I’ve written three different versions of this post since I landed in the US a little over a week ago but I’ve committed to posting something today.
I’m back and it’s both weird and surreally normal and not weird at all. In many ways everything feels EXACTLY THE SAME. Nothing has changed. Not even the weather (did you know that in Ohio the leaves are off the trees for literally half the year?! Hey Ohio, you really ought to look into fixing that.)
In some ways this sense that life stood still is welcomed (I was concerned about driving for the first time in 5 months and on the other side of the road for instance, but it was a non issue, our friends are still awesome and embracing and have taken up their supportive roles without missing a beat ) but on the other hand it’s tough to think, “wow, we made this huge leap of faith, turned our lives utterly upside down, spent a huge amount of money doing it, had so many amazing experiences, experienced some really hard things and yet I feel exactly the same? I am completely unchanged? I got nothing out of this? I have had zero growth?” Yeah, to be honest, that’s a huge downer. Especially since I was really counting on this change of environment to propel me into some serious growth. And it did of course. In many ways. But not the way I imagined or hoped and dreamed. And I’ve been sort of wondering what in the world that whole experience was all about. What I was supposed to gain from it apart from 20 or so lbs. To the naked eye all you see is we are back at square one, with a much emptier bank account and a few pretty souvenirs.
All week I’ve been in sort of daze. A mixture of denial and depression laced with great gratitude to keep me from spiraling completely. I am really grateful that we had this experience, and that we’ve had such a soft place to land at the end of it. I don’t have words enough to express my gratitude for those things and for all those people responsible for those things.
But then there’s the denial. My Dream, basically the thing I always felt deep in my soul that we were supposed to be working toward, is a bust. All indicators point to “that ‘aint gonna happen”. We picked pretty much the worst time in South African history for our particular family to attempt a comeback. It’s working great for some. But our particular package is not a great fit right now and may never be. That’s a hard reality to grasp and embrace. I’m getting there but I’m not really sure how to live without that hope, that tiny seed in my heart.
The depression. That one is easy for me. I’m wired for depression, it’s always just below the surface and I’m never sure how I will feel from one day to the next. Goshdammit. We all have something to deal with and that’s mine. And the weather and general drab and drear since I got back has been stoking it juuuuust fine. I left arguably the most spectacularly beautiful and aesthetically diverse and stimulating place on the planet to come to the aesthetic equivalent of plain, cold lumpy oatmeal. Look, I love oatmeal, but I love it when it’s hot and smooth, with brown sugar and maybe some fruit on top. And right now it’s cold and it’s lumpy and it’s just gross. And the worst part is that by now it’s actually SUPPOSED to be warmer and smoother and at the very least quite a bit prettier. But it’s not. It looks worse than when I left. So there’s that. Spring in Ohio. It will drive the most stable amongst us to drink, I tell ya. A couple of times this week, I took to my bed and thought, “seriously, life is lame. It’s so hard for so many amazingly awesome hardworking people who just deserve a damn break already. It’s just so INSANELY FREAKING UNRELENTINGLY HARD FOR SO MANY GOOD PEOPLE and that just sucks. And yeah, it’s truly not very hard for me at all right now, and still..what am I doing? Nothing. That’s what. I’m just a waste of space. I have had so many opportunities. And yet. Here I sit. Mired in the silliness of my tiny life. Unable to motivate. To do. I’m not growing, or learning or seeing. Mostly, I’m not helping. I’m not easing the pain or load for anyone. It’s a travesty. Such a waste. Pity I can’t make myself do anything about that. Pity…”
So that’s where I’ve been. Feeling a huge sense of: responsibility/guilt/worthlessness/unworthiness/helplessness/potential/paralysis. Blocked and stuck. Which led to huge heaping spoons of gravelly self loathing just sprinkled on top of all of that cold lumpy oatmeal.
Today I woke up and had a reprieve. The sun was shining and the birds were singing and the calendar said April 1st. And I knew it was time to go back to church. My very own personal soul church which is just a little patch of woods and meadow close to home. Where I run/shuffle and walk and get in touch with my divinity. Where I meet myself and my God and get messages about my purpose and my place. The last time I was there was November 1st, 2014. Just an hour before I was due to leave with my kids for the airport and hop a flight to South Africa. I was feeling a sense of thrill and disbelief that the day was finally upon us. And a sense of grief and loss for those we’d be leaving. I was crazy to go on that run but I couldn’t resist it. I was late and I needed to get home and shower and people were waiting and my bags weren’t totally packed and my house looked like the aftermath of a county fair…. so I cranked up my music and my pace and decided to take a short cut across the bridge.
