Remember when you were a kid and you were so excited to show your parents the new fort you made? Or the invisible cake you baked them? And, if they were awesome parents like mine, they made a huge deal about it? That was the best! They completely understood why that fort made out of sticks was impenetrable and they devoured that pretend cake like it was the best thing they’d ever tasted.

However, every once in a while you’d show them what you’d built and something seemed off. They may have smiled and nodded and said all the right things, but even your six-year-old brain could tell they didn’t really understand how long it took to build that fort! They didn’t comprehend how many adventures could be carried out there! They just didn’t get it.

Sometimes, I feel like my life on Isle au Haut is a child’s fort that no one else gets. 

I want so desperately for the people in my mainland life to understand what it’s like for me out here. I want them to get it. I want them to hear me when I say how lonely it can be with only 30 other people around. I want them to understand why a little community supper is the highlight of my week and how beautiful the sunset looks from the top of Black Dinah Mountain. I want them to experience the highs and lows with me!

But they’re not going to. How can they?! It’s so far removed from what they know. They smile and nod and talk about how idyllic it sounds, say how they could “never make it on an island,” or (my least favorite), “I don’t know what you want me to do about it; it’s a small island and you knew that going in.” 

And I need to realize that’s OK. I can send pictures. I can tell stories. I can write these columns. But at the end of the day, I need to just sit back and accept that there are some things non-islanders are simply not going to understand.  

Everyone has different experiences. I’ll never truly know what it’s like to be a nurse or to be raised in a single-parent home. Try as I might, I’ll never grasp with it’s like to hike the Appalachian Trail (well, maybe in a few years!) or run for president.

And if I’m being honest with myself, I can’t even really consider myself an islander. I’m just pretending to be one for a few years. There are simple “island living” things I’ve still yet to grasp. (There may be photographic evidence of me cleaning the snow off of my truck with a stick because I left my ice scraper in my car in Stonington and still have yet to purchase a second “on island” scraper.)

But I understand what it means to attend a musicale at Billy’s shop. I know the joy of seeing the Seacoast Mission’s Sunbeam pull into the thoroughfare. I understand why this place is so special to people and why they’re willing to sacrifice so much to make it work.

We all have things we go through that others can’t relate to. At times it may be frustrating, especially when you’re trying to connect emotionally about something. But I need to remember that it shouldn’t matter whether my friends and family understand in the way I want them to understand. What matters is that they’re willing to try, that they love me enough to make a big deal about my fort made of sticks even though they can’t see the whole picture.

I was babysitting my friend’s five-year-old boy a few years ago. He was showing me a toy ship he’d built. I was incredibly enthusiastic and grabbed a few blocks to join in the fun. He shook his little head and said, “This is my adventure. Go find your own.” Wise words from a toddler.