DARK SKIES & THE POWER OF STORMS

For our last day in the Maldives, Todd and I decided to repeat the flawless itinerary we had curated over the course of the week. We woke up late, around 10:00AM, and had breakfast. Caffeine carried us through the rest of the morning while we read our books and wrote by the ocean. Lunch and an afternoon cocktail made our bodies heavy and eventually the heat lured us back to our air conditioned room, where we could still enjoy the ocean views through the comfort of sliding glass doors. Sleep is inevitable the second you lay your head on a proper pillow, so we helplessly surrendered to a long nap. When we awoke, its was a slow saunter back outside to continue our schedule of reading, writing, and intermittently closing our eyes. With the heat at its peak, we ordered more drinks and waited for the sun to fall. 

As evening drew the clouds rolled in particularly low, turning the sky orange as the sun sank and then black in an instant. We had intentions to temporarily escape the private oasis our bungalow provided and walk around the island one last time. Maybe get dinner at one of the restaurants instead of shuffling room service trays back and forth all day. But the gusting winds and sheets of rain held us hostage - in the most perfect way. 

There is something so poetically romantic about storms. Their sudden force followed by an unsettling calm. Nothing can leave the air quite so clear - literally and metaphorically. A good storm can awaken your soul, change your course, maybe even give you a new life. 

We sat and absorbed its strength as it tore across the island. Only when the skies cleared did we begin to pack our bags and prepare for our next destination - a ritual we had grown quite accustomed to on our four month trip around the world. But this time it was different. It felt like our adventure had ceremoniously concluded and I wanted to go home. Rejuvenated, relaxed and ready to start fresh with everything I had learned, everything I had experienced. It was the first time I craved home more than the next adventure. And we still had 59 days to go. 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO REDEFINE WHAT A WEDDING "SHOULD BE"?

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On October 14th, 2015 I sent Todd an email. It said: 

My sweetest friend, 

I won't text you because I don't want to wake you but I can't seem to stop myself from sharing something with you in this very moment in time. I am so madly in love with you Todd Maki. I can't focus, can't concentrate, can't keep my mind on anything else other than you. I know I should be enjoying my last days here (in Italy), but it just seems to empty without you. So dull and unfulfilling unless I have your voice in my ear and your arm on my shoulder. I don't ever want to be without you.

Your Chelsie

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I came across that email early in our trip. During a jet-lag induced sleepless night pouring over old photos and emails. I paused when I read it remembering the longing; the trepidation and uncertainty in our situation. 

Then a smile crept over my face. Sleeping next to me was the love of my life. And in an instant that resurfacing anguish evaporated, vanished my from mind. Replaced only with the warm comfort that I would never have to be without him again.

And while it could hardly be considered his choice or mine, our paths converged. When that happened it became clear a beautiful space existed between us. A space filled with love, time and a feeling we had been here before - together. Even when we fought to deny it, our love was bigger and stronger than both of us. It was patient and it was kind. And when we did finally open our eyes it was the only thing standing in front of us. 

That night, I thought about how grateful I was. For him. For the way he loves - so fiercely, selflessly and pure. For our life. And how perfect it felt in that very moment. I became so intensely overcome with emotion I had to fight for my next breath, and eventually laughed out loud. Trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, not to wake him. There is something ridiculous about catching yourself so emotionally aware. To realize you are so happy, you can't do anything other than laugh at the miraculous idea of it all. 

When he awoke the following morning, I whispered in his ear that I didn't want to wait. He didn't either. We began planning and were married less than two weeks later in the South of France. 

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Historically an elopement meant running away secretly with the intention of getting married. And while that meaning still stands, there was definitely no parental or governmental objection to the exchanging of our vows. Rather, we wanted to merely escape. Escape the chaos, the expectations, and the frustration planning a wedding can, and too often, brings. 

It seems to me that weddings have become an event with clear expectations. Diamond rings, bridal parties, long guest lists, and over-priced white dresses. All of which put extreme amounts of pressure on two people who just want to declare their love for one another. Is it possible to press the reset button and redefine what a wedding "should be"? How do we shift the focus in the right direction again? 

