I just got back to the States from South Africa. It was holding me hostage for a month. Not literally, just in case someone reading things I was being held down by rebels and not being fed. Why would I post such a lovely photo for such horrid memories if that were true?
I think this photo says everything about what I learned while I was there. Immediately when I arrived I hated everything about the place. It was desolate, dry, and nothing of what I expected. (Which is usually what happens to me whenever I go anywhere - I create such a fantasy land of what I think it will be and when it turns up nothing like my fairytale, I get upset.) (Which is not to say that this place is actually stunningly beautiful.) Of course, after a couple weeks I became accustomed to the different stlye of life shared by all the locals, and I actually grew fairly fond of the place I had originally loathed. When I came back to TN, I told one of my best friends Taylor that I had gone to Africa semi looking for a life-changing revelation (as many do, but not in the corny way) and I was bummed when I realized it was just another place on Earth - not a fantasy land.
After poking and prodding some, he finally got the real story out of me - everything that I had thought and journaled about while I was there. I had so much free time to myself, and that never happens here at home. I was somewhere far enough away where I could actually hear myself think instead of bribing my brain to work properly. This picture means a lot to me because while I was shooting this sunset scene with my photography team there, I realized everything I had been thinking about myself was wrong. For a very long time, I have been termed a “runner”. Not in the sense of getting up early in the morning to run (which I do actually do) but more in the sense of whenever I get scared or unsure, I “run”…I abandon the cause of those unwanted feelings immediately, which usually entails abandoning the person or place that was connected with them. Yes, I know this is unhealthy, and yes I know I’m not the only one like this so I’m not asking for some mysterious, independent kind of appreciation. Looking back now on myself, I actually feel sorry for that girl who couldn’t look at herself in the mirror without thinking I wasn’t worth the life I was in. I know the biggest problem was that I wasn’t facing myself and I wasn’t trying to mend the problem instead of covering it up. Africa pulled it out of me. The space, the time, the atmosphere, and the responsibility made me sit down with my head and give it a lecture about listening to itself.
I could go on and on for pages about everything I learned, but one excerpt from my journal I think sums it up pretty darn well. I was writing one night (while geckos were scurrying above my head on the thatched roof) and it felt like my hand was going faster than my thoughts were and when I re-read what I had written I was half astonished, half proud of myself. The last lines of my entry for that day said something to the effect of I know that I do not have to run anymore; the life I’m called for doesn’t involve running. And the next line was really what made it all sink in for me: I don’t even want to run anymore. The sunset is something I always connected with running, but while I was shooting this I was experiencing more like the feeling of going home. That warm feeling that covers you up whenever you know you’re where you’re supposed to be. So this photo was the end and the beginning for me. The sunset of my running. And while the sun was setting there in Africa, it would soon be rising at my home across the world. The begining of my life.
You can call this rambling or nonsense or stupid or whatever name suits your fancy. But what this means to me is that I’ve found the path-head to the rest-of-my-life-road. I know that sounds cheesy, but in all honesty I’m excited. I don’t have to put all my energy into scouting the next place to hide from, well, myself. After telling Taylor this, he said he found it kind of ironic because it sounds like I actually did find a life-altering experience..
I will always love to travel, yes, and will probably never stop traveling and learning. But in that desolate, dry, and unexpected place that I thought I hated, I found my heart. Kind of like being reunited with a loved one after years without seeing them. Everything just goes back to normal. Happy normal. Love never dies. No matter how many times you try to kill it.