I stopped living in the moment, if just for a minute, when the ship pulled away from Kobe and into the darkness of the Pacific Ocean. It was impossible not to. This was our last foreign port, the final of many countries that had lured us aboard in the first place. Why did I feel differently now than I did leaving South America? Was it something about Japan?
The experiences in Asia were so fresh, so vivid, that despite being able to recall every minute of the voyage, the first month on the ship seemed so distant, like a different voyage altogether. “What happened in Brazil?” I asked myself. “Were we really in Venezuela?”
“The Bahamas were part of this voyage, right?”
It was, in fact, an entirely different voyage. It was fun, spectacular, remarkable. But it wasn’t cozy. The ship wasn’t home yet. We had yet to feel chills when seeing the ship after a few days away – the kind you get in a great relationship, when you first see her at the end of a busy day. As the Archbishop would say, we lacked the self-assurance that comes from knowing that we belonged.
Ubuntu, he told us. That wonderful Xhosa word that neatly encapsulates the relationship between the individual and his community. A word that says that my humanity is affirmed because I belong to a greater whole.
It speaks of the essense of being human, he explained. It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We say, “A person is a person through other persons. I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.”
I am, because you are.
That was his gift to us, this one word that sums up why my eyes retrace our route every time I walk past a globe, why I’ve been rereading my journal for the last 100 days, why my ears still perk up every time I hear one of our countries mentioned in the news. We belonged. We participated. We shared.
Today, exactly a year after stepping off the ship in San Diego, I know that this was the main lesson I learned during Semester at Sea. That this feeling is reproduced when we cultivate friendships, foster relationships, when we inextricably link our well-being to the well-being of those around us. In it, you find the happiness, passion, optimism and comfort that comes from knowing that you belong.
What developed aboard the M.V. Explorer should not be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. May every day be the start of the best 100 days of your life.