The Island of the Mind – Grace

 In Memories

I never know what to think when I think of the normality of some of the things we did together. The bland, uneventful parts of everyday life that passed us almost without any notice- going to the supermarket, driving down the same road we drove every day by our house, making a pot of coffee. Those things all seem so remarkable now.

On one of these occasions, Luuk and I were in my apartment, each absorbed in our own activities, both sharing a bottle of wine. He turned to me at one point, swirling his wine thoughtfully as he chewed on his words. “Did you know”, he looked at me cheekily. “I have my own island”. He smiled, willing me to ask more, tempting me into the story.

He told me that he had dreamed up an island, in such fantastic detail, with such complexity and vividness that it could be real- but that this island only existed in his mind. The island itself was a map, in which at each point on the map he had tied a memory. 10 memories, his own personal 10 commandments which served to remind him of what kind of person he wanted to become. In case he found himself lost, all he needed to do was follow his map of the island. Then he told me to close my eyes…

Luuk’s eyes are still closed, and he is lying down. He feels his back pressing into the wooden floor beneath him- it’s the rough, weathered floor of a small sailboat. He feels the boat rocking gently, rising and falling with the swell of the water below, and slowly, he begins to open his eyes.

He raises his head, just ever so slightly, so that he can see over the edge of the boat. The sparkling, jewel coloured water stretches as far as the eye can see in almost every direction. But when he turns his head he sees he is far from stranded, in fact he has almost reached the shores of his island. He smiles, and he is reminded of his first memory- a feeling of warmth, and love.

The sailboat makes it’s way to the shore, slowly, and deliberately. He swings his legs over the side of the boat, allowing his bare feet to meet the warm, powdery sand. He wiggles his toes around, letting every grain touch his skin, and with care for nothing but the simplicity of the moment- he feels gratitude.

Far be it from Luuk to become complacent, he is already looking for where this adventure will take him. He casts his eyes to the point where the beach ends. The palm fringed border that marks the beginning of the jungle catches his attention, and overcome with a feeling of excitement and curiosity, he knows where he must go.

Almost as soon as he enters the jungle he finds himself walking a path. It’s tracks are faint, but has clearly been marked out by many more before him, although at this point he finds himself completely alone. Trusting that he is going the right way (whatever the ‘right’ way is), he continues along the path until he finds himself at a fork in the road.

There are no markings, no indication if he should pursue the left or right path; only thick, wild, unknown jungle. Without too much hesitation, he takes the path to his left, and continues his journey without so much as a second thought- as he reminds himself of the importance of flexibility.

Faith unwavering, he perseveres along the trail as it becomes more and more difficult to follow. The jungle around him is singing, roaring with the sounds of the wildlife around him. Everything is waking up. The further he goes into the wilderness the damper and more dangerous the terrain becomes. The mud underneath his toes, replacing the powdery sand of the beach, squishes and squelches as he stomps his way further along his chosen path. Suddenly, and much to his surprise the treacherous jungle falls away, and he finds himself in a clearing, standing at the base of a mountain- the biggest and tallest he has ever seen. The sheer vastness of this mountain leaves him speechless, in wonder; a reminder to appreciate his feelings of awe.

He knows he must climb this mountain, despite not knowing what he will find once he begins. He reminds himself that he must be patient, and committed in pursuing his goals, so in spite of his feelings of confusion and uncertainty, he begins his ascent. Soon enough, his efforts are rewarded as he discovers a plateau about halfway up the mountain where, for the first time since he began his journey, he is not alone. The plateau has been colonised by a hill tribe. Families of indigenous people surround him, going about their life, living amongst nature, at one with their surroundings. They pay little heed to the stranger amongst them, and as he wanders through their land he is struck by the notion that these must be the people who tread the path that lead him here in the first place. Once he realises that he is here because of these people, he treats them with great respect and compassion, which of course they return. How nice it would be to stay amongst this hill tribe, become comfortable here and live out his days like these tribal people… But he knows he must go on, his journey isn’t over.

On he goes, further up the mountain, another thousand meters and more, reminding himself all the way that all he needs is determination… Until he reaches the top. Sweating, panting, heart beating out of his chest, he feels more alive than ever. He stands tall with his hands on his hips, his shoulders back, proud of where he has come from, and where he is now. He looks down the steep slope of the mountain he has climbed, down to where the jungle meets the beach, and where the beach meets the jewel coloured water from where he came… He feels joy, because he knows he has achieved everything he set out to do. He is happier, stronger and fitter than ever before. Now, all there is left to do is to give back to everyone else what he has received, so he is reminded to focus his remaining energy on charity, and providing for those around him.

When he finished the story, he didn’t look at me. It was almost as though he was embarrassed, feeling as if he had perhaps said too much. I was speechless. All I could say was that, not only was he already all of those wonderful, beautiful things that he had described in his story- but that I felt myself becoming those things just from being with him.

There is something in my own story with Luuk, the story we made together that feels so deliberate. The way he just appeared to me, out of nowhere, with no one else around on the beach in Bo’ao, and from that moment on never left.

As for the time in between, well… he taught us something quite profound. He taught us that when something goes tragically wrong in your life, all you have to do is change your mind about it. Your mind is as real as everything else.