Monday, December 10, 2012

I am an Island

You read this blog. Some of you, faithfully. And that's an incredibly fun and strange thing for me. And from time to time some of you have mentioned that you feel like you know me personally, just from reading all the nonsense I post. And I feel like I know you personally as well.

Well, not you you. But the collective "you."

You probably just read that part where I said that I know you personally in a creepy voice. So you got freaked out for a second, thinking that maybe I was stalking you. So I put in that part about the "collective you" to ease your concerns. And now you're back to thinking that I'm not stalking you. Which is putting you into a false sense of security, because I am stalking you.

Don't believe me? Turn around.

Ok, so I wasn't actually standing behind you. But imagine if I was. Pretty impressive, right?

Anyway, through my communication with the collective you, I feel like I know you. And I think about you whenever I'm writing something here.

I imagine you sitting there on the other end in your Snuggie, petting your cat(s) and nodding along in agreement when I tell you that there should be a law against owning snakes and the violation of this law should immediately result in public execution.

I picture you crossing yourself every time I mention the Queen of Colors's's''s name.

And sometimes, I even imagine you tired and scared, pulling up to your computer and needing something uplifting to bring a smile to your face. Something that will make your problems go away for just a few minutes. And maybe even something that will give you a little boost of morale to help you deal with your problems a little better today.

Real or not, I feel a responsibility for trying to provide that for you. I feel that responsibility, if for no other reason, because you strangers have done the same for me in your humorous, encouraging, and uplifting emails and comments to me.

A few weeks ago, I talked about my mini panic attack in the town store when I realized how small my life sometimes seems here in Palau. When I was offered the position as court counsel for the Supreme Court of Palau, I knew I had a really difficult decision ahead. Moving deep into the quiet, dark Pacific would be such a wild change from my cozy life in Salt Lake City.

I thought through so many considerations at that time. What would it be like to leave my friends and family for a year? How would it be to abandon the comforts of the U.S. to go live in a more primitive country? How difficult would my job be? Would I even like it? Would the Queen of Colors and The First Eye be able to find me?

For months, those questions spun through my head until ultimately I felt confident that I should do this. And could do this. The source of my confidence? I knew I could do this because this was nothing new for me.

I had left my family and friends to move to Ukraine when I was 19. Later I moved to Russia completely alone for work. I had travelled quite a bit and had a long track record of trying and loving new adventures. So, this really was nothing new for me.

Or so I thought.

What I hadn't taken into account was the isolation and loneliness of the quiet Pacific. And that is a new experience for me.

The isolation and loneliness here is very real. And sometimes on dark nights when I hear nothing but the beating of the tropical rain outside, all I want is to do is snuggle with everyone I know under a giant fleece blanket and talk about the day.

Since I'm not the type of person that lets myself get too down, I find ways to snap myself out of it. Usually, then, whenever I start feeling lonely, I comically hum or sing the words of a song that Paul Simon said was "about loneliness," and picture myself lightly placing one hand on a window while silently crying.

A winter's day, in a deep and dark December;
I am alone, gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock. I am an iiiiiiii-island.

etc. etc. etc.

I also think of a 6 foot tall prostitute named Lafonda I met in Belize 2 years ago who approached me at a reggae concert and said, "you look a-lost and lonely. And I'm a-lost and lonely too."

I wasn't lost or lonely at that time. But on some days her assertion would be more accurate if she approached me in Palau.

These dramatic and funny images usually bring a smile to my face. You know what they say. The people who find pain humorous are probably the most screwed up.

But beyond the humor, that isolation and loneliness really is what I'm learning the most from in this strange stint.

The loneliness is so much more apparent during the holidays. And I think I have never really appreciated the beauty of human connection that weaves itself through this part of the year the way I finally do now.

There are so many hugs happening without me. So much reminiscing over dinners. So many new friendships forged. So many spontaneous visits to drop off Christmas cookies.

And while I love so much about my life in Palau right now, a big part of me aches for what I'm missing. It aches for that contact and those shared laughs as I turn to bed, dark night after dark night, deep in the quiet Pacific.

I guess the trick is focusing less on what you don't have and more on what you do. It's making the effort to find new people to love, especially when you're far away from the ones you're used to loving. And it's finding a way to be the kind of person you need for someone else who also needs that kind of person in their life.

Life is so much better when you are surrounded by people you care about. It's so much more comforting when you have someone to laugh with at a time when you really need something to laugh at. And it's so much more meaningful when you can share your experiences and know that someone you care about is feeling the exact same way as you.

The people in our lives aren't perfect. But they are the people in our lives. And the more we cherish them while we have them, the more fulfilling our lives will be.

