A Remarkable Absence of Fear

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
If I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

-“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Today marked both an end and a beginning.  It was my last day at my law firm.  My last day as a real lawyer.  And to invoke an old (but in this case very apt) cliché, the first day of the rest of my life.

It was a bittersweet day.  I said goodbye to colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and even adversaries whom I’ve grown to really enjoy talking to and spending time with in recent years.  I certainly hope and expect to keep in touch with many of them, but it’s unrealistic to expect that will be true of everyone, so in a way it’s a sad day.

I certainly felt a mix of emotions as I sent my farewell email, cleared out my belongings, turned over my computer, and left the office for the last time.  It was made a bit less dramatic by the fact that most people had left the office early, leaving fewer faces to say goodbye to, so I didn’t get teary-eyed or weepy.  (At least for now…  that’s likely still to come at the happy hour celebration we’re scheduling a few weeks out.)  I still felt, however, just about every emotion I could imagine: sad, joyous, relieved, excited, grateful, determined….  But as I rode down the elevator it struck me that a single emotion was remarkable in its absence:  fear.  I was not the least bit afraid that I was making a mistake or that I will fail in my new endeavor.

Certainly that may still be to come.  But at least for now, I have this remarkable feeling that whatever I do, I am absolutely certain it is for the best.  I have not a single doubt that it is the right decision for me–not an ounce of fear of what lies in store.  Because the reality is that I can never know how far I can go toward my dreams unless I actually leave.  In that sense, I feel there is really nothing to fear.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a hard time answering questions to the satisfaction of either myself or those asking them.  A lot of people at work have asked (always with excited curiosity and never judgment) questions like “What kind of job will you have?” “Where will you work?”  “Where will you live?”  “What exactly do you mean by marine conservation?”  The true and most accurate answer at this moment in time is I don’t really know.  But the lawyer in me still doesn’t allow me to give that as an answer and most often I stumble through some attempt to portray some of the (many) ideas in my head.  I could work for a non-profit.  I could work for the U.S. government (well, not really at the moment, but that’s a whole other blog…).  I could work with foreign governments.  I could live in DC working directly on federal government policy.  I could live abroad on some idyllic tropical island.  I could focus on coral conservation, overfishing, endangered marine life, effects of climate change…   The possibilities really are endless.  And paradoxically, it is that uncertainty that rids me of fear–it makes me realize that regardless of what I actually end up doing, I know I will do something that will effect change.  What exactly?  I won’t know until I try.

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve opened up every blog post with a quote–something that inspires me, motivates me, or reflects my thoughts.  Since I started this, I knew that for one important post I would use my favorite line from Moana.   Now I’m usually not much for cartoon movies, but I used my god-daughter Parker as an excuse to see it because the lyrics and music were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  But the movie ended up resonating with me.  Moana has to leave the comfort and safety of her island for the unknown in order to do what she is made to do.  (And if I ever take one of those silly “which Disney princess are you” quizzes, she’d BETTER be it.)

When I watched the movie I felt as though the song could’ve been written for me–it expressed perfectly how I was drawn to the ocean.  I thought I’d probably use it when I set sail across the world, but upon reflecting on this post, it seemed truly perfect for my exodus from my legal career.  “If I go there’s just no telling how far I go.”  For me, more importantly,  unless I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go.  As I stare out into the unknown and prepare to take the leap, I won’t know where I’ll land unless my feet leave the ground.  I can’t know how far I can go in this world unless I actually go.  Unless I leave my comfortable career and embark on something new.  Unless I leave my island and set out toward worlds unknown.

And so I go.

There’s a moon in the sky and the wind is behind me
Soon I’ll know how far I’ll go

-“How Far I’ll Go (Reprise)” from Moana, lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

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Small Hope, Big Happiness

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”  

-Emily Dickinson

My parents, cousin Holly, and I just returned from a fabulous week in Small Hope Bay in Andros Island, Bahamas.  It was the second visit for both Holly and me, and the first for  my parents.  It was just as wonderful as I remembered, with fantastic diving, relaxation, weather, and above all, people.  This is one of my favorite places to visit, with an incredible atmosphere where everyone truly makes you feel like family.  Holly and I had a wonderful time reconnecting with the friends on staff we made on our last visit, and all of us made new friendships with staff and guests alike.

