A bout of inner ear infection in September knocked me off my feet for a couple of weeks providing me time and space for thought and reflection. Its been almost two years now since I left Newfoundland and Labrador and journeyed to The Gambia. Even though I had been here twice before for a total of almost three years, the past two years have provided rich experiences along with many challenges and trials.
In some small ways, I can relate to the life of the many world migrants making a new life in another land, other than the fact I was here before and came without trauma or risking my life. I have been and lived in many places, but each time it was transitory, I was going back or moving somewhere else. This time it was different, having unloaded all my worldly belongings I came to The Gambia to stay; buying property and building a house made the move more permanent.
There was little by way of adjustment time, as upon my arrival I immediately became voluntarily engaged in the development of an economic plan for the government and shortly afterwards bought a property and began construction of my house. This was over and above dealing with the needs of the many people I support. My schedule was full both day and night with little time for rest or reflection, much less my passion for writing. This, no doubt, contributed to my illness, along with the stress of supporting so many and surviving myself.
Finally, my superman suit fell in tatters and my vulnerability was exposed. My resources all but exhausted, my nerves frayed from the lack of space and time for rest, my many commitments to others and my own needs basically unmet. At times, my future has looked very fragile, at best.
Then on a Saturday in early September, as I got out of bed my legs became wobbly, my voice sounded hollow and my left side felt strange. My first reaction was “stroke”, but after visits to two clinics, treatment for Malaria (always suspect here), a head and heart scan I realized it was my inner ear acting up again, a brutal affliction which I have had before. The only real cure is complete rest, but finding space, much less time to hide is not possible. My neighbours were very attentive during this time and a young man who tends my garden was most helpful.
I had two experiences this summer, which were perhaps precursors to this physical affliction, both were emotional and challenging. In July an incidence caused me to contemplate the very basis of my mission and even my very being. It was a small incident, but perhaps my reaction was the culmination of much of the stress, with which I have dealt with since coming to Gambia. It touched a place inside of me that really hadn’t been touched before; a very deep and dark place where light obviously has never shone.
A person who I have supported for more than a year came into my house, as she does most mornings for breakfast and to get money for food or some other need. I had to go next door and left her sitting on my veranda, where everyone congregates, the door to my house was open.
When I returned I went to my bedroom to get money to give her and realized that some of my money was missing, not a large sum, as I seldom have much money around. I gave her money for food as normal and mentioned it appeared that some of my money was missing. She replied she felt unease that money was missing while she was there.
Shortly after she left I did my usual checks, tallies and calculations, but the money had disappeared. The immediate effect, of what had happened reverberated throughout my whole system knocking me completely off balance. It was my first real experience of missing money and the only possible person with access still in the room.
The very moment of realizing that money had been taken punctured a big hole in my world. Over the years I know there have been many times when people asked for money for a need then spent in on something else and others have gotten money from me by other means. It is part of the machinations in places where poverty is over-whelming and access to money is non-existent to most. The stress that everyone is under is unimaginable for those forced to live in such circumstances.
My own reaction shocked me, and I went into a tailspin, felt totally deflated and singularly alone. The depth of this aloneness was traumatic at the time, a sense of aloneness so vivid that even life itself had abandoned me and my awareness of self was non-existent. I occupied a space so vast that nothing else existed and not another human or creature existed, much less, visible (and I am surrounded by people).
I have many issues and stresses around me at any given moment, but that is part of the life I have chosen, and this incident brought them all to the fore completely immersing me in nothingness. At that moment and for the next few hours I didn’t exist, in a world teeming with life. I felt what it must be like to be truly alone, forgotten and non-existent.
I only existed in my head, my heart was shattered to believe that someone would invade my space and take from me, when I have given so freely to most everyone. My whole belief system came into view, not in a way I ever imagined, but as a balloon that burst with only rubble left around me.
With no one around to consult, share with or commiserate, I took pen to paper as I am usually wont to do when I have been lost before. This time it appeared different, I was lost in space with nothing solid to cling to and no way to get any footing or handhold. I was afloat in a sea of air and an emptiness so vast that it was incomprehensible. Although it was a bright sunny day, my world was completely dark; a darkness so thick it was impenetrable.
My sense of vacancy, of not being present, even absent from myself without any feelings was overwhelming. At that moment I was in a world of absurdity with noise, but no sound, a leaden heart with no buoyancy, knowing but no knowledge, sad beyond tears and not even fear to stimulate life. It was a feeling of being turned inside out, my inner-self exposed to the world, completely vulnerable, tiny, yet heavy without weight.
