Now I know why Panama called my name like a severed heart string for over a year. When I didn't feel like taking this job because I wanted to go back to school, or do a million other things instead. When half of me wholeheartedly believed that this was not my path, but some sort of steel core kept me commuting to work every day as if possessed. Kept me persisting on, trying to keep my head up as tears hit the weather-worn planks of the train platform in dark perfect circles that came to be known as 6pm. Kept me stubborn and prideful as strangers stared, and I tried to explain into the phone that I was going stick with this until I got to that illusive isthmus that at times seemed nothing more than a six-letter word. Some people who loved me thought I was too stubborn for my own good, others thought just plain stupid, all got sick of my repetitive analysis of the struggle within my raw, idealistic heart. But I just knew I had to get there.
It's because she was there the whole time, waiting for me. Walking down a mile long stretch of beach as big heavy raindrops hit her cheeks. The sky spitting on previous distrust. Smiling up at it, northern skin turning pink, city feet covered in sand, wild, wild heart beating with the force of a life well lived.
On that 400-acre jungle island, I stepped back into my shadow. That sensation of being in the exact right place in the world at the exact right time. The one I've been looking for since 2007.
Suddenly, every step along the way makes sense.
Nothing if not earnest, I've been chasing her across this country in zig-zagged strokes. Stopping to look up, down, all around and wonder, "are you here?"
I glimpsed her running straight up a steep hill from the city market in Seattle, the Pacific laid out behind me like a sapphire blanket in the sun. Causing my calf muscles to burn and my lungs to pump and happy energy to elbow random passer-bys. "This is it," I thought I heard her whisper, as I ate creatures pulled straight from the sea and giggled endlessly while talking with a smelly, burnt-out bum. At the understanding of a place completely new, my eyes turned into satellites, mapping every vivid detail -- the velvet fuzz of a yellow bloom, the sharp stench of fish, the dirt in the corner of the poster store and the story told by the Asian import cargo boxes.
In Ely, Minnesota she sat crossed legged with me on the wide, shady porch of a log cabin for an evening, in Dubuque, Iowa she high-fived me in the basement of a thrift shore as I unearthed from a leather suitcase, two saffron colored salt and pepper shakers in the shape of owls with big circle eyes. There have been so many little moments, close to home and far away, but its been four whole years since she let me hold her close and relish in the wholeness of that grip. Although I've tried to convince myself that she lives here many times, she gently tucked me into my Chicago bed two years ago, pointed my chin towards the painted tin ceilings, reminded me of the sky beyond and placed my feet into my bike peddles before she was off. I've used words to try and nail her down ever since, but the beauty is that I cannot. Transcendence cannot be forced.
You're nodding your head that I'm a silly dreamer, we always have a shadow, right? But no, I will argue, your shadow is not a thing to be taken for granted. Too often we walk in it, blinded by the past, or in pursuit of it, wondering if we are even alive. But to walk with your shadow, is to be able to see yourself both behind you and in front of you at varying lengths. To look from side to side and see yourself there too. There you are, in all of your different funny angles and unique perspectives, rooted in place like a pinpoint on a map. I, here. And for no reason at all, everything beyond you and your funny gray vestige just seems to make sense.
As children we study our shadow at length, wondering why it is sometimes tall and lean and other times short and squat, we stare at it in relation to the shadows of adults, buildings, trees, understanding our smallness and wanting to conquer it. When it disappears we wonder about the light far above us, and run out from undercover to define ourselves again, playing games with the fact of our existence. As as we grow older, we take our relation to ground and light for granted, and instead focus on where we are going instead of just where we are. We stop playing games with the right now and wonder instead about where we've been and who we will become.
Sometimes you know where you are meant to go in life, and sometimes you just know you're supposed to go somewhere, to feel like something, but those "somes" are unclear; they cannot be isolated or defined. In these times, you look down and cannot locate your shadow, perhaps as you sit crunched into an office chair under florescent lights, or because you are so tightly wrapped into another person that you can no longer define your individual outline. As a baby adult, I have struggled to define my edges many times, the unceasing want and lack of answers blurring the definition of my life like an endless shadow.
That's because she had landed somewhere, and now I know where. My shadow was sitting on on a jetty alone before the ocean, chin in her hands, inhaling deep sighs, just waiting impatiently for me to get there and figure it out in one altering sigh of relief. Had I not worked in dire pursuit of something just beyond my reach, I never would have met this island, and through the rest of my life I would have cried myself to sleep sometimes and not known why. Because I would have missed my chance at breathing the air there, at imagination manifest; because deep down I would know that I had been too proud to trust my gut. It would have been to fail my own destiny.
On this island of towering trees, howling monkeys, black and white striped sand and an excuse to ignore just about everything else, it all just fell into place. Every why, every tear, every doubt, and as if possessed I realized that all I wanted was more. More hard work, more fear, more unanswered questions on the way to the next great adventure, the next faraway land, the next heart thumping love affair. As if my blood is composed of atoms of certainty, for the first time in a long time, I feel absolutely right in this place.
I know that traditionally shadows are gray places where people are hidden or overlooked, places where your secrets hide. But to me they are the uncomplicated forms that provide secondary proof that something actually exists. They connect us to the ground on which we stand, so no matter how high we soar, we are always connected to the place in which we are standing alive and real. If you ever get too lost deep in the channels of your head, the real dark spaces, look down and watch your shadow run until it greets a place in which you are safe. The shadows of leaves dance in the wind, and as long as I'm moving, so does mine.
So go ahead, my free spirit of a shadow, with your knowing smile and a feather in your hair, run away and hide wherever it is in the world that the deepest wishes of my heart desire, and I promise to remain true to the instinct that will have us meet again.