My parents and I arrived on a Friday, and immediately were welcomed with the same reception I had remembered from my first visit.  And, despite a hurricane in October, the scenery was just as beautiful as always.

We just missed the humpback whale they’d seen on the dives that morning (so unusual in this area!), but of course, I hoped into the water to dive as soon as possible the next morning.  Humpback or not, the diving was just as enjoyable as ever.  That afternoon, my parents tested the waters with a discover scuba course around the dock.  I decided to join them, and nearly as soon as we submerged in the water, we were welcomed by a curious dolphin who swam around and checked us out during the entire dive.

Holly joined us that evening, and the next day the two of us began our week of diving just as much as we possibly could.  And what a week it was.  Some highlights were a huge spotted eagle ray, a hawksbill turtle, more fish than you could possibly count, and healthy, beautiful reefs.  And as a first for both me and Holly, we dove “over the wall”–a dive that involves descending over a vertical wall to a small “beach” about 180 feet below the surface.  While on previous trips, I never would have imagined going below the PADI-recommended 140 feet on a dive, Small Hope has run this dive for many years (since before PADI existed I believe) without incident.  I knew Jeff, Fede, and the rest of the team would never allow us to do it if it wasn’t safe, and sure enough, I was able to complete the dive well within my computer’s limits by staying only about 3 minutes at 180 (which is consistent with the Navy’s tables).  I definitely enjoyed getting “narced” for the first time, but the experience of floating down into the depths is even better and is something that is unparalleled and unusual.  Other highlights of the diving were the Blue Hole, the Marion, Bommies, and Brad’s Mountain, all of which made for great photo ops (along with many others).  Overall, the diving was fantastic.  Here are a few of my favorite underwater shots (or click here for the full gallery).  I don’t have any from the “over the wall” dive as I decided the safest course of action was to dive without the distraction of my camera.

The dive crew was great as ever.  As Holly had a good time “slaying Os” with Dennis and Tony and striking a pose with Terran.  We had so much fun diving all week with these three, Fede, Brie, Jay, Marco, and Catharina, as well as the guests who were there during our visit.  It seemed to be the week of women, with a majority of women making up the dive boat almost every day!  A great time was had by all, and along with great diving, there were lots of laughs had–both underwater and on the dive boat.

Another cool thing to see was how much Small Hope’s coral nursery has grown since our last visit.  On PVC pipes, Small Hope has hung pieces of Staghorn coral.  When Holly and I visited in August, they were only small pieces, but they’ve now grown and will soon be transplanted to the reef as part of Small Hope’s coral conservation efforts.  On two of our dives, guests helped clean the coral trees.  Sadly I couldn’t manage cleaning while handling my camera, but I did manage to document their efforts!  On my next visit I will have to leave the camera behind and help out.

And of course, it wasn’t just the diving that made our trip enjoyable.  At a great Bahamian night, Jay and his band rocked the house while another guest known as “margarita John” treated us all to his special concoctions.  All week there was fun, dancing, and games, including Bahamian domino lessons.  We also took an afternoon off to visit the Androsia batik factory and Fresh Creek.

Overall, this visit to Small Hope (aside from being fun and relaxing) reminded me of why I love the dive community.  Wherever I go, I find the most relaxed, laid-back, friendly people on earth.  Everyone has a story to tell, whether it be of some faraway place, some hilarious person, or just a fabulous dive.  I have found that divers are eager to get to know strangers and make new friends with anyone–whether they be from a similar or very different background than their own.  This tends to be true of the best dive destinations–not only the staff but also those who frequently them–whether it be divers, fishermen, nature lovers, or people who just love to be around the sea.  At a time when so many people seem to be afraid or skeptical of those who are different, it is refreshing to be among people who will welcome everyone with a smile, a handshake, and even a hug.  Nowhere is this more true than Small Hope Bay.

As I watched the final sunset and sunrise of this trip, I knew we’d all be back.

