Lessons from the Truk Lagoon
When I was seven I spent four months in the hospital for a heart condition. I got through the ordeal, in part, because a neighbor dropped off three shopping bags of National Geographic magazines. I devoured stories of exotic locales and vowed that someday I’d have my own Nat Geo experience.
In senior year of college I was offered the opportunity to teach at Xavier High School on the Pacific island of Weno in the Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon (Federated States of Micronesia). I was fortunate to have lived there when life was still unplugged and a trusty portable typewriter was my “tablet.” Today, my home office is a veritable Apple outlet, but the years I lived in Truk were life changing.
I learned much from that adventure, including these three lessons that have guided my life ever since.
Offer only your best to others. Wherever I visited, people welcomed me by sharing freely – food, beverage and laughter. By the time I left to return to the States, TV had arrived in the islands. On my last night, I visited the home of my student Salvelo. His family had one of the first TV sets. It was sitting atop a table at the far end of the main room. Everyone was stretched out on mats watching. Salvelo’s mother gave me her mat, so I’d have the best view. It was a surreal moment and yet typical of true hospitality – unhesitating giving.
All people share three things in common. GiGi, a Filipina who left home for political reasons and who was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, had a personal story of love, pain and loss that was poignant and harrowing. She once told me that every person loves someone, has lost someone or something precious and is afraid of something. Wonderfully dramatic, but I’ve yet to meet the person for whom this isn’t true.
We are who we believe ourselves to be. I taught poetry to the frosh. At end of term, I put together a collection of their work and called it, “AH!” That summer, an Australian anthropologist stayed with the family of Bellarmine, one of my students. On her first night with them Belarmine asked the anthropologist, “Would you like me to read some poems I’ve written. I’m a poet.” She was amused that he called himself a “poet.” Months later, she told me that her evening with “Bellarmine the poet” was pure magic. And so it is that we become who we say we are.
The enduring gift of Truk is simply this: it is the quality of our daily life that matters most. With or without technology, each of us is the creator of that quality.
Please send your questions JP Reynolds at: firstname.lastname@example.org