A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

photo_hands-1They say that people come into your lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

It seems like it has been more “reason” and “season” than lifetime for the last little while. And it’s those I thought were lifetime that are really throwing me for a loop.

Relationships that I thought would always be there, but for whatever reason, seem to have run their course.

People who I thought had my back, but who really don’t.

Love that is conditional.

What does it say about them? What does it say about me? Why does it happen? Have I changed? Have they changed? Or is this just the natural flow of life and relationships, and I have trouble accepting that?

Lots of questions. Not many answers. And more questions.

What defines a relationship? What is the glue that makes it strong?

Is a shared past powerful enough to keep a relationship together? Or does it need ongoing maintenance and nurturing? Getting together with old friends is fun and nostalgic, but how many times can we recount the same stories over and over again? If the relationship is to continue to be meaningful and current, it feels like it needs more.

What about the ups and downs? The ups are easy. The downs, not so much—but how we navigate these speaks volumes about what you truly have together. The only way through the rough spots is when two people decide to work together—two people who care and are engaged, and who choose to do the dance of friendship together.

I have had, and continue to have many wonderful people in my life. Some I think will be brief, become meaningful. Some I think are forever, end up not being that.

And some of them crush me. The ones I think are rock solid that aren’t. How fragile they are, and how little it takes to break them. This is what surprises me the most.

The intense feeling of loss makes me feel untethered, as do all the emotions that come with it: anger, hurt, betrayal, sadness, abandonment, devastation, and despair. Why are they so hard to let them go? Is it because my expectations are too high? Or because I imagine them to be more than they actually are?

To me, relationships are ultimately about two people who, to varying degrees, care about and appreciate each other. Two people who somehow make the other one better, and are willing to put in the time and do the work to try to understand and help each other.

For most of my life I have fought to save relationships at all costs. But that’s changing. It takes two people to make a relationship work—we’re in it together or we’re not. And perhaps there are other changes taking place as well. My tolerance for bullshit is dropping. My idea of what it takes to maintain a good relationship is evolving. And maybe I am starting to realize, albeit begrudgingly, that some relationships have simply run their natural course.

There are very few I can count on to be truly forever. In the end, everyone is temporary and everything ends. There is an ebb and a flow, and the reality of life is that people come and go.

As hard as it is, I cannot allow myself to continue to be crushed them. It messes up my head and makes me sick. I know deep down that what I must learn to do is appreciate the “reason” or the “season” I have been given with them, think about what I may need to change moving forward, let them go, and wish them well. And carry in my heart the good they have brought to my life.

I need to stop resisting, trust that things are as they were meant to be, hope that the pain and anguish will fade, and that eventually I will feel some measure of peace.

I need to get out of my own way.

But it sure ain’t easy.

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Into Africa–March 7, 2013

265Before I get into the week, here are a few random thoughts and observations. In many African countries, women still have no rights and are considered the property of men. Once she has been bought, a man is free to use and abuse her as he pleases. This used to be the norm across the continent; now less so, but still far too frequently which is very troubling. I firmly believe that if women ran countries there would be far less violence within and between countries. But I digress.

This does not seem to be the case in Maputo though, and I would guess most urban areas of Mozambique. Women are very aggressive and outspoken here. I have been asked by many local men why I don’t have a girlfriend. That is the culture. Friday nights are “girlfriend” nights. I tried to explain to one colleague why I cannot take part in that. “But you don’t have to tell your wife, she’s not here,” he said. I told him that that was not the issue…that I would know. It might be different if I where raised here to think that way, but I was not, and cannot. But I suppose the practice is not all that different from anywhere else, it’s just more socially accepted here.

Life expectancy in Mozambique is only about 50 years. Although there is hardly any obesity here and most people look healthy, the overall diet is terrible. Rice and potatoes (especially french fries) are staples with most meals, and not a lot of crunchy fruit and veggies. Lots of mushy food.

Part of it is poverty, but part of it I think is that they just don’t know about nutrition. All they know is what has been passed down to them from parents and family. They have not been taught otherwise.