Dive Summary:

Location: Small Hope Bay, Andros Island, Bahamas

Dates:  March 10-20, 2017

#Dives: 22

Max. Depth:  179 feet

Total Bottom Time: 1,051 minutes

Dive Sites: Fisherman’s Wall, Aquarium, Dana’s Delight, The Plaza, Brad’s Mountain, Cara’s Cavern, Peter’s Mystery Shallows/Klein’s, Blue Hole, Jeff’s Ladder, The Marion, Sea Turtle Ridge, The Barge, Top of the Wall, Helen’s Hideout, Over the Wall, Bommies

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The Magical Tunnel of Rainbow Lights

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”

-Rumi

When I was a little girl, I adored the tunnel at O’Hare leading from the B gates to the C gates in Terminal 1.  When my mom was a flight attendant, we would go through the tunnel to get to flight attendant operations whenever we were at the airport, and my dad and I would wait in the crew lounge while my mom checked the (then physical) bulletin board for trades and other communications, and entered her bids on the crew computers.  When we were visiting, it was usually because we were getting ready to sit and wait for our names to be called for a stand-by seat on the plane.

So many fond memories started or ended in that tunnel.  We nearly always walked through that tunnel at least once on each trip–I was either starting our for or returning from some other city or even country, where I was soaking up the different sights, sounds, people, and experiences.  Those rainbow lights and Gerschwin’s Rhapsody in Blue that accompanied them became a magical portal to and from some other world.  Every time I walked through, my head would be filled with visions of excitement and adventure.

But as I grew up and I started traveling for work, my reaction to that tunnel changed.  I passed through it far more than I ever had as a child, but it was no longer associated with excitement and anticipation of the world I was about to explore–it became a symbol for stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.  Rather than let myself be swept up in the twinkling music or the rainbow lights, I would put my head down and walk hurriedly along, focusing on the clank of my heels along the moving walkways rather than the magical music.  I felt as though I was a cog in the machine, yet another person rushing from one destination to another, unable to enjoy the journey along the way.

This past week I took the my first business trip since telling work of my new adventure.  Now, ever since I gave them this news, I keep waiting for the anxiety of this big impending change to set in.  I keep thinking that at some point, someone is going to look at me like I’m crazy and trigger a seed of doubt in my brain that I just might be.  I keep waiting to be hit with a wall of fear that I am giving up security for uncertainty.  It may come at some point, but it still hasn’t.  And as I returned from this latest (and nearly last) business trip, walking through the tunnel after my delayed flight from Newark landed at the far end of the C-gates, I felt the opposite of anxiety.  I looked up at the rainbow lights and allowed myself to be surrounded by the song that I had once associated with excitement and adventure.  I couldn’t help but smile.  It once again served as a reminder that the world is massive and there is so much yet to explore.  I know I have made the right decision.  I may be going toward the unknown, but I am letting myself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what I really love.

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While the Sun Yet Shines, Do All You Can

‘Oi kau ka lā, e hana i ola honua.

While the sun yet shines, do all you can.  (Hawaiian proverb)

Ever since I was a little girl, I loved exploring.  Living in Northern California, I loved to examine the tidepools and look for bugs, butterflies, and plants in the woods, immersing myself in nature.  My dad, who was a biology teacher at the time, taught me to identify the various critters I saw.

As I grew up, thanks to my mom’s job as a flight attendant, I had the opportunity to explore the world with my family.  From Hawaii to Peru to Europe, I had the good fortune to experience far corners of the earth–cities, countryside, and everything in between.  Eventually, my love of animals led me to study zoology, working in a primate lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and traveling to Costa Rica for a summer program.

Deciding a career in research wasn’t for me, I eventually went to law school.  However, my love of nature continued to drive my travels and my free time.  In 2009, I traveled to Uganda and Rwanda, where I went on a safari and visited the mountain gorillas.  As I looked into the eyes of these gentle giants, I felt connected with nature in a way that I still cannot fully describe.  It was one of the highlights of my life.

A gorilla watches me while lounging in the bush

As I began my career in law, I made it a priority to travel whenever I could.  My family and I continued to go on regular vacations.  Even in Chicago, I regularly strolled through the zoo to watch the animals and get a bit of an escape.  In 2013, shortly before I switched law firms, a friend and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Belize, where she convinced me to try a discovery scuba.  As I descended past the comfort of the shallows, I was terrified.  My instructor calmed me down, and when I soon became immersed in the coral reefs and schools of fish, my terror turned to absolute awe.  I could not believe what an amazing new world I was experiencing.

