms, she later recounted to me. And for the next decade and change, my mother made it a point to celebrate that very day with me to the fullest, because it was an anniversary worth recognizing.
I had already overcome the biggest obstacle this life had to offer - the initial thumbs up.
Life: I am giving you one chance, one soul, go and make me proud.
I consider myself so very lucky.
So that's what you have to understand here - that while for many people a birthday is just like any another day, for me it was everything. It was a reminder that despite all the trials and tribulations we go through in our daily lives, I had lived one more year and in my own way was WINNING at life. I get a few more poker chips and time to play the game. (P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face)
It's been three years since I last spent my birthday with my mother and all my closest loved ones and Yeah, I would be totally lying if I said it didn't hurt my heart a little bit to feel like I am physically drifting further and further away from the people who have known and loved me for 20+ years.
But then again, that is the interesting thing about Travel. The more time I spend away from home, the more fluid my idea of family and community becomes.
This year I am spending my birthday with these beautiful people, and a few others not pictured.. probably being attacked by the possessed elevator doors. (OWW!) and while I only met them just a little over 24 hours ago they are now part of my family.
As my co-leaders and I took a short walk to dinner, I found myself finally alone with my thoughts, quiet as I observed the city life around me. I felt a small sadness come over me, another summer so far away, so out of my comfort zone. In ways I felt I was losing myself in all these new experiences and forgetting what it meant to be Sam. But then a light breeze kissed my rosy cheeks and all those crazy thoughts just disappeared.
I looked around, for the first time truly and saw where I was. Shanghai was your classic concrete jungle - overwhelmingly large, skyscrapers and apartment buildings towering large above your head. There existed harmony between the city dwellers and their dizzying array of living space upon living space - rows and columns, rows and columns, higher and higher, all so similar, but still possessing a unique identity. And as people walked around me, doing their daily things, I felt so damn lucky to be a small part of this huge world.
So maybe I wasn't kissing my mother on my birthday, or going on some phenomenal hike with my boyfriend.... Dude. I'm in China. Life could totally be worse.
Plus, because of the crazy time difference from here to Portland (15 hours) I've actually had the LONGEST birthday of my life, physically celebrating in Shanghai with my new friends and now being able to hold on to that excitement for a little longer with all my friends and family in the virtual realm. Not a bad deal if you ask me!