Mozambique is the 4th fastest growing economy in the world. Really hard to believe in some ways, especially with the huge gap between rich and poor. Let’s pray that with a booming economy, increasing focus on education, and tremendous external interest in Mozambique’s natural resources, that gap will narrow in the coming years.

The week that was…

Minutes after last week’s post, I was very relieved to attend the closing reception of the international conference we hosted. It was cocktail party outside the conference centre featuring the same African musicians and dancers I wrote about last week, the same group that opened the conference…and my observation was that the whole thing felt quite unnatural.

IMG_1388Well, the universe works in some very interesting and mysterious ways sometimes. I was standing there, minding my own business, when one of the Zulu dudes grabbed me and led me to the front of the crowd. He put something on my head, and handed me a spear and leather shield and before I knew it, I was chanting and performing a Zulu war dance with them and three others from the conference! I was the only white guy up there, in a seersucker pants and a jacket. What a site it must have been. My body is just not capable of moving the way the Zulu do, but I gave it my best shot. As I have done with every aspect of this incredible journey.

I worked half a day on Friday, then off with my friend Liz, her two kids, and brother Sean235 for a whirlwind tour through Kruger national game park in South Africa and Swaziland. Sean and I went for an amazing three-hour open-vehicle sunset safari Friday night (or as Charlotte says, “safaaawee”…so cute) . Our Excellent guide (yes that’s his name) was a knowledgeable guy with a quirky sense of humour. He was comfortable and relaxed, but his eyes were fascinating–they never stopped moving, as he constantly scanned the terrain, on permanent alert. Like a predator.253

Kruger park is one of the largest in Africa, about 65 km west to east and 360 km north to south. It is home 547 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, and 114 species of reptiles.

I had no real expectations on what the experience would be like and what we might see. But in three short hours, it felt like the park animals gave us a real show, with impalas, hippos, elephants, wildebeest, buffalo, kudus, bush babies, porcupines, water bucks, and zebras all around us. We even spotted, albeit at a distance, a couple of lions and the rare black rhino. Apparently you can drive through the park for days and weeks and never see these. 247Rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards are what hunters refer to as “the big five” because these animals are so hard to kill, a reference that I dislike incidentally. We saw four out of the five, but the highlight for me was an elephant who just appeared on our right side, just feet away from the vehicle. I had spotted elephants at a242 distance a little earlier, but this was a completely different experience. It was MASSIVE, at least 15 feet tall…and so wise and peaceful looking. I stopped snapping shots and tried to just take it in. Magic.

One funny sidebar…about a year ago I bought this great safari-type shirt. Breathable, versatile, well designed and very comfortable. This will be perfect if I go on a safari one day, I thought. Ironic then that I did not have this with me for the safari (in the dirty laundry pile back in Maputo), and instead was wearing bright blue golf shirt! Very wilderness looking!251

Then up very early the next morning for another drive through the park, this time with the kids and Liz. More buffalo, elephants, zebras, as well as giraffes, vultures, turtles and more. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how well I’d fare inside a vehicle with two young kids for hours at a time, but I approached that as I have everything else on this trip, with openness to the flow. That attitude of acceptance changes everything.

The journey continued through South Africa to Swaziland, as we wound our way 110through the mountains of this small country (about 150×100 km), the last remaining monarchy in Africa. Interesting how this landlocked country, one of two in South Africa (the other being Lesotho) has managed to non-violently remain independent from British and South Africa rule. A country rich in tradition. Every year, for example, there is a national celebration where the king takes a new bride (he is about to about 13 now!). It is a showcase event for all the eligible women in the country. Is it a surprise then that about a third of the country is infected by HIV/AIDS.

The countryside is absolutely stunning, and there is certainly a different feel from South 283Africa and Mozambique. More orderly than Mozambique somehow, but not as modern as South Africa. We stopped at a little craft place with beautiful views, and minutes later, a massive water dam. We continued through the mountains, with pavement turning to dirt road. I started to feel that familiar tingle of worry and unease, not sure where we were headed and feeling like we had made a wrong turn. Being in the back with the kids, I had not really been paying attention. And we were beginning to lose daylight. No signage, and everyone we stopped to ask seemed to have no idea where we were. The what ifs started swirling around my head. Anyway, it passed and as it turned out, we were not off track at all. It just felt like we were.

