Alex Emmons: Miracle on Rarotonga

Who evolves spiritually? Is it up to old, wise men in caves, preachers in mega churches, or the best-selling new age authors? All of the world's religions are converging on our shores for the first time: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and more. Maybe, just maybe, it's the young people who are waking up? In this culture, people's spiritual lives tend to be either very public or very private and rarely do they share the inner, guiding parts of life. So, here are stories of seeking, confusion and discovery as experienced by us. You know, the ones plugged into smartphones and meeting friends for drinks. Listen as we open our hearts. See for yourself. Are we lost to the well entertained and superficial, or is there a secret life of deeper longing and curiosity that may just help save us all?
If you are a young adult (18-35 years old) interested in sharing your spiritual story of discovery, send an email to

Since 1998 I have cried exactly four times: 1) the first night of boarding school when mom called to say goodnight, 2) the day I left to go to college, 3) while driving in the desert and feeling lonely, and 4) when a girl I dumped wouldn't take me back. I don't brag about it, but I know I am tough in many ways.

When I was 18 I deferred from college and worked as a deckhand on a 90-foot sailboat in the South Pacific. At a beachfront bar on the remote tropical island of Rarotonga the crew celebrated my birthday. It was a Saturday but for the small local population it got a little rowdy. We drank cheap tequila and watched girls dance in grass skirts while a man with a ukulele sang a broken version of "On the Boardwalk." The next morning I woke up, still drunk and wanted privacy and fresh air. I found the keys to a Mazda Miata that my friend had rented for the weekend and decided to go for a drive, even though I didn't handle a stick too well.

Pulling out onto the main road, I dropped the clutch too fast and the car jerked, killing the engine. I restarted and grinded the resistant transmission back into first gear. A few bumps later and I was off. I found that the faster I drove, the easier it got. The air whistled in my ears and the smell of burning coconut husks cleared my thoughts and my creeping hangover seemed to blow away. I noticed a beach I had seen the day before and pulled over to check it out.

The beach was white and empty, and the sand was fine. The water was cerulean and transparent up to 15 feet deep. I had nothing with me except my journal, a pen, and a bathing suit, which I had been wearing constantly. I smelled, tasted, and felt like a recycled lime wedge, but my spirits were high. The beach roasted my bare feet and so I quickly retreated to the car.

Before long, I was back on the narrow road, careening down the twists and turns with exhilarating speed. The tires screeched as I downshifted to accelerate through a blind corner. As I completed the turn, I saw it; a wall of people filling the lane. Before I knew it the car leaped into the parade. All in one motion I kicked the brake and the Mazda fishtailed. Struggling to maintain control, I held my breath as I waited for metal to collide with flesh.

When I came to a stop, the mob quickly surrounded my convertible. I looked up and saw a large but simple white church. Frightened children sobbed as hundreds of large islanders circled my car. Embarrassed and ashamed, I thought to myself, "this-is-the-end."

A smaller man stepped through the crowd and commanded attention. I asked him how many people were hurt, and to my disbelief he said none. He stared at me in silence. I still reeked of booze and thought about how fucked I was. It was a miracle no one had been hurt, if it was true, and even if I hadn't surely they'd jail me for reckless abandonment.

"Turn off the car," the man said. I did. "Which ship is yours?"

I told him her name.

"Park over there." He pointed to a dirt lot on the opposite side of the road. As I slipped the car into first gear I hoped I wouldn't stall out. If they realized I couldn't drive -- checkmate.

The car clumsily lurched forward but no one said anything. I parked and stepped out onto the ruddy soil. My feet smarted with burrs. My shoulder muscles ossified and my heartbeat whirred. An overwhelming stench of sizzling rubber and brake pad filled my nose and mouth. The palms of my hands were cold and my knees buckled. I shrank against the hot hood as the man approached me. My hands stung and recoiled. Breathing became harder. My bowels tightened.

The man looked serious and walked over to me. He told me that he was the chief of police as well as the reverend of the church. Every Sunday the entire congregation walks together down the road to a special beach where they conclude their prayers. It was true no one had been hurt, but I still peered at the tire tattoos on the asphalt.

At first I blurted out excuses, but then they became real. I had risked the lives of innocent people. Their raw human energy was palpable. Had I had one more drink, or slept for one less minute the night before, who knows. I saw the pain and the anger, and the sadness and hatred I almost caused, and I begged for forgiveness. My chest tightened and I concentrated on avoiding a panic attack. But it was too late. I almost fainted.

He scrutinized me and silently deliberated. Then he dismissed me and directed me back to my ship, instructing me to tell my captain what had happened. Astonishingly, that was it -- I was free.

I relinquished a nautical life of sunshine and adventure for the compromise of school and the intellectual gifts therein. School, drinking, and girlfriends distracted me, and I became self-absorbed, forgetting that many important lessons I couldn't learn in a classroom.

But no matter how adept our forgetting skills are, and no matter how strong we may be emotionally, the past reoccurs. When a young female student was hit by a drunk driver and killed, her boyfriend who she had been traveling to visit that fateful evening lamented, "if I had only waited five more minutes before calling her to invite her to come over, maybe she wouldn't have died." At once, my past returned.

As it happened, I also wrote for the school newspaper. By chance, the editor picked me to pen the story. My assignment therefore was interviewing the mourners. I went to the college church's basement where the chaplain had arranged a communal grieving for the girl's friends. This was horrible because I'd never even looked at this girl, much less noticed her, even though our college was the size of a large high school and it seemed like I knew every girl (worth knowing) in the whole student body. And all of her friends knew this -- what's this creep even doing here -- which made it worse. But on the inside I sincerely felt compelled to be there in that dank dungeon -- that driver could have been me.

Everybody was crying. I was feeling emotional too, but I couldn't cry. I was surprised by how much I hated feeling like that. I was completely overwhelmed with guilt and grief, but I couldn't pay my dues. All of the weight from all of my burdens was falling down on me in that moment, all I wanted to do was be released into soul-freedom, and therefore all I wanted to do in longer than I could remember was cry, but no.

We really don't know if there is a God. I have my doubts on a daily basis, but I hope there is, and if there is I hope He saves me. With all the joy that that I've deserved or not deserved and all the blessings I received that I never earned, all the suffering, and all that I did, it really makes me want to believe in God because it's hard to make sense of it all. The world is huge, the oceans are expansive, and the unknown is never-ending, but it will always be of interest to me and maybe one day I will learn how to cry. In a way, I'm not tough at all.