Please, hug your family members. Even the ones you're not related to. Love them a little more this year because a little boy in Palau wishes he could love his own family in person during these holidays. And for those of you who are like me right now and are a little far away from those you love, hang in there. I know how you feel. So, you're not alone.

Even though, you kind of are.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. If I could fly out and hug you, I totally would, wearing a snuggie, while combating the first eye, just to make you laugh. I hope you have an awesome holiday season, I, we, I guess we be more appropriate since I am also not stalking you, so a collective we as the readers (Why I'm speaking for everyone, I have no clue, I don't think anyone gave me authority... but if they did) we absolutely love your blog, and I do feel like a know a little piece of you. You make my work day better, and your blog is the first thing I check after my work e-mail. So, thanks for all the laughs, it's something I look forward to... and now I'm rambling.. Merry Christmas!!!!!

  2. I love all of your humorous posts, but love this heartfelt one just as much. It brought tears to my eyes. After spending the entire weekend doing holiday things with my family and being so thankful for it, I can't even begin to imagine not being around this time of year especially.

    Lots of hugs and holiday cheer coming your way (virtually of course) from this stranger.....

  3. You need a kitten.

  4. Thank you for all of the laughter and wtf (what the face!) moments you bring us. I'm sorry you are lonely and kind of down right now. Christmas in particular is a difficult time to be away from loved ones. Stranger though you are, you are in our prayers and hearts in the season of joy.

  5. Thank you so much for this post- exactly what I needed to read today. ;). Your writing never ceases to entertain and bring a smile (or a spewed coffee). We just moved away from many family and friends and I am experiencing so many similar feelings. Thank you for sharing your heart. Merry Christmas to you and yours ;).
    Love from Florida (aka Jamie)

  6. Like Rachel said, I love all your funny posts. I can always use a laugh and your humor is what drew me in. But I have really enjoyed your more heartfelt posts, where you've talked about your travels and your appreciation for life. I think picking up and moving away from all your comforts is amazing because I know I could never do it. I imagine if I was forced to do it, I'd be able to make it. But I could never do it voluntarily. I've turned down opportunities simply because of fear. So to see you go for it, even if unsure and a little scared, is amazing to me and I've enjoyed following along.

  7. Oh, Eli! Lots of hugs for you!!! I'm old enough to be your mother (or mama, I'm from the south) and all I want to do is send you some Christmas cookies or something. As we say in the south, bless your heart!


  8. My parents have moved to another country (retired). And it's a great adventure for them, they LOVE where they are. But they miss their grandkids (my kids) something terrible. And I miss when THEY miss stuff that happens here.
    A lot of people screw up their faces and tell me to tell them just to "come home." It's hard when people lecture me or them on why they should be here. They are happy, their health is better, they can live VERY comfortably on little money, the weather is PERFECT where they are now. They just miss family.
    So, in summary, I totally thought you were stalking ME, then I thought you WEREN'T, then I thought you TOTALLY were behind me. Totally. And I totally understand how you feel, only in reverse, because it's my parents who moved away, not me.

  9. Right there with you, Thanksgiving was the hardest but I skyped my family which turned into the most hilarious thing... unbeknownst to me, during one of the connection breaks (because for some reason internet here in France is worse than a third world country's wifi cafe), my sister took her laptop and put it in the kitchen... so I sat and watched my mother scold them for not helping in the kitchen, and listened to my dad watching football, just like I was there... wishing you un bon Noël!!!

  10. As you lightly place one hand on that window and silently cry, (and btw, thanks for getting that sad sad song in my head. . .), know that there are many hands on the other side of that window, strangers, but really not strangers. Merry Christmas, friend.

  11. You need a teddy bear. I would never have survived my years away from home without my stuffed monkey - and sorry, a snuggie just doesn't cut it. But hey - thanks for your posts and your thoughts. You've got loads of readers who would just love to jump on a plane and come to Palau today to give you hugs - and probably some of those would creep you out a little a lot. (not saying I'm one of them...just that SOME would be willing...I've got a baby to cuddle, so I'm set, not that I'm bragging or anything)

  12. Very nicely put. Believe it or not, "You're not alone" is a message that is sometimes just as appreciated on the island of Manhattan as on Palau!

  13. also on an island over the holidays without family, so well wishes to you stranger!

  14. Sheesh! That was sappy, you weren't kidding. I honestly got a little teary eyed. I'm away from home too and as ridiculously crazy as my family is, I really miss them too. Sending lots of better than a snuggie hugs and a couple incredibly awkward cheek kisses your way. Seriously though, you truly are in the hearts, thoughts and prayers of many. Take care Eli!

