In the last couple of weeks, I've been trying to reach inwards and repeatedly asking myself what I believe in and what matters to me...kind of like trying to identify a guiding North star value that I want to live my life by, especially in these times of busy madness and distraction. The whisper which continually came back to me was my favourite quote by Maya Angelou - "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Embracing the whole spectrum of feelings and making deep soulful connections are was has and will always be my fuel in life. My heart is filled with a little visual collage of people who I've been blessed to make connections with. People who helped me feel, heal, grow, and give...people who allowed me to show up as I was in that time and just enjoy the miracle of life in all it's rawness and beauty.
Carly was one of those soul buddy connections in my life. We met when I was 19 and she was maybe 20... and we stayed connected over the years as we grew from wild girls to women trying to find their way to mothers taking care of our lovely sons. My love for her was timeless. It didn't matter how much time went passed or that we lived across other sides of the globe. Our story and messages and hugs weaved together at key moments over the 21 years.. and she would always feel like one of my inner world soul tribe. I can still hear her laugh as I type this and see her incredible face... she was an Aussie stunner who was a cross between Meg Ryan and Sharon Stone and she lit up the room with her bright wild child light.
Carly didn't use social media much so when I did hear from her last week out of the blue, I was delighted to see her make a comment on a picture of my little boys dressed up for a recent wedding...and I had a niggle that I needed to remember to write back... and then on Sunday I picked up my phone to scroll facebook I discovered that she'd died. I went into absolute shock and disbelief...and I weeped and snotted and cried for fucking hours. Actually the last few days have been full of tears, talking to her in my thoughts, looking out at the field behind my house and remembering and celebrating our connection.
Only recently I heard someone talk about a Mexican belief that there are 3 kinds of deaths - the first when you discover that you are mortal and you will die, the second being when you physically die, and the third being the last time that someone living speaks of your name. That message really touched me. I felt into the depths of that and felt the tragic irony of all that we strive for and live through and struggle with...only to know that one day...someone will be the last to say our name, and then we are forgotten. So perhaps this has given me even more of a nudge to write this reflection...and to name my beautiful friend and talk about how I will always remember the way she made me feel and the adventures that we shared. And if I write this and share it on my blog...maybe it will exist in the internet cloud as well as deeply in my heart.
When I was around Carly I felt like I could be exactly who I was. I could be silly and crazy, talk of love, make mistakes, and laugh...yeah...really laugh with her. She brought out my ability to play (something that I sometimes struggled with). Now that she's gone, she also helped me be a bridge. A bridge to connecting the past with the present and reconnect with some of the tribe of that time, and the way our lives intertwines with each others over the various oceans and years.
Healing has already happened since Sunday...sadness, connection, grief, and celebration between a bunch of beautiful misfits who once met in 1997. Her death helped me touch into part of me that remembered how happy I was back then..the summer of '97, when we met in Nagano, Japan, we were both crazy in love, had no responsibilities, no phones, no internet and we'd meet up at a little Pizza place called 30s covered in Newspaper as wall paper. She would laugh about my teenage obsession with Robbie Williams and The Spice Girls and how I was an absolute boy hungry love bunny!
Japan was my first experience of leaving my home town in the UK and I went on a GAP project to help out as a nurse in a red cross hospital in Nagano, Japan. Being a volunteer nurse wasn't exactly a well thought out plan for me. I had no former experience (I was hoping to go to a different gap project to be a tennis coach, but instead I found myself in Japan and I thought it would be fun to wear a uniform at least!). But I was always up for an adventure.
I was paired up with a fabulous girl called Poppy, who was kind and funny and London streetwise cool...she was about to go to medical school and was probably a far more concientious nurse than me! Anyway, Poppy and I started our Japan adventure in the mountain city of Nagano, working in the hospital in the daytime and then jumping on our bikes in the evening to meet other foreigners (affectionately known as gaijin by our Japanese friends) who were all out there teaching English. Included in this soul buddy pod was my lovely friend Ken from America who told us that his amazing girlfriend Carly from Australia was about to join him out there. And then she arrived - the blonde bombshell with the smiling eyes and big laugh and immediately made you feel at home in your own skin. She was awesome in every way. Move over Kylie, Neighbours and Home and Away - Carly was my first proper Aussie mate and I loved how she would say 'Are you shitting me?!' when I said something outlandish.
