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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6 Comments

  1. Emily,

    What a beautiful and touching story. I have had the good fortune to dive with you and enjoy your freedom underwater. We have broken bread and I have loved the stories you tell of your worldwide dive experiences. I am truly envious.

    I was reading a story last night in the most recent Readers Digest. I guess that dates me pretty well. The story was about a 91 year old man and his life as told to his adult grandson. It moved me as your story did to work on making a change. Don’t wait, don’t wish a way your life. While the sunset shines do all you can. What a beautiful life’s focus.

    I will be anxiously awaiting your future posts. Maybe you could start a blog?

    Good luck and safe travels!

    Marc

  2. Well hush my puppies, you are blogging!!! I got this because you posted it on the UWS Facebook page but didn’t even notice it took me to your blog.

    I’m such a dork! 🙂

    • Thanks, Marc! And thanks for being such a great instructor. I’ll be doing the divemaster course in April and May so hopefully I’ll see you around the quarry!

  3. best of luck! UW Safaris are great, right?

  4. Yep, motivational. Can’t wait to see where you go!

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