This week’s post was intended to be light and fluffy, but after hearing of a fourth friend’s death in three weeks and attending a beautifully teary memorial yesterday, I’m not feeling particularly light. Reflective, yes. Light, no. So I find myself asking: What makes a life well-lived?
I have not yet accomplished what I want to. People often talk about finding your passion and following it, but they don’t often talk about the inevitable in-between bits. The difficult parts we have to go through to get where we want to go and become who we wish to be. I am happy to say I’m on my way there. I am taking active steps in that direction, but if I died today, I’d feel unsatisfied—that there was more to do and be.
So what to do? Honestly, I’m not sure. But the only thing that makes sense to me is to say yes. Say yes to the opportunities that present themselves. Say yes to the things that scare me. Say yes to the game of Trivial Pursuit my son wants to play with me. Say yes to coffee with a friend. Say yes to the video shoot I think is a little too ambitious, but sounds like fun. Say yes to my brother when he calls and asks me to be his travel buddy to a wedding at a Mayan ruin in Belize in ten days. Have passport, will travel.
The Belize trip was particularly special. I didn’t know anyone going besides my brother. Everything had already been planned so I was just along for the ride. All I knew was that it was a very intimate wedding and I the only outsider. There wasn’t time to plan out what I might want to do or see in Belize because I barely had time to make sure everything was okay at home for me to take off on this little adventure. And that was fine with me.
I’m very lucky to have a supportive and capable husband who was more than happy to find sitters and free me up to go where my wanderlusting heart desired. So off I flew to Houston, where I met up with my brother, before continuing on together to Belize City. We grabbed a van to take us to Chaa Creek Resort, near San Ignacio. We had a great driver who pointed out a bunch of landmarks and gave us a history lesson, answered questions he’s inevitably answered thousands of times before, and made sure we got food in us, making the long drive enjoyable.
When we arrived at Chaa Creek it was a world unto its own. Nestled in the rainforest, along the Macal River, it is a beautiful eco-resort that prioritizes the protection of the natural ecosystem without sacrificing any comforts (apart from air-conditioning).
The sounds of the rainforest are hard to describe, ranging from the high-pitched buzz of insect wings to the myriad of birdcalls, from throaty frogs to the booming Howler Monkeys. It’s truly spectacular. Which is why I spent a lot of time in a hammock on our balcony, reading and listening to the symphonic cacophony.
I was also grateful to the entire wedding party who graciously accepted and included me in everything from meals together to hiking, swimming and canoeing. I had already decided to make myself useful by documenting the trip with photos and video and I was really excited to hear that they were getting married on the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich.
I never expected to climb the tallest temple in Belize in a dress, but we ended up having the ruins to ourselves and had to explore. We could see all the way to Guatemala on the clear day and were serenaded by the guttural growl of the Howler Monkeys. Hearing them you’d think they were the size of gorillas, but really they’re only between 2-3 feet long.
It was a magical wedding unlike any I’d been to before and I am grateful to have been able to attend.
For the next few days we moved down to the beach at Hopkins on Belize’s eastern shore. We kayaked, played on the stand-up paddleboards, went cave tubing and ziplining through the rainforest. We ended our trip with an amazing meal at a place called Love on the Rocks where your food comes out on a sizzling hot rock that cooks in front on you. Strong winds and flying palm fronds had us running through the rain back to the hotel. We drank champagne on a balcony and laughed so hard it hurt.
It was one of those perfect trips with new friendships, easy fun and the kinds of special memories I expect will make it into that slideshow of my life when it comes time.
It makes me wonder if the life well-lived is less a list of accomplishments (which are mostly outside our control anyway) and more about being the person who says yes to the experiences that we want to see in our own life’s slideshow. Maybe the dash—the part of life lived between the dates of birth and death—are best spent becoming rather than being. Maybe there’s never a perfect time or way to go. Maybe we’ll never feel ready. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is that we ask, that we pay attention, and that we cultivate the bits of life that make us feel most like the person we hope to be.