I am back in the United States. It feels strange, but not as strange as I expected, but that is not where I want to focus today’s post. Instead, I want to look back at a conversation I had in Greymouth, the last city I visited on my final trip around the South Island.
By that point in my trip I had already reflected personally and reflected with my fellow Fulbrighters on our experience. For all of us, it was life changing. But something was nagging at me. Something deeper than the experiences, amazing as they were. Why do we need to go to the other side of the world as part of an incredible honor in order to feel our lives have changed?
I am in a unique situation because I am going to the same job I would have started 15 months ago if I had not spent 10 months in New Zealand. But of course our lives are not determined solely by how we earn a living. I could write a book on the ways this experience changed my life. I could write a book on why this entire experience was “special.”
But the nagging feeling remained, and it came into clarity while talking to a fellow traveler in Greymouth. I was talking to a fellow traveler who was less than enthralled by New Zealand (that shocked me enough, but is also not the point of the post). She was traveling as part of a bus tour, and as she reflected on each of the places she had visited, she asked out loud, “what did I do special there?”
Each city in New Zealand is known for something. Waitomo is known for black water rafting and glow worm caves, Rotorua is known for sulphur pools and Maori cultural shows, and Dunedin is known for penguins and sea lions (among other things). And don’t ask about Queenstown, the “adventure capital of the world!” So my fellow traveler was trying to remember what she had done unique in each city, what had been special.
Then the yogi in me came out, and it explains the nagging feeling I have had about the issue whether the Fulbright experience changed my life. Should not every moment, every day be special? Why must we do something in order for it to be special?
Mt. Cook - one of the many places that reminded me how special each moment is.
Each day, each interaction, each moment represents an opportunity to be special and meaningful. We can hold out waiting for something special to occur and define our lives by those events, or we can attempt to make each moment special and unique. Usually we think about these issues after major disasters or when someone is dying or has died. But why wait for those moments? Do we really need death and destruction to remind us how valuable each moment in our lives really is?
There is no question that my 10.5 months in New Zealand changed who I am. I had an amazing time and saw unparalleled beauty in both nature and people. Being part of the Fulbright program was one of the greatest honors of my life, and I plan to go forward constantly asking myself if I can live up to the vision Senator William Fulbright had for people who travel the world because of his vision. It absolutely changed my life. But I also know that the people who spent the last year working where I would have worked also saw their lives change in dramatic ways. Our experiences were different, but neither was more or less change-worthy than the other.
I do not see this as downplaying how meaningful the Fulbright experience was for me, and I would like to share more about that (and encourage more lawyers to apply), but it is to say that I hope to continue to look at each day as significant, just like spending time reflecting in the New Zealand bush and along the western side of the Pacific Ocean.
How about a new question? How about instead of asking ourselves what we did that was special in a special place, we ask ourselves how we can ensure that we notice the unique specialness of each and every moment?
© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.