Tuesday, November 29, 2011

what's next

Three months ago I was waiting for our SMA Regional Superior (a.k.a. “my boss”) in Ghana to come pick me up from Bethany House. I was on my way to the airport and leaving the home I’d had for the past 7 ½ years. He was a half hour late, which was fine since I’d told him I wanted to leave an hour earlier than I thought was really necessary. I thought it would give us a little more time to relax at the airport. So, I called him to see how far he was and learned that with all the road construction going on in Accra he was somewhere . . . uh, somewhere not close, down some wrong roads, etc. etc. Finding Bethany House was hard enough without the road construction, but now that the road configurations were changing daily, it was next to impossible to find the house for people who don’t make the daily trip into the part of Accra where I was located. Next step – get a taxi ASAP that would be willing to face the rush hour traffic (which daily goes from roughly 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.) to take me across the city to the airport (which could be a 30-minute trip at 3:00 a.m. when there is no traffic and up to a 3-hour trip during rush hour).

These were the final days of the summer holidays, and when the taxi reached the airport we found it was jammed worse than I’d ever seen throughout 15 years of going to/from Kotoka International. Once inside the airport there was a 5 minute period when I couldn’t move in any direction – I’m talking walking movement – people were just jammed in there, standing room only, no moving space allowed. Wow. But – finally, with a little sweat involved (not unusual), all worked out and there was still time (according to me and not to the airline people) for me to rush down to the Aerostar for a quick final Star (who knew it now comes in cans!? as though I need another reason to go back) and kebab (a mouth water skewer of meat) with my boss and other friends who’d come to see me off, and then rush back into the airport to be told by airport personnel that I needed to get to the gate “NOW!”. I got through customs and security and to the gate to find most of the people had already boarded. But . . . I was on time, so no problems, not even any threats to off-load my luggage blasting over the airport intercom.

The last couple of times when I’d returned to the U.S. for a break I started off my return with a camping trip to the Boundary Waters (BWCA). It was a beautiful, in-between time – not my daily life in Ghana, and not yet my life in the US. It gave me a peaceful, reflective period – a chance to adjust my thoughts, process my feelings, and solidify for me who I am before I get caught up in the next step of my life. But this time, winter weather might have already been threatening the BWCA area and my going from the tropics straight into winter camping . . . well, enough said. I like winter camping, but . . .

SMA was able to work out cheap tickets so that while on the way to the US I could have a little layover in Europe to visit friends and former colleagues. It served the same purpose as the BWCA – an in-between-Ghana-and-the-US step. It was also a chance to see again some good people I care about and who care about me – former SMA colleagues, the founder of Hope for Life and also the founder of PCC, and friends who had volunteered at projects where I’d been. A few hi-lites: beaches around Rome (sunnier and warmer than they were in Ghana at the time I’d left); beaches in Holland (all kinds of weather); Wadlopen (the previous link describes what this is and this link has pictures of it - but not pictures of me and my friends); Eisinga Planetarium, the world’s oldest functioning planetarium (this was a side-trip while on the way to northern Netherlands for the Wadlopen); Trappist Monastery (um, beer); frescoes in Lyon; Lake Martignano; - - and above all, lots of time with people who I feel make up this huge extended family I have and who let me be part of their day-to-day lives, who took time off to be with me while we: rode bikes to the beach; walked; had a picnic in the park; shared cups/bottles of coffee/beer/wine (any time of the day); sat in the sun or near the fire; listened to (and sometimes sang) old and new favorite songs; read books side-by-side; and talked and processed our lives.

In response to my last blog, someone asked me: What’s next? Where will I be? What will I do? Will I go back? (“Enquiring minds want to know.” – or so I was assured.)

What’s next has already started. I’m still with SMA and have a commitment for another two years. It’s different this time – my home will be in the US at the SMA formation house outside of Washington D.C. We’ll find out how best I can fit into what makes it possible for the SMA lay missionaries to stay in Africa and do what we do. I’ll be part of what has made it possible for me to stay in Africa with SMA for 13 years.

What’s next is maintaining and building the connections and friendships I have with people in W. Africa who have been and still are important to me and my life. There are some good people for whom I’d like to continue trying to help reach their goals and dreams of building up their lives and their communities. I still have stories that people have shared with me and that I still haven’t written about.

What’s next is being geographically closer and more accessible to family and friends here in the US. What’s next is hopefully taking some language lessons, some violin lessons, maybe some other lessons. What’s next is starting to resume a few other pastimes I love.

What’s next is trying to maintain feelings of passion and intensity towards life and what I’m doing in life. I’ve always been blessed to be doing things that I care about and want to do. I’ve been back in the States and with SMA near DC for about 1 ½ months. I sometimes have to remind myself that I still care about what I’m doing even though I’m not in Africa, and I care about the people who are around me and the people in Africa for whom I’m doing it. I recently realized that the main difference in what I’m doing now (as well as other times in the past when I’ve returned to the US) and what I did in Africa is the setting where I’m doing it (it’s not really as simple as that – the word “setting” is broad).

This shouldn’t be such a grand, shocking realization, but when I thought of what it meant – that I’m often doing some tasks here in the US that are similar to what I did at times while in Africa (some office work, paperwork, computer work, “administration”) – it changed things. I realized that what makes me feel so alive while in Africa isn’t just the work that I care about, but it’s how intense life is while I’m living there – just day to day stuff (the “setting”) is more intense. I care very much about the work I’m doing and the people I’m with wherever I am (most of the time, anyway). Otherwise, I wouldn’t choose to do that work, be in that place or be with those people. It’s the intensity of the moment-to-moment that gives me the feelings of passion about life while in Africa. And it’s probably what I miss when I’m not there and what keeps taking me back. I can live and work here in the States, and I can care about what I’m doing while here. I want to and hope that I can find that intensity as well. Or that I can be satisfied without it. Facing this challenge is probably the biggest “what’s next” for me.


At 8:57 PM, Blogger MJ said...

I feel like we all should write a "what's next" for us having you so near for a few years now."What's next for us will be not having to dial an international code to talk to you now, or knowing that when we want to mail something to you that we won't have to fill out customs forms and bankrupt ourselves at the post office. What's next will be having you home for Christmas for the first time in years, among a lot of other things. The next few years will have a lot of "what next's" for all of us, but I know mostly for you.


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