I hit the bridge with a leaping confident stride, not even for a second imagining that there was black ice glazing it. I landed hard. It took my breath away. Pain shot through my body. After the initial moment of shock my instinct was to laugh. I couldn’t believe it. I had probably broken my wrist and done something really bad to my back and ankle, 45 minutes before I was supposed to leave with 3 children and 24 hours of international travel. Absolutely freaking typical. I took a picture of the bridge as I sat on my bruised bum. Here it is:
In time I figured out that my assessment had been typically overly dramatic, that I in fact, had broken nothing. I slathered Deep Blue over everything and was good as new, I made that flight and had an amazing 5 months. Painful incident aside, I’ve looked at that picture several times since, just to feel that sense of thrill again. That sense of being on the brink of fulfilling some lifelong unknown purpose. That feeling of being on the brink of accomplishing what I had set out to do. Of finally doing what I was supposed to do with my life. It’s a wonderful feeling and I’m blessed to have experienced it. And yes, the bridge incident is pretty much an analogy for what happened. We did take a leap into the unknown and end up feeling some major pain when things didn’t turn out how we thought they would, but it was worth it. Problem is, now I’m hooked. I’ve felt that Feeling but I haven’t resolved it. The journey is not over. It’s only just…omg somebody stop me before I break into the Carpenters. All this to say, I need to Do Something. I need to do more with my life than I’ve been doing.
Here are some of the things I learned and did in South Africa:
We have it ridiculously easy. Even those of us who struggle financially can’t fathom how much better off we are than so many others.
We have so many opportunities to help other people. And so much potential to do good, to make an amazing impact on people’s lives.
I have to make sense of the incredible opportunities I have been given. I have to make them count. I have to make the #SAyeradventure into something more than some beautiful pictures and great memories. We felt a clear call to go to South Africa. We knew it was the right thing to do. It was supposed to be life changing. I need to allow it to be. I can’t allow myself to go back to business as usual.
I love hearing stories about people’s lives. I’m generally an introvert but when I was in South Africa I forced myself to ask the people I interacted with about their lives. I wanted to hear as many stories as I could while I was there. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t impressed, awed, humbled by the creativity, ingenuity and resilience I heard about.
So I have to wrap this up or I’ll never get it posted. Here’s what I’m thinking. I need your help m’peeps. I need ideas. Big ideas or even small ideas that we can build on. I’ve got to do some Wonderful Things. And I’ll probably need your help to do them. Here’s all I’ve got so far. It needs to involve helping people, hearing and maybe telling people’s stories of resilience, ingenuity and creativity. Opening doors for people to use that resilience, ingenuity and creativity to reach their potential and fulfill their dreams. It doesn’t have to be one huge grandiose project. It can be little daily changes that add up to a big thing or lots of little things or what have you. I’m not looking to be Oprah here, but I do want to use my life better.
Give me your best stuff. Or your somewhat mediocre, “here’s all I could come up with because it’s Wednesday and Spring just won’t friggin come” stuff. There are no dumb ideas. Actually who are we kidding, there clearly are some dumb ideas, but usually only when people are trying to be dumb. If you are genuine and well meaning I want to hear your ideas, I’m fairly certain they won’t be dumb. Because I’ve had kids forever now, and I can’t imagine functioning any other way, I will
bribe you incentivize this thing. You’ve got ‘til tax day to give me your best stuff. That’s 15 days. I’ll pick my favourite (probably with the help of a massive committee) and I’ll reward you with something absolutely splendid and handmade from South Africa. I’m not sure what yet but I’ll make sure it’s awesome. A one of a kind piece of art from a one of a kind place.
So give me what you’ve got. Wherever you are in the world. I want All of the Ideas from All of the People. Not just one, you can throw 100’s of them at me. This is officially a brainstorming session declared open. Post what you have in the comments, or if you’re not into that, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Message me on facebook or instagram or whatever. If you want to be involved, tell me. Even if you don’t quite know how or to what extent. This thing is wide open right now. The bridge is waiting.