Before I left for Japan, I had this little secret wish that I would leave Salisbury, the old teenage grammar school bullshit, family divorce and stuff from the last few years behind and I'd go somewhere really exciting, and just maybe I'd find this sense of 'belonging'... it didn't make much sense then...but now I understand what that was about. I found a sense of belonging and tribe from this fresh start. To show up as who I was in that moment - with all my immature teenage qualities still blazing away...but I was ready for something new, adventures and connection. My eyes and world was opening up and I found so much richness in this place and with this bunch of friends from different parts of the globe.
That summer of '97 was perhaps my favourite of all. The friendships with Ken and Carly, Poppy, Travis, Boyd, Marcy, and Jim... the laughs, the passion... when we broke into a local outdoor pool and all went skinny dipping, going to these drink all you can bars on a Sunday afternoon and getting worse for wear on massive tankers of Japanese beer. Cycling home after too many drinks, loosing mutiple bicycles, and of course the food and Kareoke was on another level. And I fell in head over heels love with a Canadian guy. When I left to go back to the UK I was heart-full and heartbroken.
I remember coming home with all these photos of the time in Nagano - barely any of Japanese architecture and landscapes, but reams of smiling photos of these friends. And until this week, I'd never realised how much all those fabulous photos would mean to me. I took so many because back in the day before mobiles and social media, I really didn't know if I'd ever see them again.
But luckily I did!
The following year, I was working in a sales job I hated and I called Carly and Ken on the work phone (opps sorry ex boss that was probably expensive in 1998) who told me they had just finished working at the Nagono Winter Olympics and they were going to Thailand later that week with Travis and Marcy. Impulsive and wild as I was then (and with a student loan in my bank account - yes I know I didn't learn about money management until later in life) I said right I'm going to quit my job right now and come and meet you there! I'd never backpacked before and Carly cracked up saying that I wouldn't need my hairdryer, make-up and to come with as little as possible - she'd seen my bedroom clutter in Japan! I really think they thought I was joking about coming, but they still told me that they would be staying at My House Guest House on Khao San Road - which I wrote on the back of my hand as Cow San Road...and as soon as I out the phone down I told my boss I was quitting, and ran out to buy a backpack a lonely planet guide book and a plane ticket.
I'll never forget the screams of surprise and laughter and happy tears when I found them! I turned up in Bangkok with literally no clue what I was doing or where I was going, and it took me two hours of searching for guest houses and looking for their name on the front reception guest books to find them (and I was getting a little bit nervous and oh fuck what have I done by that point)..but I saw their names..and I ran up to their room and said Surprise! Oh my god we laughed so much. Those hugs are still etched in my being. One of the greatest silly wild loving adventure moments of my young life.
I was such an non-savvy traveller compared to Carly who had way more experience and just looked super cool...it was effortless for her. We explored Khao San road, bought clothes, picked up heaped of pirate CDs and mini discs and then we took a ridiculous cheap overnight bus with old seats, a toilet door which swung open at every corner, no air-con and with Dusk till Dawn and Rambo 1 playing on repeat...all to save 50 cence to please frugal Ken (haha I forgive you!) down to the islands. I'd never seen a tropical island before and was in heaven. I was so excited to be there and to be with them.
I remember Madonna just came out on MTV with her new look releasing Frozen, I got my eye brow pierced (and nearly a tattoo I would have regretted), we swam, and took some unforgettable and slightly lethal motorbike rides...including across some broken wooden bridge in Chaweng which felt like it was something out of an Indian Jones movie! Carly and I set up my first ever email account there..good old hotmail. At last we would stay connected when we got home!
