Saturday, May 27, 2006

A really long one about why Africa freaks me out and revs me up.

We made it to Madison and I'm sitting here in my bro's apartment, which is quite homey for a guy who is a Junior in college. The fellas (E, Kevin and Jake) are out having a drink at the local dive (Its called Caribou...) and I'm here soaking up some quiet in a new and different spot.

In the drive here I was thinking about how much I'll miss the Midwest when we are gone. It may be a long time before we are back again. We were listening to that Damien Jurardo song "Ohio" and I felt this wave of nostalgia and sweetness wash over me. Despite all the hardships and lonely times, I love this place and the way the trees look next to the highway when they have been there through all the hardest winters and the wildest thunderstorms and now have the courage to just bloom and grow. There was one that had died. Its roots had just given up and let it topple into the swamp. The sun had bleached the trunk to a white grey and the tangle of roots looked like a giant bird's nest. It was all alone on the edge of the water, no leaves, so stark in the wild riot of green leaves and flowers. There were all of these beautiful little nests lining the highway too. If there were reeds or bare branches, this creature had found a way to weave a perfect little nest. I couldn't tell speeding by at 70 miles per hour if they were made of mud or reeds, but they seemed to hang like cobwebs. I wish I could figure out which bird makes them. They are everywhere.

I also acknowledged that I am really frightened about what next year will bring. I know that I can't be really ready for it, because it will change my life in ways I can't prepare for. Which is part of why we are going. And I was also thinking that being afraid is one of the things I like about traveling, or flying, or sailing on rough waters in a racing yacht on lake Michigan. I like feeling a little afraid, because it makes me realize that I am not letting fear keep me from living my life.

I think every time I have traveled, I have been frightened. I remember when I went to Paris with Katie, I was scared out of my mind that someone was going to pick our pockets or steal our passports. I was so hyper alert and filled with adrenaline and anxiety. All of my memories of that trip are super charged with emotion and excitement. And when we went back again a few years later, we just went with it. We accidentally took a train to Switzerland instead of southern France. On New Year's Eve we hung out with some unsavory characters and started a big fist fight when the clock struck twelve. And I was scared, but I knew that we could handle it and I learned to count on myself in a new way. I remember moving to Albuquerque, I embraced the change as a welcome relief from the drudgery of my previous existence. I felt lighter, and free to be wild and spontaneous. When Jessica and I went driving up along the Pacific Coast Highway, I felt this sense of joy so intense that it was almost painful. The joy is fleeting and so you do your best to savor it and let it wash over you, but you know it has to end. Its terrifying and beautiful.

But leaving Chicago this time won't be like either of those experiences. I'll miss it. This city has been a place of slow and lasting change for me. I came here to see if Eric and I had a future and to see if what I learned in Albuquerque had gotten me anywhere. And it took time to sort it out. I haven't been happy here forever. It seems like it came gradually and that change feels sturdy and reliable. So that feels like a great platform to dive into this new experience, but I have to admit that I am scared.

There are silly little things that I know I can handle, but that gross me out: Michelle was telling me about the monstrous spiders that she saw in Ghana. She said they looked like Tarantulas. Huge, hairy, disgusting. Gotta tell you, that freaks me out. Greg told us that when he sent his clothes out to be laundered they came back grey and smelling worse than when they left because there was no clean water to launder them with. The idea of having no clean clothes for six months is definitely unappealing.

But its the emotional things we will encounter that I am most afraid of. What if we move there and become overwhelmed by the need and sadness and hopelessness? It could easily swallow you up beyond your capacity to give. And although I am going wanting to be changed, I am frightened of that change. I never pictured spending my life this way, and it could be that our lives take that trajectory. I have no idea how Eric and I will respond to this world that is so vastly different from our own. Part of me welcomes the change of pace from daily life where the biggest frustrations are dropped cell phone calls or a dry cleaning that isn't pressed correctly. But on the flip side of the coin I see someone who hasn't quite become a full fledged activist, but can't quite return to her previous life as a pseudo glamour girl who likes to embroider dish towels and arrange flowers. I am afraid that this will trivialize what I've been before, so not only will I be unable to return to my previous life, I won't be able to be proud of it in the same way. Ideally, I'd like to be able to return to our life with a refreshed perspective and some insights into how I can use my life and talents to make some positive changes in my world, while still moving forward with my own goals for myself. And I don't think that necessarily means spending my life in a refugee camp. Thank God Eric will be there too.

The other thing I pondered on the drive here was my little farm fantasy. Just a couple of acres where we could have the classic little white farm house and a big red barn. There would be a little pig, and maybe some chickens and a couple of barn cats (who would have kittens every spring) Eric and I would both have a horse, and we'd go riding through the rolling hills. Maybe we'd have one of those pretty brown dairy cows with the long long eyelashes and it would all be something out of Charlotte's web. I could grow vegetables and flowers and paint and write, and we'd be so far from everything. People could come up and visit and it could be really beautiful. Maybe in twenty years. Eric says he's in. Perhaps we need a couple of motorcycles too, just to keep the adrenaline pumping and let us know we're still breathing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I sympathize with your thoughts and have felt them myself. These are "Melancholy Moments" you feel when you know that your past is behind you but you don't know what the future will be. Scary stuff!! I felt this when I was packing up to leave home for college. A strange nostalgia but trepidation for what is to come. I felt this when I was leaving for Africa. Would I change? Would it be good - or bad? You can never tell. People asked when I had my heart attack whether this changed my life. No. But my trip to Africa did. Ask Eric. I take comfort in the fact that nothing really matters in the long run because we're all dead anyway. But maybe the world can be a better place when I leave than when I came. I like that thought when I think that I can possibly make it happen. And maybe life should be measured in experiences rather than years. I think that matters more. So, all I can say is that you blast forward and do what you can do. All will be great in the end when you follow your heart and never look back.

Big Daddy G

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