We finally made it to the Mozambique border around 7:30 pm, where we discovered a problem with my entry visa. After about an hour of negotiation and waiting (thank you Liz), we sorted it out and were on our way. Just another part of the adventure. I probably should have paid more attention to the process, and been better prepared. As Sean pointed out, in the big picture it was a good thing because it showed that the immigration system can work the way it is supposed to. But I am so glad that we discovered this then, and not at the airport in a week from now, as this might have prevented me from leaving the country!

It was a wonderful tour, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this with friends.

Sunday was a grey, windy, and unsettled feeling day. It matched the tumultuous feeling I had inside of me. I wandered across the street to the park where an afternoon music and food festival was unfolding. I just wasn’t in the celebratory mood. I was off. It happens. But much less often than it used to. And I know that it passes, and not to let it discolour everything else in the meantime. Learning.

I ran into Vally, a musician I met about a month ago in a club who, at the time, seemed very eager for me to play with him and his band. When I followed up by phone and text a few days later, he never responded. I saw him again about two weeks ago and he apologized and said his phone was broken. Then he asked me for money to get drugs for his sick child. I didn’t buy it because I don’t trust him. Then I ran into him again at this festival on Sunday. He apologized for his phone again and for asking me for money the last time we met. Then he asked me for money again. It really bothered me.

The relationships I have formed here, by and large have not been based on money. And this dude is shifty, insincere, and disingenuous. There is something about this sort of person that really stirs something up deep inside of me. I gave him a few bucks anyway, and off he went. I have since learned that Vally is a drug addict which explains why I felt the way I felt.

Later that day Domingues, one of the hotel receptionists, asked if he could borrow a cable to re-charge his phone. And then he said in his broken English: “I love you Mr. Jonatan. You are the best.” And everything re-balanced.

Monday was a better day. Less than two weeks to go and I feel my time running out. I met with someone from the Ministry of Education about website issues. Before we got to his questions, I pointed out that the average can’t even find or get to the website. Seems obvious, but I need to keep reminding myself of where I am. I keep hammering home the universal message that you must think and act like the audience you want to reach, regardless of where you are in the world.

I returned to the office and had a chat with Alberto, one of my colleagues. He was asking me about my visit, with some very insightful comments abou how difficult it can be in a strange place, far from home, different culture, language barriers, the feeling of being alone. “That describes it perfectly,” I said, “but I managed, with help, to adjust very quickly, and I am very proud of that.”

“Ahhh,” he said wisely. “But your approach from the very beginnning has been very open, and very friendly.” He’s right. I have been. Flexibility, awareness, thoughtfulness, a willingness to help and serve, and finding my rhythm quickly have made all the difference, and made this an experience I will never forget.

Tuesday I was flying, starting to wrap up meetings and reports. I met with Chico at the end of the day, and we practiced together, just the two of us, for about two solid hours at his home. He was sober, rested, and focused. I really loved this particular practice because it was more than just me learning his songs…I was actually collaborating with him, suggesting a few changes in wording and structure to his songs. He was open, appreciative, and into it. We’re working on three songs, which I may perform with him and the rest if the InTransito band next week. After we’d run through each of them about four times, he kept saying: “one more time, for the road.” Then his wife Anita made us tea. One tea bag, three cups.

This practice marked a turning point in that up until now, I have been driving the process. Tuesday night Chico asked me if I wanted to practice at his place the next night as well. He also gave me one of his percussion instruments. I will treasure this always, and hopefully put it to very good use in the coming months.

Wednesday we had another rehearsal together. Again, a very interesting practice…I made suggestions and am becoming more confident, and Chico was doing harmonies this time. The songs are evolving. No ego, no expectations, no agenda…just open. “Very good,” he said. “You are ready.”

This morning (Thursday) I was able to arrange a interview with the Canadian lead of this educational reform program at Radio Mozambique. It was a great 10-minute interview. The host was prepared, had good questions, and Suzanne delivered important key messaging like a pro.

