Stranger – South Africa Month 5
I struggle to see through fog as I gather my surroundings. I don’t know how I got here, but I am here. The sights are familiar. The emerald colors swirl around me and take on the form of tree tops, extending from some of the oldest life that is earth. The mountains surrounding me from all angles remain my greatest teacher since arriving in this strange land. Or maybe it is I who is just a stranger.
Either way, I’m saddled into this ride, bending and curving around corners with no ground in sight. My feet dangle below me as my bottom stays firmly seated in the small roller coaster car. I am alone. In this moment, I feel nothing. Not excitement and not a fear. And then something arises. I remember; I got here by choice-by conscious decision and intent. This is what I wanted. And then I awake, in a stupor of serenity.
Sometimes the stupor is the most powerful of dwelling places. My head removed for a while, I am free to be, to flow, to ingest the world without judgment. I co-exist without a head to resist what surrounds me, and without that mind-piece as a barrier to the richness of all that occurs.
I can recall a life quite cozy not long ago. All my needs were seemingly met and mundane desires gratified at the drop of a hat. But even in that comfort, there was a piece of mind constantly reaching for the next, and the next.
A runaway train inside of me, controlling my every move- seeking, reaching, filling up, but never full. While writing this, it’s as if I’m describing a monster. Maybe I am. A monster that gobbles life too quickly to taste and be grateful for flavors. It is frightening. That thing could have run my whole life. I can picture it now: always looking beyond what is already there, measuring life only in increments of impermanence, and then death. But as I die, I realize I was dead already.
One thing about this stupor, is that anything that occurs, whether favorable or not, can be appreciated. Yes, life looks much different through spectacles of gratitude, even when you and your every move are the spectacle of the community.
It is inaccurate to think by my change of environment (moving far from anything familiar) I have somehow squashed the monster. It had nothing to do with where I was or what I was doing. It will feed on anything, anywhere, anytime. I became a stranger well before South Africa.
My current life situation is the effect of tearing away layers of paint to see what the original looked like. Tear away the stories of the past, for they are not the story of me. Tear away attachment to experiences which can never be relived, tear away pressure to fulfill expectations which were created by a mind less mature and less alive than I’d become, tear away heart-less commitments without regard for what “they may think.” To tear it all away, and just be…like those mountaintops. When I tore it all away, I found something amazing.
I was only a small piece of the original painting. Surrounding me was a canvass of world that I had never seen before.
Somehow bitter cold Chicago mornings became bliss. I’d gaze lovingly from the train windows to bare tree branches and appreciate the sketches they’d create against the gray sky.
In my stupor, I’d effortlessly choose to believe in the purpose of my surroundings. The distressed man on the bus would become the object of my smile, and our conversation would leave him in his own hopeful stupor. Coincidence would reunite us later to find his circumstances somehow improved. Scenarios like this became a common theme.
Sometimes things would go differently. Two months before I departed for South Africa, (the day I resigned from my job), I refused to give money to a woman on the train. I tried to offer her information on resources, to maybe provide a more sustainable impact. She ended our conversation by screaming, “I hope you die over there in Africa!”
No, not the send-off one would hope for, but a gift nonetheless. I learned something valuable that day. Not only did I realize it is not always ME who has something to offer, but that sometimes ugly is beautiful (and let me be cliché here, because I believe the quality of attention given to something can demean its value, not simply use and time…clichés are like used records…I digress), and Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.
The disgruntled woman that day taught me that getting rattled is a choice. Her words did induce tears, and that monster mind-piece asked myself why I commit to connection and humanity when so many people could not care less about the effort, or value genuine concern. I released that noise as quickly as possible.
When I tore away all those layers, THIS was the Original. I’ll not have some ugly words on the train send me running for new paint. No, I’ll remain untouched.
How fortunate was I for an occurrence like that to help me look within and check my status! What a gift. Beauty…the Beholder.
Later, I silently blessed the woman with peace and clarity. That was a nice use of my time. It saved my heart from beating rapidly and spreading negativity by sharing a story of, “you won’t believe what happened to me…” No, I was just given a gift. In the stupor, you are never the victim.
I’ve met other strangers on my path. Recently, I was educated by an incredibly intelligent and vibrant man. It so happens that he has been living with AIDS for over 30 years. David Patient was diagnosed as ill in the early 1980s before medical professionals knew what AIDS was.
David and his colleague have since won a National Geographic award and various international honors for their victories in sustainable development, and are called upon to help execute UN health initiatives.
Some of his first words to my Peace Corps group were, “AIDS has been my greatest teacher.”
Strangers see things differently. And sometimes the world benefits.
I heard recently, “reality is perception.” I feel this truth from a place of experience. I can CHOOSE to view the world and life’s situations in any way.
I proved this by placing myself in an extremely unfamiliar and often ugly environment. Everyday is a roller coaster, but as a stranger in a stupor, I always get to see the beauty of the Original painting.
It’s a gift I want to make contagious!