Awoken from my slumber by an abrupt roll onto the tarmac, my heart swelled as I took in the lush Louisiana landscape lining the landing strip outside the window — we had arrived. The five months of burgeoning excitement soon settled, as quickly as it had suddenly bubbled over, into a languid contentment as heavy as the air that enveloped us outside.
I’ve dreamt of visiting New Orleans for a long time -- drawn to the idea of its vibrant people, history, and culture, engulfed by water, palpably overwhelmed by contradictions of tradition, yet comforted by silky supple trees and the rains of renewal. Somehow I knew it was an environment I knew I would thrive in spiritually. After enduring a particularly painful year, here I thought, I could breathe the air of fresh life in. I was more than ready to trade in my real-world responsibilities for a few days at Grand Isle, for nothing but long-awaited relaxation and escape into the comfort of a good book.
The drive to Grand Isle was slow and serene, marked by an unfading awe-struck gaze. Cross the river, pass the bayous, and be greeted by spacious houses on stilts, sprouting over the horizon, porches poised to capture maximum ocean breeze and summer sun. Together here arrive 12 strangers, totally unprepared for what’s to come — expectations low, morale high, and experience unprecedented.
It was my second time reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, yet the first time I was ready to grasp it – I started a naïve, wide-eyed optimist, unable to relate to Edna’s dismay. I came from little, but I dreamt a lot and was fortunate to have made it through my childhood emotionally unscathed. There was so much ahead of me, so much work, so much potential, always so focused that I couldn’t fathom at any point slowing down to wallow; to be dissatisfied was to surrender. I had yet to experience disassociation in my successes, yet to find pleasure in loneliness, to have experienced absolute infatuation, then ennui and restlessness as a result of fruitless passions and aspirations, continuing to drown myself in work under the pretense of fulfillment until I was unable to peel back the layers of stress as quickly as they piled on. It was time to shed that version of myself.
Life still moves too fast to understand it, but I’ve become more perceptive nuance and duality. Here now, with a greater appreciation of Edna’s struggles and direct contact with at least an echo of her surroundings, I set out to understand her awakening. She found herself on this very beach, with a misty summon to its warm waters and peaceful embrace, yet she left without answers wanting more. She came to understand all that had passed and to know everything she desired, but without a way to attain it, her melancholy grew. Edna’s tumultuous journey towards self-discovery was muted by the confines of class and femininity at the time – the relaxed atmosphere of Grand Isle invited reflection yet preached conformity. The people around her seemed shockingly shameless in their openness to her at first, yet codes existed; codes that Edna soon felt were boring and pointless. As she began to push the boundaries, the boundaries pushed back. She refused acceptance, a key of false contentment, and unlocked instead a reality beyond the threshold, one that existed out of time and out of place. The ocean, unpredictable and boundless, became a desirable placeholder for defeat.
Today, the relics of Edna’s world still exist. The lingering community is tight-knit and amiable, exclusive in its own rights of experience, yet no longer possessive of structure and codes of grace. Here, daiquiris are sold at drive-thrus and frat stars release a havoc of sound-waves into the night to compete with the ceaseless roar of the sun-burnt sea. Here, we came together for our first communal experience outside of constraint, and our city lives became like distant memories. Our last night there bled into a sunrise spared by falsehood or fear of judgement. Here, we were free to wander the sands of solitude, if only to prepare for the unpredictable voyage upon life’s troubled waters.