My first full moon party, where Carly beamed Aussie bronzed beauty, and I hilariously got so sun-burned across my face than snogging some Italian guy was so painful that I had to quit - much to eveyone else's hilarity. And snogging an Italian still did nothing for me getting over the Canadian love. Part of the soothing quality of being with Carly again was being able to talk about him and she totally got it and knew I was heartbroken and missed him.
Another year later, Carly and I met up again for a second trip to Thailand and this time she was single and heartbroken too. She was travelling with a girlfriend of hers, and I was trying to leave yet another relationship and running away to Thailand was my go to strategy at that time! I think I got in trouble with some Kiwi hunk on that trip...and Carly would just shake her head and affectionately call me a Dag! Every time we met is was always as if no time had passed. I could be at ease, be wild, be sad, be all of it, and it was always an effortless joy to be around her.
A few years later I moved to Australia, and I'd met the future father of my kids. Nic and I took a camper van trip down to Melbourne and Carly and I got to reconnect once again. She was working in a travel agency and living with a guy who liked fast cars. It was brief visit but always much fun. She took some of my favourite early pictures of Nic and I ..when we had matching surfer hair and flared light blue jeans!
My last trip to see her was in 2009. We were both mothers by then. Carly had married a gorgeous chap called Marc and she had little toddler Jack and a little baby Thomas. It was amazing to be reunited now as mothers. We still talked of our adventures and old stories of boys, bars, silliness and now our new mummy tummies! But nothing had changed. Perhaps except for our new grown up responsibilities and getting more serious about finances and holding homes and stuff. But in essence we were the same kind of soul buddies. She got to meet 2 year old Beau, and we took the boys to Melbourne zoo. I met Stan and Joy her lovely mum and dad. I remember telling her that I was about to start a change of career and train as a birth doula, and she always loved that I followed my dreams. Just this week I've looked through old facebook message between us and she told me that I inspired her and she was glad I followed my dreams. Wow that made me tear up. Some days I find it very hard to stay on track with my dreams...yet I know that as I go further into working as a therapist, my calling to support people with feelings and reconnection is a part of the plan...and when I loose hope, feel scared and overwhlemed about work and home-life, about love and contributing to the world.. I'll think of her face lovingly encouraging me to keep going.
We've been in less and less contact in the last few years, but that's busy family life for you! I didn't know she was sick. I wished I had known. But then I would have probably been pissed off at myself for not being able to travel to see her now anyway. In the big picture of things, this really doesn't matter. Real connections are timeless. That's what matters. I'm so so sad to think of her family left without her. That is the part that is the most unfair about death.
So this week my heart has been prized apart and flooded with tears, and memories of Carly. Of Carly's special place in my life. The timing of our connections and why those times meant so much to me. She helped me live out the part of me that wanted to expand and adventure and try new things and was still always emotional and vulnerable and a hopeless romantic.
I am grateful for being that avid people photographer, and messy enough to still have a box of wonderful photos to shift through and find lots of pictures of her to connect to my feelings of sadness, happiness and faith in wonderful connections and the mystery of life. I am grateful to the Internet yet again that I'm able to get a message to the other souls in that Nagano pod about her passing, and we've reconnected and shared memories and asked each other about our lives now 21 years on. Carly was really loved and appreciated. I even finally found some peace with my old love flame... he said he wishes we'd had more time together and he didn't realise what he had at the time. I really apprecuated those healing words years later, and I said yeah I know, and life has been damn good to all of us, and we have to trust we are all where we are meant to be now.
It's incredible how a bunch of youngsters from different countries met in this little place in Japan, and like the caste of Lost, their stories and lives would continue to interplay and affect each other for years to come.
So, this is why, even more so, that when I'm thinking about the guiding light principles in my life, I think about Mya Angelou's quote - for me, the only thing that really matters is that people will remember how you made them feel.
I love you Carly and I'll miss you. Thank you for everything we shared. I hope you are at peace and surrounded by a love I can't even begin to imagine. I'll speak to you in my dreams and on my walks in nature, and I hope I can see your spirit in photos of your boys growing up...and that your name is never forgotten.