In Costa Rica, lessons in overcoming

I am writing this on my phone from a jungle on the beach in Costa Rica. My hammock is slung between a palm tree full of coconuts and an almond tree whose fruit must not be in season, though surely not long past. Almonds in their strange porous shells lie scattered across the sand. Is a coconut tree called a palm tree? The leaves look exactly like a palm my mother has in a pot in her house, but enormous.

I would Google this if I had Internet service. We had enough signal for me to text my mom to let her know we were safe and send pictures of monkeys and macaws and these squirrel-anteater-raccoon creatures called coatis until last night. I don't know what happened.

When I tell Tomi, he shakes his head and waves his hand. "The Internet here is terrible."

He's Argentinian and a lawyer who mostly surfs all summer. During the rainy season he stays in his little cabin-hut near ours and practices the didgeridoo. Thoreau, but in Costa Rica. I am thinking about what he said and know what he meant. But a parallel truth dawns on me slowly: the Internet here is terrible. Thank God. Because to have good Internet here--for me--would be terrible.

Stone and I backpacked around as much of the world as we could before we had kids. We spent 10 weeks in Europe, sleeping in hostels, overnight trains, even an occasional train station. I remember one time we got on a bus in Athens and the driver said we were like snails, carrying our homes around on our backs.

We have had some great times. Yesterday we went snorkeling near Isla Tortuga and I thought about the first time I did it; I was scared I'd be eaten by a shark. We had been in Cairo and made a trip across the Sinai peninsula to see Mount Sinai on our way to Israel. In one of those serendipitous situations traveling presents we ended up in this village called Da'hab on the Red Sea. I can't remember if we heard about it or I read about it in "Let's Go Egypt and Israel," but Da'hab was a place to stay nearby and it just happened to have the best snorkeling in the world.

Stone, having lived in Hawaii, was an experienced snorkeler. So when the edge of the water proved unremarkable, he dragged me out further. I remember holding onto his hand and hovering above the coral. The water rocked me like a baby till I finally let go and lost myself in a different world.

I have been snorkeling a few other times since then, and nowhere else compares. Isla Tortuga is the third best in terms of fish, we concluded as we walked along the beach yesterday. I did see a spotted eagle ray here. It glided a few feet beneath me, graceful as a kite on gentle wind. That was an amazing treat.

The biggest treat of all is that my kids are with me. Yesterday on the boat the captain took us by a rainbow-shaped rock formation. It was near a nature reserve, and he told us a story about the tribe associated with the area; one of their rituals was that a couple would swim through it to bless their marriage.

I asked if I could do it, and he stopped the boat for me to jump in. Stone came after me while our kids whooped and hollered, then they all decided to join us. We swam through as a family. Their joy and wonder echoed on the barnacle-­bedecked walls.

While we waited for the boat to pick us up on the other side, the kids all laughed and said they couldn't believe their mother bailed out of the boat like that. Stone and I looked at each other. Have they met us? Isn't this the kind of stuff I always do?

That's the thing. They never met the person I used to be.

They have met the mom who works and worries. Who delights in them and cooks for them and picks them up after practice. Who checks their homework. Yells at their ballgames. Listens to their stories of law school and college and sophomore year and fifth grade. Helps them write papers. Goes on long walks.

The mom who loves their dad. Who can be dangerous when someone is mean to them. Who struggles with depression, anxiety, healthy eating, and being late. Loves music. Books. Arkansas. Jesus. Who is constantly conflicted about politics and church, not necessarily in that order.

Who dances with them. Hugs and kisses them. Who excessively decorates for Christmas; in general does not practice moderation. Who cries with them. Pushes them to be their best selves but hopefully not so much it hinders instead of helps. Who has to apologize a lot.

I am not the person I used to be. And that is a good thing because it would be ridiculous and regressive if I still behaved like a 20-something. But I am thankful for the time away--truly away--with my family to be reminded of her, to recoup, and to regroup my thoughts. To channel them again, as Benedict said; always we begin again, in the direction of hope.

When people greet each other in Costa Rica they say Pura Vida: Simple life, or pure life. It is a way of being that describes the collective emotional makeup of the country--the will to focus on the positive regardless of one's circumstances. A gratefulness for what one has, rather than what one lacks.

Despite the Jurassic beauty, it is impossible not to see what is lacking here among good people without decent roads, access to public K-12 education, Internet.

There are things oddly reminiscent of home. But wherever difficulty is found in the world, there is also the patient, persistent overcoming of it. I want that to be my life.

Gwen Ford Faulkenberry is an English teacher and editorial director of the non-partisan group Arkansas Strong. (http://arstrong.org) Email her at gfaulkenberry@hotmail.com.

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