This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on November 26, 2014.
Lessons are learned every day – or at least they should be. Whether positive or negative, life is full of daily experiences that change us and affect us. Living on an island in the Caribbean for two years has taught me many valuable lessons I may not have learned living Stateside. In case you aren’t currently basking in tropical sunshine like me, allow me to impart some of my newfound wisdom.
Electricity is overrated. The thought of being without power for hours or days at a time probably would have shocked me before I lived here. Now that I’ve been through a few rainy seasons when power outages are fairly common, I can say from experience that living without power for extended periods of time is not going to kill you. Yes, I have all my electronics here: laptop, iPhone, Kindle, you name it. I’m not living off the grid. So when the power goes out and I have no internet and no means of “entertainment,” I suddenly remember what it is to just breathe. And relax. And hear nothing but the waves and the wind. And I remember that the world keeps spinning regardless of how much or little I do every hour. Power outages are excellent opportunities to disconnect and reflect. And you know what else happens when the power is off? You talk. You actually put the phone away and you talk to the person next to you. Without distractions. When is the last time you did that with any regularity? It’s a reality check.
The Rolling Stones were right. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” Sometimes you go to the supermarket and there is no chicken, or bread, or milk, or tomatoes…or whatever it is that you wanted and intended to get. Sometimes you just can’t find that part to fix your kitchen appliance. Or that specific light bulb to fit into your favorite lamp. You can’t always find what you want on an island, but you can find the things you need. And you can get really creative in the process! New culinary concoctions are a favorite pastime here, or “kitchen-sink” meals. Buen provecho!
You don’t need it. While I just told you about getting what you need, the definition of need has changed for many people. We often say that we need things, when in reality they are superfluous. “Needs” and “Wants” are entirely different, but they’re often intermixed and confused. You don’t need new clothes. You might want some, but unless your current clothes are literally falling apart at the seams, you are not in need. Stains happen, holes happen, and wearing the same thing several times a week is not a sign of impending doom. When you’re not inundated with commercials telling you what you’re lacking, you tend not to notice what you or anybody is else wearing. You also don’t notice what type of phone they have. Or whether or not they own a vehicle. While I can only speak for the expat community in my adopted island, we just don’t give a damn. We’ve adjusted to know that we might not find what we want, but we don’t need it anyway. That knowledge is incredibly liberating.
Seasonal eating is always best. I used to live in Washington, DC, where farmers’ markets were the norm, but I still had every type of food at my fingertips. On an island where shipments don’t always arrive, it’s best to rely on what’s locally available as much as possible. Eating seasonally is healthier, it’s cheaper, and it’s so much more exciting. Flavors are more vibrant and fruits are juicier. Nothing beats picking fresh cashew fruits off a tree to suck on their sweet nectar. Nothing beats eating fresh lobster tails just caught that day by local fishermen. The anticipation is palpable as new fruit seasons approach and different fishing seasons come up. When you drive around the island in early spring, keep the windows down to fill your car with the flowery scent of mango. It will fill your lungs with joy. Feel free to stop on the side of the road and snag one off the tree, too. Nobody will sue you, I promise.
Time is a concept, not a dictator. “Island Time” is a real thing, but it should not be solely for islands. We love watching tourists adjust to relaxation over the week or two they spend here. You can see a physical change in people as they take the watch off, leave the phone in the hotel room, and forget about where they “have to be” or are “supposed to be.” Scheduling every minute of a day makes you ask where the years went. When the sun rises, a new day begins. When it sets, a new night begins. It’s as simple as that. The sun doesn’t live by the clock and you don’t need to either. That realization can change your entire life.
As writer Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen) wrote,”I know the cure for everything: Salt water…in one form or another. Sweat, tears, or the salt sea.” There’s nothing that one or all of those can’t fix. Breathing in salt air daily is refreshing to the soul and reminds you that you’re alive. After breathing city air for several years, I think I’m gaining back time lost on my life by living on the beach now. The healing qualities of nature cannot be overrated.
Nobody ever said, “I really regret that time I spent relaxing on the beach.” (Except for people who got really badly sunburned, but even that should be, “I really regret being lazy and not putting on sunscreen.” Just saying. It’s the tropics, people. If your pasty white skin hasn’t seen the light of day in a while, cover it up before we mistake you for a lobster…in which case, please refer back to eating seasonally and cross your fingers it isn’t lobster season.) Nobody regrets time they’ve spent enjoying life, time they’ve spent connecting with loved ones, or time they’ve spent unhurried and unburdened. Refer back to the lessons I’ve learned about island time, disconnecting to reconnect with people, and understanding needs versus wants. The world is going to keep spinning. What you do with your time on it will not change that fact. You can’t make it spin any faster or slower, so just enjoy the ride. I’m enjoying mine on a beach chair facing the endless sea. And I don’t regret any of it.