Current Date: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 3:00p.m. (Sao Paulo)

Hello out there everyone. That's right, I'm still alive and kicking down here! I have survived an incredible 2003...all of which I have to say about that is down below. There are some other things I want to get out of the way before getting to my message.

First and foremost, a hearty welcome to the MANY new people who have been added to this list (and who don't know what they've gotten themselves into). I am happy to call all of you my new friends and hope that you will all continue to part of my life for many years to come.

Secondly, again I break a continuity rule of mine...this was written last week and will be followed by journals written over the months of Sept-Dec...sorry, but it is a New Year and that requires a New year's message...plus what I wanted to say was important to me and I didn't want the message to become dated.

Third, the website has been updated continually over the past months even though I haven't sent any e-mails...please check out some of the many picutures I have taken and see some of the awesome people that have become part of my life here in SP.

Fourth, many of you have inquired about where I am now and more importantly, when I plan to return. I promise these questions will be answered in upcoming journals...one of which will come (I PROMISE this time) in the next week.

So anyway...here were my thoughts that I had as I returned from a two week jaunt through the south of Brazil over the holidays, as I reflected on the year that was...

Date written: January 3, 2003 11:23p.m. (bus home from Floripa)

Well, I am returning home from what all in all was another great adventure within my adventure. What can I say about my New Year's in Floripa!! Hands down my best ever!! The scene on the beach at midnight was more full of all the Brazilian energy and excitement than I imagined. Standing there in that ocean, just after midnight, looking out on the madness...fireworks, dancing, just an amazing party, I felt like the king of the world. All my adventures of the past year culminated at that point. A perfect period on the perfect year.

So I guess I want to write about what it means to me to have lived all these things over the past year. I mean, how will I remember 2003? Man, oh man, I will certainly look back on it and smile. This was the year I took the biggest leap of my life...I set out just under 12 months ago, not certain of what was ahead but knowing that I was ready for what would come. I have done so many things I couldn't even count them. These experiences will certainly be with me forever. But I guess that isn't the point of what I want to write about at the moment. As I sit here and reflect on it all, it seems to me the most important thing to mention is how happy I feel inside...I don't want to forget this feeling and this high I have right now. I feel I am so fortunate for so many reasons...but one big one is that I can't remember the last time that one year of my life was not better than the previous one. Somehow I feel that that is what we should be striving for...to just keep enjoying all the joys of life. Some of you might remember that last year I mentioned in my Trindade journal that I had reached a state of pure contentment. I have to tell you that it still lives on. I wish I could open up my soul and show you all how much it is shining on the inside. Among the many things I have learned in this last year, one of the most important has been the value of personal happiness. I guess that is the thing that has kept me in Sao Paulo for so long...and the thing that will keep me here in South America for the many months to come. I am just so happy with my life here. It isn't one single thing...but more like a combination of things, I guess the best of which is being part of the Brazilian culture. I mean to say that now I really know the "Jeito Brasilero". The Brazilian way. There is something about it that can't be explained in words...you just have to live here to understand. It is part of the reason this trip to Floripa and actually all my time here in the last several months has been so much fun. I don't feel like a foreigner anymore.

It guess it all reminds me of how what "home" is can change over time. For many years of my life I called Bloomington/Normal home. When I left there to go to ND, it was like I was leaving my home. But I remember specifically one time, upon returning to ND from a road trip, it no longer felt as if I was returning back to "school". I was going "home". That day, when I returned to campus, I felt this sort of familiarity, or sense of loss from being away from it. Something had changed forever at that point. It was the first time I called a new place home. The last time I left SP for a weekend, I had that same feeling as I got back. This is my home now. I live in Brazil. Sometimes it is weird for me to say it out loud, but just saying it makes me smile and laugh at the same time...that happiness rearing it's head. I mean, who would have ever thought!? Hell, if you asked me a year ago, I wouldn't even have thought I would even still be in South American by this time. The idea was to keep moving on over a years' time, seeing as much as I could...although I have seen and done quite a bit, I still haven't even made it out of Brazil! But the thing is, it doesn't make me sad to think that or that I have somehow failed in this journey...in fact it is just the opposite. I have found a happiness, a contentment, that perhaps I didn't think imaginable. The reason I haven't left this country yet is really just that simple. Why? Good lord, I have got more than any one man could want in his life at the age of 27. I am content with my life in everyway and all the choices I've made...I guess there aren't many who could say that. So for that, I'm proud of myself and what I've done and I'm not afraid to say that outloud (or type it). I love to look back at what I have acheived in the past year, and actually it sometimes surprises me. I have learned a new culture, and a new language. I have met countless new friends...and even met folks here in SP that I consider brothers. Sure at times it has been a struggle...but without those parts, it probably wouldn't all have been worth it.

So 2003 has come to a close and we are all entering a new year. The past year has truly been a blessing and I hope that 2004 will bring more happiness, new friends, and new places, not just for me, but for everyone who reads these words. I wish all of you a FANTASTIC 2004. I'll be starting mine out here in Brazil and who knows where time will take me...but wherever it does, rest assured, I will continue on, excited, happy, and just loving it all. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is my life, and I LOVE IT!!

AC

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