Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Where I've been lately

Body: Sunrise on Easter Island.

In a cold, dark moment before the sun rose over the Pacific, I had them all to myself. All fifteen Moai, basking in the white light of a nearly full moon that was high in the sky directly behind me. We were early, my travel companions were out of sight, out of mind. I was alone.

How on earth did I end up here?

Was I supposed to revere these ancient statues, full of mana and the sweat of thousands of Rapa Nui that toiled to carve and drag them to the coast? Was this supposed to be a spiritual moment? I wasn’t so sure.

I stopped thinking about it. The sun rose, just like it does everyday.

But this time, I was watching.

Head: “But why, in Africa, has it come to this?”

Even to begin to answer that question you need time, so much time, dead time. Time has to hang heavy on you. You need to be stuck, bored, and to watch: to watch not attentively, eager to prove or disprove a lively hypothesis, but listlessly, with your eyes roving and your mind empty, and nothing to do. Only then do truths begin to swim into vision.

- Matthew Parris on Ethiopia

This is not the type of work you can simply think your way out of. In fact, thinking too much might lead you astray. This, in part, is the problem with a lot of development efforts: It’s simply too easy to get disconnected, to theorize and strategize and intellectualize everything until it is almost completely irrelevant.

As the Parris quote suggests, this work takes time. It’s hard and frustrating and thankless and complicated and challenging beyond belief. But it’s also incredibly important. It’s definitely worth trying, and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

But if I’m going to continue to do this, I want to do right by it. Think BIG but start small, stay connected, and try as best as possible to keep it real. This is my commitment.

Heart: She’s gone.

In the early stages the disease, she reverted back to what I think was the happiest time in her life, her days as a young girl studying to be a teacher at Ramanathan College in Sri Lanka. She’d chatter away about her friends, smiling, laughing. Though there was never a flicker of recognition, I’d laugh with her and take solace in the fact that at least now she was wholly happy.

She wasn’t always happy. She was quiet; she kept what was more than her fair share of tragedy locked up inside. She bore heartache that is completely beyond my comprehension. She suffered a great deal of loss…she suffered so that I would never have to. For this, I will always be grateful.

I’m writing this post from Toronto. I’m happy to just BE with everyone, to go through the ceremonial motions, the crying and the laughing. She would be glad we laughed together.

I've also been forced to stop and think about what tradition really means to me. This is the hardest kind of thing to articulate, so I will just say this: I love, hate, and respect it all at once, but I don’t really understand it, and that might be ok.

If religion is the opium of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein and a needle, tradition if a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.

- Excerpt from White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

On balance.

I am trying with difficulty to make sense of the cumulative effect of all my recent experiences, to balance the various forces pulling at me and try as best I can to, well, do the right thing.

I was lucky to meet and receive some words of wisdom from James Orbinksi in January. I think he would be loathe to call what he gave us that day “advice”, but it stuck in my brain regardless of his intention.

He said that your success always depends on the success of others, that it’s important to genuinely understand the people around you, to be attentive to the people you are with.

Meaning is in the living, not simply in the thinking or the feeling. And it seems to me that living well is mostly about loving well.

– Brother Benedict quoted in An Imperfect Offering, by James Orbinksi

And so, this just might be the stuff life is made of. Life isn’t something that’s going to happen sometime in the future, it’s happening right now. Self-evident, I know, but it’s easy to forget this simple truth when you are busy busy busy. There is a lot to balance and it might never make sense and fit into a nice little box you can point an arrow to. But this is it – and I’m thankful for every little bit.



Colleen said...

Beautiful and moving. Thank you for sharing.

Mina Shahid said...

As I was reading this post, I couldn't help but shed a tear- one of hope in the things we do everyday, and the way people will remember us. You've articulated your thoughts in an honesty that I miss so much. The feeling of waking up in the morning, where the only thing you know, is that you don't know anything.

I was also reminded of our time at the JF Retreat in Siavonga, watching the sunset on Lake Kariba as we spoke about why we do what we do- I recall you saying in all sincerity, it was because of your desire to be a good person. There was a connection there at that point, and this post reaffirmed it.

I miss you and Africa dearly, and I look forward to hearing more about your time in Zambia.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

You have to express more your opinion to attract more readers, because just a video or plain text without any personal approach is not that valuable. But it is just form my point of view