It is written Above the Temple of Apollo according to the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece, "Know Thyself"
These words came to mind during my recent visit to my longtime home of Saba. a 5 sq. mile tropical island ..with its cast of characters 1,000 strong. All situated in the lush waters of the Caribbean sea. Think about that, 5 sq. miles, 1,000 people. After 16 years I knew almost everyone and shared moments of laughter and tears, adventures and misadventures, stories and dreams with many that have helped define my life.
This time I traveled there with 3 close friends who graciously allowed me to share my stories as I introduced them to my island friends .
The people of Saba hold no secrets, there was barely any crime, if you stole a TV, how could you get away with it, someone would know it wasn't yours, or that you didn't buy it or that it once belonged to so and so. The island itself was ripe with challenges, like survival; the need for food, shelter, education, clothing and entertainment. None of which one could totally do on their own, so community style living was the way. I go fishing, you grow vegetables, we share. I bake bread and you can fix cars. We trade , we barter, we offer what we have, and we care about our neighbor.
As I met my old friends and introduced them to Sallie and Tamara, I realized the uniqueness of each one. Each had a story filled with their truth, their habits, morals, and temperament, whether they be acceptable or disagreeable. In Saba there is no conforming to a norm, in fact, people are proud of being one of a kind, they knew themselves.
Take, for instance, Pops. When I lived there in 1982, Pops was retired from his work life, which, according to him, took him around the world in a merchant marine ship. When he returned home he set up a small sandwich and beer place at the bay where all the boats came in. Pops was smart and wise, in what I felt was a worldly way, he often spoke of his children who lived in a variety of places around the globe. He had a glint in his eye and a smirkish smile on his face every time we met. Some might have called him a flirt. One day I over heard a couple of locals laughing at their table saying "Why do you think they call him Pops?" AHA
During this last visit, I went to see Pops in the old folks home, in his wheel chair, in the living room with beautiful nurses waiting on him and surrounded by women, seems as tho he had outlived many of his male peers on Saba, could that have been his loving ways.
On our 3rd day in Saba, Tamara and Sallie came home anxious to tell me, Claire said hi and please come to karaoke that night to hear her sing; what a flashback. Claire's kids were some of the first people I met on Saba, they took me around and taught me how to catch a lizard, how to find wild cilantro after a fresh rain and walked me to the top of Mt. Scenery where we could see 5 other islands.
They took me home to meet their mom; a singer who wanted to be a star, she spent her time writing songs with hopes that she would one day be discovered. She invited me to hear her at church on Sunday. Imagine my surprise when I heard her sing; very much off key. No kidding, as proud as a peacock, she sang like a star, arm movements, pauses, smiles; just off key -- and not one person flinched, rolled their eyes or snickered. Hmmm curious. What was I thinking????
I relayed this tale to my friends and off to karaoke we went. There was Claire, dressed like a night club singer complete with sequins and bravado., singing Linda Ronstadt's version of Blue Bayou. Still off key. The audience cheered and applauded with as much enthusiasm as if it had been Linda herself up there.
As I joined the crowd, I was proud to know Claire, and I was proud to be part of the crowd that revered her.
It was then it struck me: If I had met Claire in Cottonwood, would I have paid her any mind?
And what of Pops, if Pops had lived in Cotrtonwood, would I have made friends with him or would I have judged him as a womanizer, with a lascivious past. I pondered this and wondered what it said about me.
What I realized from this trip is my life in Saba gave me a powerful gift, the ability to "know myself."
In our culture, we often hide those, shall we say, "shadow" sides of us, for fear of judgment or disgrace. We want to only speak of the lighter side; the accolades, the promotions. In Saba, they honor the entire picture, the idiosyncrasies, the reality and the dreams; the heart and soul of the individual.
During that trip, when I saw someone with whom I shared moments of friendship, a spark of knowing flashed across their face, we smiled and hugged, I felt the years, our history, our laughs, our sense of who we are, and what we shared. Each hug was a link towards knowing myself. Towards knowing my gifts, my dreams, my indiscretions, my past, and my presence.