A Breath of Fresh Air

December 25, 2008
By Cassandra Duncanson, Worcester, MA

For a week in August I find myself traveling to New Hampshire: taking a thirty minute boat ride to a small island called Star Island.

Star Island is part of a small cluster of islands known as the Isles of Shoals. Today the island is used as a vacation spot away from the mainland where children can (safely) freely wander off with minimal supervision and adults delight in the company of others their own age.

When one thinks of a vacation spot they normally picture warm, sandy beaches, clear weather, spacious hotel rooms and personal bathrooms. Star Island is its photo-negative. Sandals are required on the beach there is no sand: only rocks. The weather is never the same: days may be sunny and clear but are as just as likely to enshroud the island in a dense cloud the next day. Rooms aren’t Hilton-esque. Rooms are homey, decorated with working antiquities.

Every time I come back home from the island I feel as if I have been given a clean state to start with: when I go back to school and everyday life. I am allowed and given a breath of fresh air -- I find myself cleansed and forgetting about the problems that I face and have faced the previous year. It allows me to go back into my life with an open mind and start anew.

Each day I attended the youth group program on island where everyone becomes tight-knit and you may just spill out your life story. You have to become close -- you only have a week to become best friends with strangers, and you truly do, whether or not it is intentional. Everything on island is done as a group, and you find that you need these people to listen to what (no matter how small of a thing) you have to say. They help you forget about whatever life you left behind on the mainland and the stifling presence it can have. It’s the perfect scenario that no one believes exists: a perfect stranger lends you a shoulder and an ear: there are no ties.
Everyone in the youth group has a different characteristic that you can take from and ultimately find comfort in. I have found a new perspective in a girl who battles anorexia every moment of her life, a seventeen year-old who has attempted taking her own life, and many who have lost their parents to cancer and illness. Hearing these tragedies coming from kids and occurring at such a young age, one thinks that the island may be a rehabilitation center, and in a way it is, but in no way was the island intended to be used for such purposes. The rehabilitation comes from the lack of stress and the comforting of presence of a crying shoulder. Hearing these stories come from people I have known only for a week, it opens me up to a whole new perspective in life. I find it easier to discover what I love in life and of life. I saw these people, my age, older and younger share their stories on the island, simply bare their vulnerable hearts for the world to see. I saw their desperation, pain and their sincere love and I finally saw myself reflected in each of their eyes -- that feeling was there inside of me; I discovered that love that I held for people and ideals in my life: I now embrace it more openly than I previously had. I feel myself loving what I do in life more, and creating opportunities for myself to experience that love that I can hold.
While spending a week on the island, I took a not-so-serious note from the members of the youth group. I have never considered myself a serious person, if anything I tend to take things in life less serious than their value. However, on Star Island I learned to look at those less-than-serious and serious aspects of my life in a different light. I got to befriend those who had lost members of their family, friends, and who were praying for loved ones to recover. And I saw that they did not let it affect their everyday lives. They did not let what was truly serious in their life and let it mute what joy they could feel on a daily basis. I did not discover how they were able to accomplish it, but by following by their example I find myself not allowing drama or pain to overshadow what I do/can enjoy in life. It is hard, I won’t lie, it does not come naturally nor is it easy for me. I have to work for it; it is something I try to strive for.
It is not just the people I meet that happen to change me and my perspective by happenstance. It is also the island herself. I have been attending a conference on the island for sixteen years and I could walk across its rocky terrain, in the middle of a cloudy night (unless of course I tripped over my own two feet, which is quite possible). Ask anyone who has spent even merely a moment on the island, it has a healing power that you can experience nowhere else: there is simply nothing to stress about on the island, and there is always someone or no one when you need it.
Without my mom and dad beside me on the island it is easy to learn independence. Seeing youth members who have gone through so much, who are very independent people and still remain very much themselves makes me want to strive for the same type of independence. You are able to concentrate on being yourself, independently; without pressure you can focus on personal independence. I reflect on myself and what I want out of myself and try to implement it back on the mainland.
In only a week, I have managed to catch my breath, and find myself breathing differently. I find myself better prepared for the curveballs life deems worthy to throw my way. I find myself using the strength that I saw that kept other youth members going on and not succumbing to a depression that affected their lives. The island and its people can change you in so many ways, if you open your mind, heart and allow it to.

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