  15. Eli,
    Your blog brings such joy and humor to my life. I'm a political science student minoring in Chinese at UVU. I'm about a year away from getting my bachelors, and after that I'm planning on getting a scholarship to study in China for about a year or longer. I've studied in China for a couple of months during the summer and I know how it is to feel lonely and isolated from the ones you love in a strange country. I love China, but the thought of going back fills me with anxiety, because I don't know if I can bear the thought of being in a strange land away from everyone and everything I love for a year or more, and this time with nobody I know (I was with a group of my classmates last time I went to China over the summer). I can't tell you how much strength it gives me to know that I'm not the only one going through something similar. The things that you share on your blog are such a blessing to me. They always fill me with laughter and joy that helps me through the day. Thank you so much! Keep it up and stay strong!

  16. I know exactly how you feel. And now, turn around because I'm standing RIGHT behind you.

    Ha ha, but wouldn't that have been awesome?

  17. As usual, you made me laugh, and then you made me cry! Something that comes with age and maturity is realizing what really matters, especially at this time of year - family and friends! I am sure they are all missing you just as much as you are missing them. Hang in there, have a wonderful Christmas and thank you for making us all laugh and even cry sometimes!

  18. Sending you a virtual hug across the big blue ocean.

    And yeah, I'll stop complaining about my family and just love them for the crazy people that they are.

  19. Blogger didn't want to post my comment last night (I would've been first, too! Scowl), but I was going to say that I Am A Rock is always one of my go-to songs when I need cheering up.

    Because it's the holidays, if you need a nice dramatic and cheesy song when you get lonely, try Little Christmas Tree by The Jackson Five. Little Michael sings about the lonely tree standing there (just like me).

  20. Eli, I guess the fact that all of us take some time everyday to visit you here makes you almost not as alone. Almost. We're no Bob and Cathie. And heavens knows no one can compete with G-Mac. But, for what its worth, some strange strangers care.

  21. Although I love pretty much every time you post (you are a great writer, like I've said before) I try not to comment too often cause that would just be creepy (not quite as creepy as when I turned around and you were standing there, goodness you scared the bajeebers out of me.) I am glad you have continued to write, even though things haven't been easy. I am always grateful for the laughs. I'll join with the others in giving you a virtual hug and wishing you have a very Merry Christmas.

    P.S. I saw your tweet about your finals nightmare and I thought that you went to school way too many years if you are still having dreams about finals ... then I realized you were probably just trying to be nice and have sympathy pains for those of us who aren't graduated yet (3 more days to to!)

  22. Ok, sobbing big tears here like a baby. You are wonderful and I can't tell you how much I appreciate your posts. (Anne)

  23. I know exactly how you feel. A few years ago I was in a study abroad program and decided I was going to live in Wales for the whole year. I didn't realize how hard the holidays were going to be since I was an ocean away from home. It was made easier with the new friends I made. Thanksgiving was a blast, especially since the Welsh and Brits were like, "What is this Thanksgiving and why is only once a year?"
    It gets better, home slice.

  24. Eli: I hope you realize that we feel the same sense of longing to have you home for the holiday. Things just aren't the same without you brightening our home and bringing that great sense of humor to always have us laughing. Just know that we truly feel your absence and look forward to skyping with you each week.We hope you will always remember that you are constantly in our thoughts and prayers. We love you and miss you as do you sibblings and nephew and nieces. Love Mom and Dad

  25. Thank you for this. Holidays can be hard when you are far from loved ones and when loved ones are far from you. Focusing on finding some of the many who are lost and lonely is truly the best way to combat that difficulty.

  26. I am a stranger who stumbled upon your blog via Pinterest (the snuggie post). Checking your blog is now a daily lunch break routine for me. Thanks for your writing! You are very talented! Hang in there!!

  27. Awesome post. Hugs to you from Virginia!

  28. I know I'll be feeling this next year when I'm off on my mission, and I feel truly grateful to have this Christmas season to spend with my family as I get ready to leave them. I'll definitely forward this to one of my friends who is currently on a mission (she asked me to keep her updated on your blog!)For what it's worth, know that all of us strangers are wishing you a happy Christmas.

  29. Eli, You are one of my favorite people that i have never actually met!! I used to honestly think that blogs were only for emotionally unstable people who liked to write things about boring and utterly pointless things all day long. I found your snuggie texts on pinterest and have been an avid reader ever since. I even joined twitter just to follow you (totally in a non-stalker way) but that didn't work out. It was altogether a frightening experience... Anyways just hang in there. All of us strangers are cheering for you!!! -Taylor

  30. This is my 6th Christmas season living far from home, and it never really gets easier. I've been able to fly home a couple times for the holidays, but not enough. My sisters have married, they have small kids, and I feel so separated from them. Sigh. But, they're alive. And we have phones and Skype and email. We're so much more connected than would have been possible 50 years ago. And I can get on a plane and go meet my new nieces and nephews. I can be thankful for that. And Christmas Day I'll wake up in the middle of my "night" to wish them all a merry Christmas via Skype. I am blessed.