For us, we wanted to start our lives together, truly together, just the two of us. Make our commitment to one another in the most intimate way possible. To say the things meant only for each other's ears. Without shifting our focus to seating charts, expensive decor and lofty expectations from family members about what our wedding should be.

And while we also decided to have a bigger celebration with friends and family, planning as husband and wife has lifted the stress associated with it. Our wedding is no longer a highly anticipated milestone, but a mere party to celebrate our love, and the support of our friends and family throughout our journey to finding it. 

Photos by the lovely, talented Elodie Winter

RIDING IN BUSES WITH STRANGERS

At some point during our trip planning, Todd and I decided we needed to be frugal. Long after the miles and points were exhausted on boutique hotels and direct flights. And of course, rather conveniently, after the safari and overwater bungalows were confirmed and paid for.

After a late night discussion, we arrived at the decision to try and rough it during various stages throughout our trip. Really leverage those backpacks we had purchased. So for a few weeks we booked Airbnbs with shared water closets and discussed some alternative group options. One of those was a road trip I had discovered when I was traveling by myself two years ago. A shared bus ride from Croatia to Greece through Montenegro and Albania. Only 5 nights and an absolute steal including accommodations, breakfast and transportation. 

As we waited patiently in the parking lot of a supermarket in Dubrovnik for our chariot to arrive, I don't know what I expected to find inside. Perhaps a few other thirty-something couples who also had a temporary lapse in judgement. Intellectually stimulating company we would laugh with and bond with. Future friends we would call up the next time we were in Chicago with the kids, after reconnecting on Facebook about all the fun times we had that perfectly strange summer of '17.

Instead we got exactly what we paid for - 6 freshly faced 21 year olds traveling for the summer before heading back to finish their last years at university. To be fair, everyone was far more mature than I had been at their age, yet the gap in expectations for a holiday were quite large. Evenings were filled with pub crawls and night clubs rather than the speakeasies and craft cocktails we would have preferred. Overcrowded public beaches were chosen over over shaded chairs at the nearby beach bar. And the cockroaches we discovered in our bedroom (on two separate occasions) confirmed that simple comforts had been abandoned for cost savings. In the end, it was a pleasant reminder of the comforts that come with age. And the proper ability to save.

We quickly adjusted our expectations and in the end were pleasantly surprised by the experience. However, days are long when you spend hours on a bus moving from one place to the next. And while the scenery and excursions were breathtaking and unique, it did mean quite a bit of time together as a group. 

One girl seemed to occupy my personal space far too often. Our exchange started off rather amicable, but a new character flaw seemed to emerge each day. She talked too much. Interrupted conversations and perseverated on unpleasant topics. She gave advice, which was often cringeworthy given the irony of the source and our significant gap in age, not to mention life experience. She drank too much but didn't grow more tolerable by the glass like some people do. 

But it was her facial expressions that were particularly vexing. She had one of those faces that seemed to flatten a bit in the middle. Her eyes were set far back in her head, often casting dark shadows across her face. And while gorgeous in color, they were always half closed. You could only get a fast look at them before she shook her head and covered them with some expressive hand gesture. Without such a contemptuous demeanor, her expressions might have varied more, but she seemed to be forever forced to display a discerning pout to the world. Even a simple observation came across judgmental. But then again, it usually was. 

Often times, I wanted to cock by head to the side and ask her that the hell was the matter?! How could anyone possibly be this young?! 

And then I realized why I was having such a difficult time with her presence. She was me at 21. A bit naive and insecure. Not willing to listen more than I spoke. Always trying to prove something to someone, and myself. All without accountability. I would like to think I had a bit more tact back then, which is why my sympathies were initially hard to conjure. But in the end how could I not cut my own self a little slack? 

It took years to figure out how to appropriately allocate the limited number of fucks I have to give. And I still struggle with it at times. Especially when it comes to other people's perception of me. I just hope she figures it out earlier than I was able to. Because seeing people for who they are and where they are in their life takes patience and understanding. And at the end of the day, it's this very introspection that makes getting older taste even sweeter.