For the past few weeks I’ve had fun discussing favorite YA books, favorite book series, and personal favorites from the Old Testament and New Testament. I’ve really enjoyed discussing these books and hearing about your own favorites in the comments and on Facebook, so thank you to all who have participated in the discussion. Next week I’ll finish up the series by looking at favorite fictional classics, but for now, I want to get a little more personal and give a life update. Seven months ago I boarded a plane for LondonI boarded a plane for London, and with it has come many adventures. This week has been without a doubt the best of my life, and I want to take a moment to reflect.
(This post has a lot of pictures, so if you view it on your mobile devices the formatting may be really bad. If so, I apologize.)
The World We Explored
As part of the abroad program with my university, we take one EFT (educational field trip) per semester. Last fall we went to Greece and saw Athens, Corinth, and the island of Santorini. It was a fantastic trip, but this week’s EFT to Jordan surpassed even my wildest dreams (and I’ve had some wild ones).
The trip began in Amman, the capital of Jordan, at a beachside resort on the Dead Sea. Yes, everything you’ve heard about it is true: it’s impossible to sink in the Dead Sea, regardless of your ability or inability to swim. The sea is so incredibly salty that my hand just a few inches below the surface looked distorted like a Van Gogh painting. And this was just the beginning: after a morning in the Dead Sea we went to the Jordan River, supposedly to the exact spot where Jesus was baptized.
The following day we explored Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Petra’s most famous landmark, the Treasury, is featured as the home of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, and following Indie’s footsteps through the canyon to the Treasury for the first time was an incredible experience. But Petra is so much bigger than just the Treasury, and thanks to the iPhone health app I can say with confidence that I and seven other students hiked between fourteen and sixteen miles through canyons and over cliffs that day (forgive me for tooting my own horn, but I did it all with a head cold). Exploring the ancient city… for once, I’m at a loss for words. Words can’t come close to doing it justice. Neither can pictures; pictures don’t capture the feeling of gritty rock under your hands as you climb or the sweet relief of a fresh water bottle purchased from a local merchant as the cool, clear liquid washes the dust out of your throat. To say that the day was amazing would be a gross understatement.
Yet after all that hiking the week was far from over. The next two days entailed a camel ride across the desert and a three hour boat tour complete with snorkelling at the reef in the Red Sea (unfortunately I don’t have any underwater pictures, but the coral was beautiful, coming in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Lots and lots of fish and a few small jellyfish). It was my first time snorkelling in the sea and it was an otherworldly experience.
The Truest Treasure
The week was special for another reason: Tuesday was my twentieth birthday. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve never really enjoyed partying on my birthday. I enjoy cake and presents with my immediate family and cherish those memories, but when it comes to my friends I generally don’t have fond memories of my own birthdays.
Well, Tuesday was a remarkable day in two ways. Hiking through the ancient desert city of Petra was a spectacular gift in itself, and I didn’t think anything would top that. I was wrong.
Upon returning to our hotel in the early evening after the exhausting hike, my friend Annika told me that her roommate Chelsea wasn’t responding to her text messages, and asked if she could hang out with me and Josh in our room until dinner time. Daniel, Sarah, and Laura – three more of my close friends who also endured the long hike – followed us. I was too tired to be suspicious of it; I assumed their hotel rooms were past mine.
But when we got to my room, the door opened to reveal Josh and Chelsea already in the room – a room now transformed with colorful streamers and enormous “Happy Birthday” letters strung over the entryway.
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I hate having the happy birthday song sung to me. I never know what to do: I can’t sing along to a song sung for me, so I usually just smile awkwardly and shuffle my feet as I wait for it to be over. But for the first time in living memory, hearing the song didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Instead, I was overcome with immense gratitude for all my friends, friends that over the past seven months have become family.
My birthday was the best of my life for two reasons. One: I saw one of the seven wonders of the world. Explored it in meticulous detail, hiked some fifteen miles through the Jordanian desert and saw things beyond my imagination.
But reason two is more important. Reason two is what made me cry that day, tears of purest joy. Six of my best friends managed to surprise me over and over and over again with signs of gratitude and appreciation. They threw me a surprise party in my hotel room when I got back from the hike. They ate with me at dinner so I could get a selfie of us all together, so I could be sentimental and have a photo to remember that moment. They arranged for the hotel to dim the lights and put on a spectacular performance (complete with bongo drums) as the waiters brought me a custom-made cake and sang happy Birthday to me in English and Arabic.
It’s a truth that somehow manages to be elusive no matter how obvious it is. But on my birthday it has never been clearer to me. The truth is this: friends and family are what really matter in life. Jobs and property and possessions come and go, but true friends are eternal.
So Joshua Gash, Annika Lile, Chelsea Taylor, Daniel Zarasua, Sarah Anderson, and Laura Duffield: thank you for everything. Specifically for the amazing day and week, and beyond that for all the wonderful memories from the past seven months. I love you all so much and I will cherish the memories for the rest of my life.