I was hooked on the underwater world.  With the help of the great folks at Underwater Safaris in Chicago, I learned to dive, and before long it was a rare vacation when I did not haul my scuba gear along.  When a trial settled, I took a last minute trip to Hawaii, where I spent a week on the Kona Aggressor.  One morning, I woke to some unusual hustle and bustle on the boat.  When I looked out my porthole and saw fins I knew what all the fuss was about–dolphins were surrounding our boat and everyone was hopping in to join them.

I hurried on with my snorkel gear (so quickly I forgot my booties and they had to be tossed to me from the boat) and began to swam out to where others were already enjoying the dolphins.  Suddenly I was flanked by dolphins on either side.  I tried (rather clumsily) to swim with a dolphin kick, and one particularly curious dolphin started mimicking my movements and became close enough to touch.  Having been taught well by all of my instructors, I did not want to reach out and make contact–I believe it is better to leave anything wild undisturbed.  Much to my amazement, however, the dolphin leaned in and rubbed itself against me.  (I would later read that dolphins bond with each other in this way.)  Much as with the gorillas, I felt a profound connection to this remarkably intelligent being.

Photo credit:  Matthew Malczewski

In February of 2015, I was hit with an extreme shock when my Uncle Bill suddenly passed away.  A lifelong traveler, he had always had a profound influence on me, and I loved hearing his stories from his time in the Peace Corps and various other travels around the globe.  In particular, I loved hearing about his love for Hawaii, knowing he considered himself “Hawaiian at Heart.”

Although I had lost other loved ones, this was the first time I had lost someone so suddenly, and it shook me.  As I helped go through his apartment, I found a magnet:

“While the sun yet shines, do all you can.”  The message stuck with me.  It made me think “what am I doing with my life?”  Although I had a successful career as a litigator and enjoyed much of my job, I wasn’t truly fulfilled.  I knew I was in a rut, and something needed to change.  Time passed, and things stayed the same.  But I didn’t know what to change or how to change it, so I pressed on.  I did, however, realize that I needed to spend time with those I loved, and my cousins and I planned a trip to Hawaii to celebrate Bill’s life.

Shortly before that trip, my grandfather passed away.  Unlike my uncle, his passage was expected, but it still served as a reminder that life is only temporary.  As my family and I had a wonderful trip to Hawaii and spread the ashes of both Bill and my Grandpa, the nagging feeling that something was missing in my life returned, along with the message, “while the sun yet shines, do all you can.”  Yet, I still had no idea how to make that happen.  And as I got busier and busier with work, I pushed it down and continued on.

In the summer of 2016, my family was struck another blow when my cousin’s young 22-year-old wife passed away from leukemia.  Although I had not had the opportunity to spend much time with her, this again had a profound affect on me.  I realized not only that I need to do all I can while the sun yet shines, but the sun could set at any moment.  If I wanted to make a change, I had to take the leap and do it.  I asked myself, “when have I truly been happiest?”  “When have I made the most of my time?”  I immediately thought of my experience swimming with the dolphins and the peace I felt while scuba diving.

While I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, I decided I wanted to change the focus of my career and do something that involved the ocean.  I made a commitment to myself.  While the sun yet shines, I will do all I can.  I even made that commitment permanent, and designed a tattoo that combined that saying with a sunset (as a reminder that life is short), and a dolphin (as a reminder of my  incredible experience in Hawaii).  (I use the word “designed” loosely.  I came up with a hastily drawn sketch and the incredible Su Houston at West Town Tattoo in Chicago turned it into something truly beautiful.)

So now I’m taking the plunge and am following my dream.  I will leave my job in April, and in June I will begin a year exploring the globe, diving, volunteering, and taking as many photos as I can manage to organize.  It’s both thrilling and terrifying, and I think the best way to commit myself to documenting it is by sharing it all with you.  The support I’ve gotten from friends, families, and co-workers has been astonishing.  I know that there will be tough and scary moments, but you all will carry me through.  And I don’t know exactly what my future will look like yet or how I’ll get there, but the time off will serve me well to hit the reset button and think about what I really want from my life.  I hope you all enjoy following along.

And finally, in the spirit of doing all I can, I’ve realized I need to make the most in my remaining time in Chicago.  Fortunately for me, the Shedd Aquarium picked this weekend to open its doors for free to Illinois residents, so I took my camera along for some practice.  I can’t wait to have so many more opportunities to practice with my camera that are actually underwater!

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