I'm the girl who went to Thailand. Not notable in and of itself. Plenty of people go to Thailand. But there I was, a mere 24 years old, certain I should take advantage of those months between graduate school and career. And what did I decide to do?
Go to southern Thailand with a non-profit for 3 weeks.
I'd never been out of the country before. Heck, I'd barely traveled domestically. Still, I got a passport and boarded a plane for the other side of the world. I befriended program staff and met 22 strangers, some of them teenagers, who signed up for the same adventure.
Who were we, these do-gooders who thought it best to serve elsewhere? We weren't so much do-gooders but a blend of saint and sinner, eager to help and travel and explore. Some more than others. But we were there. We had shown up and that mattered.
My eyes were wide open. I drank in every scene before me, hungry to listen and learn. I spoke tentative Thai and taught English to teachers whose English was already better than my Thai. I walked alongside children at their special education school and drew forth smiles and understanding, in spite of the language barrier and whatever impairment they had.
In spite of myself, I impressed a monk during a lesson on meditation.
I talked faith and religion with my fellow travel companions, only one of whom claimed Christianity for herself. And again, I listened. I asked gentle questions and shared a bit of truth from my own life. Who can say whether it mattered or made a difference. I only knew what I would want if I were in their shoes.
No part of this trip was in my comfort zone. I didn't have any answers or control over these new experiences. But I found I liked it that way. I was as "at home" in Trang as I was in Wheaton. I rolled with the new culture. I stretched this way and that and found myself at the end of every turn. Here was freedom to be the new me and here was freedom to be the same me I'd always been.
And yet, I went deeper and farther than I'd ever been. I took stock of what mattered. I had to make my beliefs my own. A seed was planted on how to truly love myself and it would flourish over the next several years. When I returned to the US, I was the same Leigh, while also new and improved.
I learned I could take wild and crazy risks and so every so often I take another one. Whenever I wonder if I dare, I remember how I'm the girl who went to Thailand. It's usually enough to tip me over the edge.
Sometimes I forget it's not a normal travel destination, at least not a go-to vacation option for grad school students. I mention it offhand to a friend and their eyes widen in response. And I remember, "oh, yes. Not everyone makes that choice."
I wonder what else in my life I've overlooked. I'm just living, after all. This all seems normal to me. How could I not suck the marrow out of these moments?
I forget subconscious intent. I am purposefully moving through life, even when I stay home to read a book and drink tea. Even when it's another day at work. Even when there's so much that's not right or known. Even so, I am well aware this is my chance to revel at every turn.
I rediscovered this part of myself this year and I will not quickly part with her again. This is the time for fullness, for wholehearted living. My eyes are sparkling again. Hope is in the air.
I am the girl who went to Thailand. I am the woman who went to Amahoro and Burundi.
I am the girl who took on a medical social work career. I am the woman who writes without knowing to what end.
I am the girl who rooted herself in the Midwest. I am the woman who skipped down I-65 and made a home in Nashville.
I am the girl who asked, "is this all?" I am the woman who replies, "hardly. We've only just begun."