They say you never really know what something is like until you’ve experienced it firsthand. That you never know what you’ve been missing until you get a taste of it. A year ago, I realized what I’d been missing in my life — all thirteen years, five months of it.
It started out as yet another family vacation; a long journey crammed with stuffy car rides, too-small hotel rooms, and a complete lack of privacy. My mother, father, two older brothers and I packed up our belongings and set out for Wisconsin — a world away from arid Arizona. The road stretched into eternity, twisting and turning and confusing even the sharpest of eyes.
It took two miserable weeks to reach our destination; two weeks in which I repeatedly cursed being born in such a large family and constantly listened to music off my mp3 player. I listened to my favorite songs and read, doing my best to block out the world, and succeeding.
It took one glorious moment on a quiet lakeside to change who I was and who I’d become. My music had long since grown old, and so, when I stepped out of the car, the headphones usually perched precariously on my head felt oddly absent. At first, I didn’t know what I was hearing. The air was cool and wrapped around me like yards of silken ribbon.
The lake water rolled and swirled gently, drawing my eyes. The evening was so silent I could hear a dog bark, a mile away. The silence filled me, overflowing, holding me in a quiet bubble that was completely and wholly my own.
In that moment, I discovered what I’d been missing. Peace like nothing I’d ever known wove around my tense muscles, making me sway to a music much more subtle than The Used or Evanescence. I sat on the shore until the last tendrils of daylight faded, and darkness held me close.
My dad built a campfire in a narrow clearing behind me. The warmth drifted past me, mingling with the coolness that rose from the water lapping at my feet, and the sharp crackle of the flames soothed me as much as the silence had, moments before. When the night grew so thick I couldn’t see my hands, I moved to a tan cotton hammock three yards from the rocky water’s edge.
Hours passed, and for once, they meant nothing beyond the rising and setting of the sun. For so long, I’d been caught up in the intricate web of growing up. I’d listened to music because, without it, I felt like I was missing out on something.
I’d kept myself entertained, out of fear that I’d fall behind everyone else in the learning department. Surely, if I stopped reading and watching and listening, my life would fall apart. Surely, if I stopped, I’d miss out on something important. By missing out on what was happening in the world, I discovered something of far greater importance. My family trip taught me something you can’t learn in textbooks, something you can’t learn from the lyrics of a song, or the pages in a storybook.
I learned what it meant to appreciate living. I learned to love every breath, every moment, because even if it isn’t filled with noise and motion, you’re still learning something that can never be replaced.
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