I have been in similar spaces before, but nothing this pervasive, uncertain and devoid of even time and connectivity. In my stupor I questioned myself, my beliefs and motives and even the goodness in my heart and whether that is what it was. I had to question myself and my life, not for the first time, if I am not who I am, then who am I?
As the day wore on I crawled from the hole I had fallen into and made my way back into the light found a sympathetic ear and gradually picked up the rubble that was me and began the process of getting on with life – a life that I alone choose.
There is no better antidote than the children around me who are like breaths of fresh, life cleansing air, lifting their arms for me to hold them or clinging to my legs to be near me, the older ones taking my hand to walk with me.
They, unlike me, with a lifetime of accumulated baggage to weigh me down, are innocent and unaware of the life of poverty that they inhabit. They can be happy with a hug, a touch and a friendly face – that is enough. At my age I have to contemplate every upset, setback, every word spoken and every incident, even though, in a lifetime do any of them really matter.
As the dark fog lifted, I decided in this situation there can be no recrimination nor punishment, the person obviously had a reason to do what she did, and it makes some sense to her. In our “wisdom” we always say the truth will out, but what and whose truth. Somethings just are, and the reason lies beyond our ability to reason and that has to be enough, otherwise we grow stagnant and bitter and life no longer is life without end, especially in our hearts
In August another wave of darkness descended upon me for no specific cause or reason, perhaps just the weight of life itself. I felt depleted, completely empty even of self. I had little resources and many requests for support and assistance, not for the first time. There appeared not even love left in my heart, yet the children and others needed much more. There were not even tears to shed for myself, as they had been all used to heal the pain of others in their efforts to find what they needed. What I had to offer was never enough.
I didn’t even have a single thought left in my head of how to extricate myself from the mess of despair that lay all around me. Yet, everyone needed more from the depleted skeleton that used to be my body and the soul that used to overflow with love to give. Yes, that day was the day that I thought that I had truly died.
The sadness was there with no one to hold my hand, no one to whisper a word to soothe my soul, nor offer even a breath of hope. Today was the day that I died alone in a land bereft of feelings for someone so different.
Perhaps, this darkness and despair was the result of my own selfish needs, my sense of aloneness and feelings of difference. My death went unnoticed, as people were much too self absorbed in their own desperate needs to notice the skeleton in place of my body that once held a warm heart and a kind soul. Tomorrow, I contemplated, they would miss the person that used to be a spirit within their midst, who they depended on for help, gave without restraint and provided comfort without question.
Yes, on that day I died alone without a solitary soul to reach out and say, “what are your needs?”. Everyone truly believed that I had no needs and that I came only to give.
A few days later I took time and went to the beach, still totally depleted, more things to do than time, more demands than resources feeling little love and affection to soothe my soul, except for little Nyima who keeps me active, alive and young. She was not yet there, so today I had time to reflect, to feel myself and question my own being.
After the experience from a few days before, I knew that I needed to revive, rejuvenate and get out of the prison of my mind and back into the openness of my soul, my heart and myself. It is so easy to get lost in your mind and entangled in all those thoughts that flow like a river from all you see, hear and feel. Yet, at the very source of life, your true being and consciousness, there is an endless universe of love, compassion and positive energy. This is the place, which feeds your passion and your very raison d’etre for living and is the font of life’s essence.
I sat there watching the waves and felt their calm and gentle motion moving within my spirit, doing what they do best, removing the rubbish piled up in my mind and ever so gradually removing the layers of life which had been used sometimes wisely other times not. Their motion working away at the accumulated chafe, the residue of hurts and wounds inflicted by myself and others. Some of the residue remains forever to remind you where you have been, what you have done and has been done to you.
The ocean has always been a part of me and has been accessible from most places that I have lived. I have always known that its very movements, its tides, storms and calm emulate life. This past two years, albeit the ocean is so near, I have neglected to visit often for the therapy that it provides, the beauty that it radiates and the salt air that penetrates my very being. Most importantly, for me, is the assurance that its never ceasing movement implies; no matter the height of its waves or ferocity the storm, the calm always returns.
These empty feelings passed, as did the others and life moved on and took me along. The darkness, once again, lifted and my spirit rejuvenated and my body returned, obviously, not completely, as in September it decided to raise its voice again, to say, ‘enough is enough’.
