"When you are joyful, be joyful; when you are sad, be sad. If God has given you a sweet cup, don't make it bitter; and if He has given you a bitter cup, don't try and make it sweet; take things as they come."
--Oswald Chambers, Shade of His Hand
Suffice it to say, it's been a period of feeling things deeply these past few weeks. October was a time of feeling joy and sadness simultaneously. I was filled with joy at having returned to the company of some of the people I admire most in the world, and yet, feeling sadness at how heavy the load is that they carry for the people around them who suffer so much because of poverty. I'm proud and frustrated that there should be such a calling as that of serving the poor, because it's helpless and hopeful work that somehow can coexist miserably and beautifully in each of us, if we let it.
I admit, there are times when I want to go backward in my knowledge. I long for times when I could fabricate long Christmas lists of gifts that I believe would make me happy. Of a time when I could travel for pleasure rather than for purpose, even though there is pleasure in that. There are just days when it would be easier to look forward to a swim up bar and dread shopping for a bathing suit, rather than eagerly anticipating a day in a slum and dread the thought of who is no longer there to walk alongside you. I grow somewhat despondent in that a cream coloured Karmen Ghia convertible would cause me to pause in my exuberance knowing that it would afford me more than one trip back to the sprawling urban shantytowns that I find myself loved in.
These are some of the honest but self centered thoughts I have when I come back and settle back into the routine of life after being in Africa. Home is home and I love being here, surrounded by my friends and family and yet, I long to be free of it as well. That the two days of travel and two months of income it takes to get to where I long to be means that I have to find a way to make the most of my time here as I do when I'm there. It was a perfect trip in that it enabled Easton and I to visit our favourite places...Zimbabwe and Zambia and to find ourselves in the company of those we long to speak with so often when we're back in Canada.
I'm not sure if I've ever felt so removed from our community in Zambia as I have in these past weeks. I've certainly never left with things unsaid or undone before that have come home in my luggage as excess baggage. It's here where I struggle. With regret. For things unsaid. For time unspent. For a visit not made. For the opportunity lost. I'm still trying to figure out how this is all supposed to make me stronger or fortify my resolve when really I'm just feeling sad and guilty and selfish for not having been able to go and visit my friend while she was in hospital. There are reasons I couldn't and constraints that were put on our time that made it nearly impossible but I knew in my heart that I wanted to see her. So much that I asked on several occasions and was not confident in the answers. That the hospital was far. That she would be isolated. That she wouldn't be up for visitors. I allowed myself to concede that it wasn't possible. And now she's gone and I'm carrying regret. I don't for one second believe that Cynthia did not know how much I loved her, or how much I thought of her and cared for her, even across the miles. The regret is that given the sliver of an opportunity, I allowed myself to let it slide by me without seeing her. Would she have known I was there? Would I have been allowed to see her? I don't even know the answers and I never will. It's changed me to come back from this trip with regret. I know I won't let it happen again. I'm learning to trust my place and to speak my feelings because it's when I don't that I find it easy to let the blame sit on my shoulders and that's what's been weighing me down over the past few weeks.
The weight adds to the day to day run of the mill type stresses that appear in the season leading into Christmas. The financial, the traditional, the mundane all compound under the burden of grief coupled with regret. I don't say this to make excuses, I've been difficult to talk to and hard to make laugh and less inclined to be generous....quite the opposite of the lesson I should be learning from regret, but I've never been accelerated in the academia of life lessons. So what I'm throwing out here, for my own benefit, is really the basic self talk I've been giving myself. Be kinder than you feel. Be slow to get angry or offended, and slower to speak into it. Present thicker skin than perhaps you're feeling. Remember that everyone is carrying their own burdens and the weight of theirs doesn't diminish the weight of your own. Be generous. With yourself. With your time. With your energy. But spend it wisely too. There's a limited supply and give it to those who need it most whether you know them or not, whether they share your stash of dark chocolate or just your city streets. Be careful in this season. Assess what is worthy weight to carry and shed what is not, and don't pick it up again simply because it presents itself in your path moment by moment. Step over it and keep moving.