My trip to Bacalar has been a reminder of what it means to be alive.
In a truck packed with fruits, vegetables, five people and a chocolate lab named Penelope, we drove south for three or four hours from Playa del Carmen, stopping occasionally for various necessities like peeing in the jungle, or negotiating a roadside mango purchase. After passing a handful of towns which appeared to host only a handful of people, we finally arrived to the unsuspecting dirt path that we were looking for. “Aquí es Huaye,” the sign at the trail’s entrance said, which led us down a brief, off-road adventure to our destination: an isolated dwelling overlooking the tranquility of "La Laguna de Bacalar.”
Mushroom-shaped palapas freckle the coast of endless turquoise waters, and the only sounds I hear are rolling waves and things blowing in the wind. Tropical trees of yellow and green divide earth from sky, and clouds drift lazily in and out of sight. A world away from any place I would call home, I sit here in peace, free of the distracting lifestyle we’ve grown so accustomed to. I’m reminded of what it feels like to experience the present moment and become one with the world around us. Silencing an always busy mind provides me with the same relief as a breath of fresh air after emerging from a long underwater swim, and I think this silence is just as necessary as the oxygen we breathe.
Last night we watched a red moon climb over the horizon toward a crystal-clear sky littered with stars. We cooked together, ate together, and sang songs in Spanish and English until we decided that moving our patio furniture into the lagoon for a late-night philosophy session would be even more fun than listening to each other's voices. We shared stories that have shaped our lives and the insights those experiences have brought us. We gave each other advice as brothers and sisters would, and I was reminded that family transcends natal lineage.
Society, despite all its benefits, can be an equally detrimental guide to the way we live our lives. I don’t know how society in America formed into its currently misguided state, but I often ponder its origin. There is an overwhelming sense of awkwardness in our culture that comes with just about every social interaction. It’s a generalization of course, but somewhere down the line, the majority of us constantly feel subject to some unwarranted, society-driven judgement from our peers. It is up to ourselves, ultimately, to learn how to shed the pressures of society and be ourselves, but what an unfortunate displacement to be subjected to.
Don’t get me wrong- I love the people of my country, and the ways in which we interact sometimes, but we lack something serious when it comes to communication. Many people seem to be in such a rush or too consumed with “the things they have to do” in their lives that they have lost the value that is intrinsic to family. How often do you sit down for dinner with your brothers, sisters, cousins, etc.? Many times a week? Once a month? Or only during the holidays? Are you just “catching up” when you get together, or are you talking about what’s really going on in your lives and how you feel? It’s so important to feel like people actually care about you, and to know that they are really there for you.
In Italy, the family of one of my friends took me, someone they had never met, into their home during Christmas, and treated me with so much love and inclusion that I felt like we had known each other our entire lives. In Mexico, I’ve been treated with the same hospitality; total strangers who I'm introduced to for the first time ask me questions about my life story with such genuine interest that I feel like an immediate part of the family. It’s not to say that we aren’t good, welcoming people in America, but other cultures I’ve experienced place such a high value on the importance of family and hospitality, that I’m left to wonder how we, as a nation, have misplaced that value. Why aren’t we known for that? Why isn’t it equally as important to us?
I see countless families in America who see each other once a year despite living only a couple towns over. I see people who are afraid to dance or sing because people will judge them. I see a country that doesn’t have a single song or chant that everyone knows the words to and sings together proudly in social settings (The National Anthem doesn’t count). I see people so sensitive to their personal space, that even hugging friends and family is awkward. How did we develop this behavioral habit of distancing ourselves from one another? Even our national method of introduction- the handshake- is distancing and impersonal. And now, people of all ages in America have grown so accustomed to interacting from a distance, that we regularly deal with more serious topics from the “safe zone" behind the virtual walls called our cell phones.
This trip to Bacalar has reminded me of what it means to be alive; what it means to be part of a family, what it means to live in the moment, and the things that society has caused us to miss out on. We have many great things in America, but I always find that I’m more at peace and more myself when I’m somewhere else. I try to live my life by example when I find myself in the States, offering my home, my company, and my advice to friends and family. I’m always inspired to bring my family closer together and to make others feel just as close and welcome.
I can’t emphasize enough how much traveling has positively affected my approach to life and the order in which I prioritize things. It has taught me so much about humankind’s place in this world, and how beautiful life can be when we open our hearts to our neighbors. We are all in this together. For that reason, I will never stop traveling, learning, and spreading the good word during my time here.
How can I be a better person? How can I be a better family member? What can I do today to put a smile on a stranger’s face? By keeping these questions in the forefront of our minds, we can lead more fulfilling lives, and perhaps contribute to slowly reprioritizing the values of our society.