An Island — Solitary but Not Separate.
Perhaps islands appeal to me for all the clichéd reasons — sultry seas, sunray-saturated skies, beauty abundantly flowering — or perhaps it is because each of us, when we really think of it, is an island unto ourselves.
The lazy lizard beside me basks by shore waves, a slinky speck on a billion sandy grains, and I should feel small. Isolated. But instead I feel nourished. The waves roll in, as they have done for millions of years, and as I inhale their salty mists, I also inhale the sacred secrets of solitude.
Everything that disrupts my peace is exhaled into their retreating depths as I take part in a natural, enduring communion.
Solitude can inspire fear, a worry deep as the concept itself that as we are born single from the womb so too will we live and die.
The trappings of connection vanish when we envision for a moment ourselves as isolated entities, for it is then we see the true meaning of relationship, of love even, and we know on some level there can never be another who so unconditionally values us as we do ourselves.
This seems fine on the surface. What is the problem if we, confined to our own company, realize solitary love? The fear lies with the if, if we realize that love.
Love starts at home — in the home of our hearts, of our bodies and souls. If we do not get it at that foundational level, there is no hope for us to establish it elsewhere.
It is understandable how fear-based loathing supplants love — jokes are made, we internalize others’ words, absorbing truths that are not even true. Bullies historically succeed because the system supports them.
Crippling fear — that being misfit in society will irrevocably brand us — thwarts those targeted from reclaiming reverence for who we naturally are. But not one of us is like the other completely, nor should we be; that is the irony — we all are islands.
Solitary but abundant, not less than someone or something else just because we are small.
I recently spent time on sister islands — a week of complete solitude, a week that almost did not happen. I was afraid, to fly by myself over deep waters, to decide entirely on my own how the seconds of my days should be spent. I was afraid I would not like my undistracted company.
But a voice at the airport, one within, declared, “Let Go.”
I thought at first these words referred to the embrace I shared with my loved one, it was then that I heard them, but the words stemmed deeper, their meaning rooted inside myself — Let Go.
Of what? I wondered on the plane. I took out a journal and jotted down some thoughts, but nothing seemed to reach the core, not at least until I was by myself that evening, and then I understood. Let go, of everything but yourself.
Who am I though? That was the real question. Labels socially assigned and accepted filtered through — daughter, granddaughter, sister, lover, friend. These roles, though, I have fulfilled for others. Who else then?
The adventurer who backpacked around the world, and for one year resolved for New Year to complete at least fifty-two dreams, one per week, bucket list events like skydiving, learning Italian, and screaming into the wind?
Am I the artist who tries through word art, or a photograph of a faintly browning flower, to author her experience? The student of life who studies Tolstoy, the chickadee, the pained smile of a loved one?
Perhaps I am disturbed, for feeling intensely the tragedies and the triumphs, for the periods of hysterics and confusion when life simply does not make sense? Disordered as defined by the hegemonic language, for pulling out my hair?
Is my friendliness toward strangers more definitive than my cruelty when I feel threatened?
I listed and sifted, flaws and strengths, the biology, sociology, cosmology, and spirituality, of who I think I am, and as I parted the morning curtains between me and the outside world, I realized — I am an island.
The sand my skin, the flowers the tendrils of hair around my face, I see my honest reflection in cave waters, on untamed winds I inhale my natural aroma, my emotions are tides that abide faithfully with the moon.
The people, through careful selection that populate my shores, add dimension to my shape; even the transients influence my biostructure. I am one in a sea, solitary though not separate. A wild, surviving landscape. As an island I feel essential, less adjective and more verb.
The birds of my soul lift into flight through groves of plumeria and hibiscus, the oleander lingering with effervescent glory next to the thorny rose. I am sweat on the neck, the juicy pulp of a drooping fruit, the sole burn crossing baked beaches.
I am the crack in the rock, the crabby hermit, the avian scavenger, the dusty bus that transports ladies in sarongs. In shack stews I taste what I hunger for, my depths glow blue with bioluminescence, through drenched rainforests I am cleansed.
My weight is less as island not because I am stripped but because I have simplified. In order to sustain my resources, I must. I must clarify what is necessary and what can be released, as there is limited space.
I persist as island past my personal colonization, resisting assimilation as I adhere fiercely to my indigenous identity. And yet I do not allow bitterness to cloister me from the world outside — I am simply more cautious in regards to my interactions.
Relaxing into island time, into the lush fluidity of moments unfettered by feckless pursuits, I focus on what most naturally matters.
A sea snail the size of an avocado clings to the tiles by my sliding door like this ancient, living knowledge, and I recognize my island conception foreshadowed this epiphany.
Under island stars I was conceived; it was warm, coconut breezes that ushered me into this corporeal existence, sweet mango on the lips was as haunting to me in the womb as the alluring scent of gardenias. Cities of steel and concrete do not connect with my soul in the same way.
Cut off from nature, I feel phantom to myself — numb. I need to see the unfurling arms of ferns, to kneel under brocaded palms, returning stranded spider crabs to sea water reconnects me to nature — mine, ours — reminding me all I am a part of.
I may be a solitary island, but like the lizard, the oleander, the whispering winds, I am not alone. The abyss might surround me but I have not succumbed to its siren call. I maintain my ground, blossoming what I can, casting out to sea like sunken treasure that which does not support me.
I am free, inside this understanding, to be unique, to be misfit, to be without fear, because those who spend time on my shores get it in a way that could never be explained.
When I wish on a conch shell, it is that I never forget the island girl in human clothes, she is the one who keeps the water in its place.
Alexandra Heather Foss is a freelance writer, most notably published by The New York Times and in the book ‘Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself’. From the young age when words first inspired her to author her experience, her life has been devoted to shaping words in a way that mean something. She can be found exploring the natural side of life on Cape Cod and in Florida, while she pursues her ultimate dream of becoming a novelist. She can also be reached on Facebook.