My first experience with Jamaica was several years ago while on a cruise. All I knew about Jamaica was what I had heard second hand from others, many of whom were well-intentioned but had never actually been to Jamaica. The consensus seemed to be that Jamaica was violent and dangerous, and that I should be careful instead of carefree when I left the ship.
Our arrival in port seemed to live up to my low expectations; we were greeted by men with guns as we boarded our buses to our zipline adventure. As we drove down the Jamaican highway, half-finished houses appeared on both sides of the road. Houses are built here one room at a time, as the money becomes available to complete construction. People walked the streets without shoes, run down cars zipped precariously up and down the uneven roads. Thru my fear-filled eyes I saw only poverty and danger, and I couldn’t wait to get back on the ship. In reality, all I was really seeing was something outside of my normal experience…something different.
I decided to return to Jamaica this time with a different attitude, with a more open and welcoming state of mind. Looking through the lens of acceptance rather than fear, I saw the true Jamaica. Friendly smiles, the easy wave of a hand, the kind gentlemen who alerted us to the flat tire on our car. The Jamaican roads had claimed another victim in the form of our bent tire rim, which was miraculously resuscitated at the gas station in 10 minutes and for a mere 3 dollars. This was a Jamaica I hadn’t seen the first time. Without my initial tainted preconceptions about Jamaica, I found her true heart. And it made me wonder, how often do we allow the fear of being different to change who we really are, to taint our views and perceptions of ourselves and who we are “supposed” to be?
What if we weren’t afraid of things that were different, and what if we weren’t afraid to allow ourselves to be different? What if we didn’t try to live up to others’ expectations of us? What would happen if we lived from our own true heart, our own true soul, and let the world see our own true selves? This trip has awakened a new desire in me to do just that. A desire to approach life from a place of self-acceptance, even if that means being different. Different from others’ expectations of me and different from the expectations I have placed on myself for so long. Because different isn’t always bad. Sometimes it can be quite beautiful. Just like Jamaica.