to make a mountain of
your life is just a choice
but i never learned enough
to listen to the voice that told me
hate will get you every time
don’t wait til the finish line
I think the month of August 2008 was one of the most defining moments in my life. I had just returned home from Uganda where I had spent the summer. I was about to move to Hawaii in a couple of weeks. Everyone who has spent time in rural Africa knows it takes some time to adjust to ‘normal life’ again. While the poverty in the villages among rolling hills is staggering, the people who live there don’t seem poor. Money seems very absurd in a place where the average monthly income is $30. Walking to the nearest bank with an ATM to retrieve $350 in an instant for a budget safari seems insane. But not really. Because no matter where you go, you don’t stop being yourself. I got mugged one night. It was my fault; I was drunk and stupid, walking by myself after dark. I was crying and while the boy shoved his hands down my jeans pockets, I kept saying, “I don’t have anything, I don’t have anything.” I had $90 on me because we had just been to the bank earlier that day and I was even holding some money for my friend, who didn’t have pockets that night. Three months salary in an instant from some dumb crying girl on the street. I make twice that in a day in Norway. I don’t begrudge him what happened. I am grateful. I needed that lesson and $90 was cheap.
The nights in rural Africa are so quiet and so dark. No electricity. No cars. Millions of stars rather than the usual hundreds. The night sky seemed so big I had to divide it into sections in order to take it all in. We were staying 20 minutes away from the border of Rwanda, and just as I fear serial killers will crawl through my window in the US, I couldn’t stop thinking about 1994. Less than half an hour away 800 000 women, children and men were hacked to death with machetes in villages just like this one. I felt isolation like never before. But I felt alive. I loved the children. In the early evenings I would sit by myself behind the school we taught at during the day and write in my journal while watching the sunset. Inevitably, some of the children in the village would come over. One day they were carrying a clear plastic bag that I recognized as something we had thrown away yesterday. They had also retrieved our empty Pringle’s box and a few other items. Trash, I suppose. For them, they were new toys.
I won’t say part of me wasn’t happy to go back home. Mentally, I was already halfway to Hawaii. But I hated shaking off Uganda. It was like shaking off real life and stepping back into the fantasy. All my life I have never been able to live in the present. Ever since I can remember I have always lived for the future – this magical destination where life would be filled with — I don’t even know. Success, I guess. In love, in life, in creativity. I was 24, I had been to over 20 countries, and I was still waiting for life to begin. The present was a temporary inconvenience to me. Africa changed all of that. I had to go to a place where tomorrow wasn’t promised in order to learn how to appreciate today.
Whenever I feel I’ve lost sight of myself, I try to channel that girl on her way to Hawaii in August 2008. I have already been the person I want to become. I’m not saying I was ever perfect, but I was so damn happy. I had finally conquered my own expectations in life – by not having any expectations. I realized, felt, knew, to my bones, that the only thing you control in this life are your own actions. If you meet each person completely free of expectations, you’ll be able to re-center yourself in the morning every day. Know thy self, in other words, and the rest will follow. If people can’t disappoint you, it is also easier to always choose love.
to find someone you love
you’ve gotta be someone you love
As I flew towards Hawaii, I was finally ok with being alone, forever, if that’s what it took. I had myself and the world, and that was enough. And the Nada Surf song above was my soundtrack. But life is nothing if not ironic so the day after Halloween I met my person. Love at first sight is an understatement. I think the point is that each experience is crucial to become the person you are. Any other way and you would be different. Which isn’t good or bad, it just is. I was happiest when I consciously chose to be in love with this world, and not to put too much pressure on those around me to be what I want them to be. Right now I needed a reminder and this song found me. Your life is just a choice. I choose love. Always.