Three weeks ago, I returned from spending four months traveling around the world with Semester at Sea. I’ve finally got my land legs back and I’ve cleared most of the foam from my sea-clogged brain, meaning it’s at least more likely that I will keep the time and day of the week straight. Though I’m an author, ghostwriter and editor, and I teach classes and write books about the value of writing our most meaningful life stories, I didn’t write one word about this experience while I was gone. I can argue that I was too busy keeping up with my primary job on the shipboard community: figuring out how to be a long-term substitute teacher/one-term home schooler for my 10-year-old son. Or I could admit that I simply decided I would wait…until the experience was over.
When I presented a seminar to lifelong learners on the ship, I suggested that they might ease themselves into writing about their own experience by responding to the simple prompt “I will remember when…” So I’ll follow my own advice here.
On this Semester at Sea trip I will remember when…Peterson stopped his cab at the outdoor market and came back with a large bunch of baby bananas and handed them to us in the back seat. It was a kind, unprompted gesture by our private guide for a second day of exploring the Caribbean island that tourism has passed by because of too many mountains and too few sandy beaches. He must have spent 10 minutes finding the bananas that were ripe enough to eat in that moment, and I had consumed most of them within an hour.
As it turned out, this was only the first of more than a dozen spontaneous stops Peterson would make in the next three hours as he navigated the rough, mountainous terrain in his rundown taxi. Peterson, a 60-something native who explained to us that Peterson was his first name with a last name we couldn’t pronounce and might as well not try, knew this island from growing up outside the city in those lush and beautiful places where seemingly everything that could be eaten, used for herbs, or admired for its beauty grew in abundance. Peterson was not content to tell us what we were seeing around us. He was often compelled to stop and show us. He would come to a halt right in the narrow road, leaving us to wonder how cars approaching from behind or the opposite direction would avoid ramming us, get out, step confidently into a field, and hustle back with his catch: flowers of all variety, aloe vera, cinnamon, nutmeg.
“Rub it in your fingers,” he would instruct my wife, son, and me. “Tell me what you smell.”
He seemed equally delighted whether we correctly named it on our first try or if he stumped us. His joy emanated from the opportunity to share his world with people who had stopped by and seemed sincere about absorbing it.
For his final touch, he stopped by a field attended by a man he knew. After some discussion, he came back carrying the prize he most wanted to present.
“That is sugarcane,” Peterson said. “Have you ever tasted anything so sweet?”
No. And I could say that for the whole day. I had sampled the sweetness of an island I never would have stumbled upon on my own, served up by someone who lovingly presented it right in my hands.
– Kevin Quirk, personal historian and author of Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story