I decided to change my routine, to lighten my load and to pay some attention to my own needs. This has never been easy for me. A retired Anglican Archbishop, a friend from whom I sought advice before I came, listened very quietly to my story offering spiritual guidance and a reminder. He then said “remember, deep down what you do is done to fill your own deepest needs”.
I have thought much about the human condition in my work and in my writings. Here it is brought home in many ways. A very special friend, who died much to young, would always say that humanity has made little progress, it is still the same as it began, despite our advances in so many fields, human inhumanity is still alive and well, it is all around us. I despair with what is happening in the world, and I have witnessed it is so many places, even home. It appears that even a large group of like people cannot shift the balance, at times like this.
Making a difference in this world is not easy and in my own heart and mind that is what I set out to do since my involvement in the world of volunteering over 50 years ago, and again, when I gave up full time employment in 2005 and left Quebec to take up a volunteer position in Ukraine.
My time since has mostly spent doing volunteer work, sometimes with some support at other times on my own. Much of it, since the beginning, has provided the foundation for my writing and my writing has provided an outlet for my sharing. If I have learned any one lesson in life it has been the fact, that sharing is essential to life itself. This has been a factor in my emotional and physical challenges over the past few months.
I was so deeply engaged in all that I have been doing that I haven’t used the personal and online support base that I have built up over many years, nor the people support base which is available to me here. In my own busyness, I carried the whole load myself, forgetting the very basic principle learned so many years ago that sharing both the good and the bad with others is a necessity for self preservation.
My sharing has always generated responses that range from critique, guidance, support to affirmation; all have contributed to the life that I have been evolving. These replies have allowed a basis for self assessment, affording clarity, understanding and stability. Most important is the knowledge that someone is listening, hearing and responding, without which, one becomes lost in his thoughts.
I have written much about the interconnectivity of humanity, it is the very foundation of humanness and the condition we call love. So much effort today is put into breaking this connectivity, and it appears it has been much the same throughout human history. The antithesis of love is control, which gives one perceived power and feeds the aim of accumulating enough to have ‘power-over’ others. This scenario can be witnessed in all aspects of living and in every society anywhere one travels in this world.
It’s the ultimate conflict of the human condition, one, in which, each generation and individual has to contend. It is both internal and external as we continually deal with what the mind understands, and the heart feels, most often influenced by the external conflicts created by those whose aim is ‘power over’.
Our inbuilt connectivity provides each of us the ability to influence another and the basis to bring comfort and balance to each other. The opposite is also true, as we are capable of creating conflict, fear and despair. Collectively we can create a society of comfort and care or one that is founded on conflict and oppression.
The connectivity is part of our being; how we use it is the basis for the condition of our humanness and the foundation of the world in which we live. It is not vested in a deity or government or any sector of society it is within each and everyone of us. This is evident in every child that is born and the basis of their very being is the love they need and give. The conditioning that we get from the overall environment in which we live makes all the difference in the beliefs and understandings that influence our lives as we evolve.
Connectivity, care, compassion and love are within each of us. It appears today many in this world have forgotten the values important to humanity and these qualities that comprise humanness. Many now view care and compassion as weaknesses and love a weapon to be used to break down the inherent human bond that exists between every person born into this world. There are no rich or poor babies, each one of them is the same and their openness, vulnerability and need is universal, physically and spiritually their needs are the same. Their only difference is the surroundings into which they are born. The evolution of their thinking and feelings depends on the conditioning received as their lives unfold. Their strength of character relates to the love they receive not the material possessions that are available.
It seems as if most of humanity has once again, vested their connectivity, their individuality and their very being into causes of all sorts, whether it’s religion, politics, tribal, institutional or other constructs or latterly, technological paraphernalia. They have forgotten or have never given thought to what is inside of them. They willingly accept what others have made them believe and have given up on themselves; negating the fact human connectivity is the most fundamental of all the elements of life itself.
They have abandoned their individual responsibility to themselves and every other person that inhabits this world by delegating to others, mostly those needing ‘power-over’ to be important. Every individual is important and in a perfect world this would be evident. But, humans have the gift of perception, how we perceive ‘perfect’ can be a strength, weakness or a fundamental flaw.
It appears that the more advanced societies become the more dysfunctional they are. This may be a built-in safety valve that brings humanity to its knees whenever their control gets too out of balance. Historically, when the human condition got to this stage it has taken economic collapse, or massive wars to return balance. In our generation, it appears that climate genocide will ultimately decide the fate of humanity and those who think they can have ultimate control.