Off to the beach this weekend for the first time since I arrived, followed by a visit to one of the training centers early next week.

I will close with a quote that I really like from Ram Dass which ties it all together quite neatly this week. Something to continue to strive for:

“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter because we are so deeply interconnected. Working on our own consciousness is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment, and being love is the supreme creative act.”

‘Til next week…

MoJo269

Half Full

Hello friends. I’ve been off the circuit for awhile…sorting a few things out. And the process is anything but linear.

It has been a little dark lately. But the fog is slowly lifting. In the meantime I have been encouraged and inspired by some of you out there, and I would like to acknowledge you here with thanks. You have helped me with perspective, and the glass now seems half full.

“We could start being present to one another. We could live in the naked now instead of hiding in the past or worrying about the future, as we mentally rehearse resentments and make our case for why we are right and someone else is wrong. And to see rightly is to be able to be fully present—without fear, without bias, and without judgment. It is such hard work for the ego, for the emotions, and for the body, that I think most of us would simply prefer to go to church services.”–Richard Rohr

Giving thanks, being grateful for who is, and what you have in your life is a choice. Gratitude, an attitude of thankfulness, cannot be forced. It is a decision that is purely ours to make. But I know this, when I am aware of gratitude, when I feel it in my very core, I release the past and revel in the joy of the present. For as Thornton Wilder put it, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”–Gigi Wanders blog

“…that gratitude in advance is the most powerful creative force in the universe. Most people do not know this, yet it is true. Expressing thankfulness in advance is the way of all Masters. So do not wait for a thing to happen and then give thanks. Give thanks before it happens, and watch energies swirl!”–Neil Donald Walsch

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

“Gratitude/appreciation is a virtue, and as such it represents a very deliberate and systematic approach to life. Which means that gratitude/appreciation is much more than a feeling or a welling up of the heart. It’s about seeing—about how we see—and training and encouraging ourselves to see things—situations, people, relationships—in a certain way. Gratitude is about how we perceive and how we think about what we encounter. Seeing that what we have, seeing that even though we might not have everything we want or the best of everything, what we do have is more than many people elsewhere have, that it is enough, and that what we do have is something that we can and ought to be grateful for if we appreciate it and get beyond our constant craving.Real True Love blog

The Fisherman’s Dream

I first heard this story when I was in Nicaragua earlier this year on a volunteer mission. I have often thought about it since, and was reminded of it again when I ran into Sasha and Liz a few days ago–two fellow volunteers who were on that trip with me.

The story reminds me of how often in my life I have been caught up in trying to get or achieve something, but how unfulfilling it usually feels when it finally arrives. By then I am onto the next thing, never really taking the time to appreciate what I have. Thinking somehow that if I get that thing, I will have arrived and I will be happy. But it never turns out that way because happiness is not a destination, and it is certainly not the accumulation of things that leads to peace. The ego has a funny way of distorting the way we view things, and can be insatiable in its quest to justify itself.

My life is changing, and this story describes perfectly where I think it may be headed. I think perhaps I have all I need right now. The grass is already green on my side. And the fog is slowly lifting.

A North American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Nicaraguan village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat was a lot of large mackeral, tuna, and shrimps. The tourist complimented the Nicaraguan on the quality of his fish and seafood and asked how long it took to catch it all.

The Nicaraguan replied, “Only a little while.”

The tourist then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

The Nicaraguan said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.”

The tourist then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Nicaraguan fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The tourist scoffed, “I can help you. You should spend more time fishing. And you should buy a bigger boat. And then buy other people’s boats and own a whole fleet of boats. Then, you can sell directly to restaurants and hotels and fish factories. You would control the whole process. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Managua, then to Los Angeles or Toronto to run your company.”

The Nicaraguan fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

The tourist replied, “15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Nicaraguan.

The tourist laughed and said, “When the time is right you would sell your company and make millions of dollars.”

“Millions?…Then what?” the fisherman asked.

“That’s the best part,” the North American said, “Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos. You would have an easy life!”