  31. Just want to hug you right now. Thanks for making me laugh and cry today.

  32. Thanks Eli, being alone is hard...I hear you.

  33. I recently stumbled on your blog and everyday since you have given me exactly what I needed- a good laugh, or 2, or 10. Today's post was also exactly what I needed. Thanks you for reminding us all how lucky we are when we focus on what we do have rather than what we don't. It's something I have had to do a lot of these past few weeks myself.
    Sending you lots of snuggie hugs! Hang in there!

  34. Miss you! I will send pictures of the "decorating" as Miss Emrie calls it. Won't be the same without you! Watch for those boxes end of this week or first of next week. They will bring you some Christmas cheer and hugs! If you can find it listen to Blake Shelton's beautiful Christmas song.........

    Another Christmas day, will
    come and go away, I got so far
    to go, but I wanna go home.

    May be surrounded by
    strangers and Christmas lights,
    shouldn't feel so alone, but I
    wanna go home, God I miss
    you, you know.

    I can close my eyes and see the
    angel on the tree, blanket of
    snow outside, all my friends
    and family.

    And though I know that you're
    no further than a call away, I
    need to see your face, and a call
    could never be the same.

    Another Christmas day will
    come and go away, and I won't
    leave you alone, I'm gonna go
    home. I got to go home.

    Let me go home, I'm just too far
    from where you are, I wanna
    come home.

    And now the reason I'm so far
    away ain't good enough.
    Whatever they need me for, I
    know now that I need to go home.

    That's how we feel about you. Love you so much!

    Xoxo. Cathie

  35. I'm just finishing up my education methods semester and I have definitely hit quite a few low points throughout the process. I would immediately come to your blog page because your stories and adventures took me to another place in the world, even for a few minutes, making me smile. I plan on living abroad to teach English after I graduate in May and your stories from Palau have encouraged me to pursue those dreams. Thank you for everything :)

  36. Sometimes we focus so much on what we want but don't have instead of remembering all te things we didn't want that we, gratefully, don't have.

    Thanksgiving in chile was a wild ride as my friends tried to make things more homey for me and celebrate with traditional thanksgiving food. The stuffing: started with inlayering the very thick bread and then cutting/pulling it in to cubes, followed by laying it out for about 3 days. The adventures never end, Eli! I'm excited to see how you spend your Christmas!

  37. Well it should brighten your day to know that you've mastered teleportation. When I turned around, you were behind me. With your cats. All the way to the Gulf Coast Of Mississippi. And I'm allergic to cats, so thanks for that...

  38. ****wipes errant tear****

    Just found your blog less than a week ago. You mKe me smile. This post is exactly what I needed.

    And from a complete stranger.

    Thanks for sharing!

  39. My husband and I love your blog, and this is the first one that left us both scratching our heads. Living on an island in the middle of nowhere is way harder than anything we've ever done, and we're very sorry that you're lonely. What left us bothered is that you're out there with your friend Daniel, right? Either he left, or he must not read your blog, otherwise he'd probably feel pretty bad reading about your loneliness.

    Stay safe this Christmas!

    1. Totally fair question. And I should probably have anticipated it and answered it in the post. But I'll go ahead and give you an answer here (which you may never see since you posted this anonymously).

      Daniel is still in Palau, and that has certainly been a welcome presence for me. And oddly, Daniel encouraged me to write this post and talk about some of the feelings I've been having out here. Part of what has been so surprising about this experience, particularly in the loneliness category, is that even having a friend down here doesn't quite take away some of the sting of being so far away and so out of touch with everyone else, particularly my family. It had not occured to me that I might feel lonely even with Daniel here.

      What's even more than that is the prospect of Daniel heading back to the U.S. He came with me to Palau with the expectation that if his job situation didn't work out as he hoped, he would go back to the U.S. and lately he has been toying with the idea of doing that right after the new year because of some snags in his employment. So a lot of these feelings are coming out now because I am anticipating an impending greater loneliness. We don't have an answer quite yet on whether he will stay or go, but this conversation has had me thinking and feeling the topic a lot more lately. And I'm crossing my fingers and praying fervently in the meantime!

      Thanks for the question! And rest assured, Daniel does not feel bad about any of this and knows I appreciate his company and friendship as much as a person can appreciate anything! He is the greatest friend anyone could hope for. He is an active blog reader and contributer and has the personality type to let me know if he didn't appreciate something I wrote here!

      Merry Christmas!

  40. Eli, this post made me feel so many things all at the same time. You've got a talent for writing, dude. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us. We're praying for you!

    From one of your many strangers.