Well, I think it's safe to say that I my life would have plenty of twists and turns this year, I just never expected them to happen quite the way they did. Two things stand out above the rest in the influence that they've had on my life. Those two things are South America, and Multiple Sclerosis.
The two were, in a way, serendipitously connected, with the MS hitting me once upon arrival to this new continent, and once more upon leaving it. I'll likely never fully understand why, other than that I fully expected my trip to be a life changing experience. But then, I wouldn't take any of it back, even if I could. Life, for me, is about the experiences that it offers, and the experiences I gained by taking that step, are, in a word, priceless!
I often marveled at the ease that one can have in making new friends while traveling. Naturally, it's not hard to befriend other travelers, as they are in a similar situation: far from home and with few of the familiar comforts that we can often take for granted while living in the daily grind of a routine life. It invariably causes one to be more open to meeting new faces, eating new foods, listening to new music, finding new ways to get around, and the list goes on and on. The biggest surprise, however, was to see how easy it was to become good friends with the locals. Now, South America was not my first long term overseas experience. I had spent six month in New Zealand previously, but only left with a handful of friend that I regularly keep in touch with.
My South American experience was much different. In large part, I give credit to the locals themselves. Seeing a friend completely overjoyed to see you again after two months, when we had only met once previously, convinced me of this. I may as well give some credit to my physical condition. Being more physically limited may have kept me off of the highest mountain peaks, but also gave me the chance to experience more of the cultural side of my journey. Instead of trekking the longest treks, I could instead spend my time learning songs and dances, studying the language, or making myself more keen on the points of latino fashion (the last being very debatable.) I could see how rewarding it was to be less of an "extranjero" or "stranger" to the people around me. Lastly, must acknowledge that having more time for Internet 2.0 has certainly played its role in keeping me connected with every one.
Just as MS had affected my experience in South America, the same certainly happened in reverse. Although being struck with MS is by no means a happy occurrence in one's life, every day as I walked around, I would be struck with the images of people far less fortunate than myself. It was a constant reminder that I had resources, that I had caring people that I could turn to, and that even though I was having a tough time, I still had it way easier than so many of the people around me. When I relapsed after coming back to the familiar surroundings of North America, part of the culture shock that I experienced was realizing how easy it is to feel helpless and trapped in an environment where so much is available to us. The great irony of living in a culture of abundance, is that with nothing to compare it to, we never realize just how abundant it really is.
I go into this new year taking with me the lessons I've learned in the previous one, keeping in mind how they've shaped me into being a better person.