Here I am, sitting down to create this week’s blog post with absolutely no idea what to write or where to begin. The dreaded anxiety of the blank page looms large, so I do what I typically do – head to Facebook to “look for inspiration.”
Except today, Facebook greets me with the news that the Azure Window, a natural landmark on the island of Gozo in Malta, has collapsed. And here I sit, tearfully feeling the need to make sense of it.
Honestly, my reaction surprises me. Why am I crying? There are so many more important things going on in the world today, and here I am, upset about a pile of rocks?
But the Azure Window was, and remains, far more than a pile of rocks to me.
It’s Fall 2012. My family has survived our first year of living abroad. We love living in Germany, but are exhausted by a difficult transition. Living in a foreign country, unfamiliar with the language or culture, thousands of miles from family and friends, balancing the demands of the military, work, and raising two young children… life is often overwhelming and incredibly lonely.
And now we face our first Christmas without family. Last year, we hosted my parents, but this year, it’s just us. And as much as we love Germany, the thought of being by ourselves at Christmas highlights our loneliness.
So I pick up my copy of Panther Paws (Spangdahlem’s guide to all things Europe), flip to a random page, and land on Malta.
“Honey? Where’s Malta?” I ask my husband.
“Somewhere in the Mediterranean,” he replies. “It was a strategic location during World War II.”
Armed with that knowledge and little else, I decide that we will be having a Maltese Christmas that year. Airfare purchased and hotels reserved, my family of four (6 and 3 year old boys in tow) celebrates the holiday by jetting off to explore this hidden gem of a country.
Apart from the harrowing experience of maneuvering through narrow lanes and traffic circles while driving on the left side of the road with a manual transmission, everything is perfect. The landscape, the people, the history, the food… Malta exceeds our expectations and remains one of our favorite trips during our four years overseas.
And the highlight of our trip is the Azure Window.
The day we visit – December 27th – is gorgeous. Cool, but not cold; breezy, but not blustery. The boys climb over rocks and explore tide pools while my husband and I stand, mouths agape before the majesty of the Azure Window.
“How on earth is a rock formation like this possible?” I gasp. “It doesn’t even look real.”
We know, even then, that its days are limited. Erosion, coupled with tourists illegally climbing and walking across the bridge, jeopardizes its very existence. But there is no reason to think its collapse will be in the near future – in fact, a study released the following year says there is no imminent danger.
After we return from our trip, I have a canvas made of my favorite photograph of the Azure Window. It hangs first in my office in Germany, and now in my home in North Carolina. I sob beneath it while reading about its collapse.
The Azure Window is so much more than a pile of rocks now washed away by the sea. No, the Azure Window represents my resilience, my ability to seek adventure and find opportunity even in the face of loneliness and adversity.
The Azure Window marked the beginning of a shift in mindset and action. I stopped succumbing to isolation and loneliness, instead choosing to live full out by embracing challenges and creating opportunities.
It’s tempting to ascribe a dark meaning to the fall of the Azure Window, interpreting it as a foreboding sign of things to come. But I won’t do that.
Instead, I am choosing to view it as a natural part of the cycle of life. To everything, there is a season. A time to break down, and a time to build up. A time to keep, and a time to cast away.
My season in Germany was extraordinary, and it has come to an end. I’ve entered a new season in North Carolina, and it’s time to live full out again.
The Azure Window is gone. But what it represents – resilience, fortitude, adventure, and opportunity – remains in me. And no ocean will ever wash that away.