we have these moments, situations, experiences that forever alter us. falling in love. sitting in an oncologist chair and hearing a cancer diagnosis. the moment a pregnancy test is positive. being betrayed by a person we love. winning the lottery. holding the hand of a family member while they take their last breath. getting our dream job. becoming a grandparent. having a spiritual awakening. whatever. i believe these moments – beautiful, messy, all the in-betweens – shape us. i also believe that it is up to us to pay attention to the impact of these experiences. adapt, change, grow. knowing that we are still ourselves, but as my friend kelsey says, different than before. my recent trip to south africa was one of those times.
i don’t know if there is enough space in the blog sphere for me to describe all that i felt before, during, and after this journey. in previous posts, i described the overwhelming amount of gratitude i have for this gift. it is almost beyond comprehension to me that there are people like kelsey and heather in this world. their thoughtfulness, friendship, and love is so grand that it provided my daughter and i wings to fly to a place where i only dreamed of going to someday. it took me until the second leg of the trip until i realized: we are going to south africa. admittedly, i had expectations. i expected to love being with heather, kelsey, and rowan. i expected to be in awe of the landscape. i expected to be overcome with places where nelson mandela resided, creating unimaginable hope for an entire country behind bars. i didn’t expect for me to fall in love with the feelings i had while i was there.
there were a thousand tiny moments over the course of our journey that filled my heart with joy. the little lady losing her tooth 20 minutes before we landed in johannesburg. she and rowan waking up early every morning, giggling and playing. wine tasting with heather. sharing meals. creating gratitude journals. seeing whales breach. bringing kelsey breakfast in bed. watching an elephant chew on a tree. having the two 7 year olds sit in their own aisle on the plane to cape town. learning zulu. sharing little square snapshots of my days with my instagram friends. singing in the car. my daily, unrelenting search for a cup of plain black coffee. all of us holding hands. watching two of my favorite people demonstrate their love for each other in small and big ways. evening talks on the couch in front of the fire. eating bunny chow. the five of us practicing cups at a restaurant table. listening to kelsey sing show tunes in order to cope with her seasickness. picking the kids up after a day of school. running along the coast.
then there were the days that these little moments created something BIG. one day i got in the rental car by myself, camera and gps in hand, in my quest to visit the bottom of the african continent. driving on the left side of the road, music loud, windows down. i drove along the coast, next to mountains, through wine country. and then, miles and miles and miles of dirt road and farm animals. no other cars, no other people, not even a barn for the farm animals. just wide open spaces and lots of animals. i began to question if i was lost. i hoped that i wouldn’t get a flat tire. but mostly, i just enjoyed the ride. i laughed as i passed a field of sheep, staring at the american girl, probably wondering what the hell she was doing there. i thought about my recent challenges, the tears i had shed. despite some hard days, i knew then that if i kept putting out goodness into the universe, this is what i would eventually attract. thinking about this, driving along the bottom of the world, this goodness was coming back. a million times over. i arrived at cape agulhas, the southernmost tip of africa and the official dividing point between the indian and atlantic oceans. every inch of my body responded to this place. the place where two bodies of water converge, mixing their identities, and creating an environment of strength and beauty. an amazing symbol of possibilities.
a few days later, we spent time in soweto, some of what i described in this letter to my daughter. on this day, we arrived in soweto and i had a conversation with a man who lives there and sells t-shirts. i was so drawn to him, and after talking to him about south africa, the states, people’s perceptions about race, and soweto, i realized he was my official introduction to this magical community. afterwards, we spent time with our new friend lungi, who was born, raised and still lives in soweto. he shared with us the history of the land, the effects of apartheid, and the current state of the vibrant area. he brought us to the scene of the student uprisings and where 13 year old hector pieterson was shot. i felt like an intruder and initially refused to take pictures. he encouraged me to take hundreds of photos, explaining that the people of soweto want to be documented. they want to share their love and energy with the world, lungi reassured me. and he was right. everywhere we went, people called out to me, “shoot me, shoot me” and posed for the camera. lungi brought us to his home, and showed us photos of his father, a jazz musician, standing next to nelson mandela after his band played for him. we went by hundreds of shacks, and lungi talked to us about poverty and healthcare. and every conversation was threaded with happiness. similar to cape agulhas, i had a strong response to this beautiful little corner of the world. the deep sense of community, perseverance, optimism, and happiness resonated with me so much that i was incredibly sad when our day came to an end. before we left, though, i asked lungi his favorite part of living in soweto. “i love love,” he replied. simple and yet so profound. he paused before continuing to describe the people, the love of music, the energy. his conclusion: “we sing, we dance, we love.”
time will tell how i utilize my emotions and experiences on this journey to adapt, change, and grow. i am paying attention. i am still me, yet different than before. forever changed.