It doesn’t feel like so long ago that I first wrote about the words Beautiful and Strenuous as descriptors for Africa, and yet at the same time September of 2010 seems light years away. I wrote then about those two words and how they create a rather intense tension. Now that I’m solidly in July 2011, I understand more fully how such tensions have truly shaped my experience. Am I a visitor or a local? Am I a child (young) or an adult (old)? Am I dependent or independent?
I’ve realized that during the course of this year I have been all those things, and that reminds me of the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes 3: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. You know the one... a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, etc. Whether you’re familiar with this passage because you’ve read it in the Bible or because you’ve simply sung along to the 1960s version by The Birds makes no difference. The profoundly simple words of wisdom are still relevant today, and I find it extremely comforting as my journey comes to an end... or is it just beginning?
I can relate each of the examples listed in the Ecclesiastes passage to something that I have experienced this year. And I’ve learned many important lessons that I feel I would have failed to receive elsewhere.
born – die / plant – pluck up what is planted / kill – heal / break down – build up / weep – laugh / mourn – dance / throw away stones – gather stones together / embrace – refrain from embracing / seek – lose / keep – throw away / tear – sew / silence – speak / love – hate / war – peace
Experiencing how South Africans are daily reminded of their violent and brutal history of killing each other as they attempt to reconcile and heal their country is not something I will easily forget. I’ve planted a lot of little green seedlings in the garden, but I’ve also done my fair share of plucking them out. I’ve mourned with many grieving families, and have danced with them as they lower their loved one’s casket into the ground. I have made difficult decisions regarding things to keep and things to throw away. And I’ve learned when it is culturally appropriate to keep silent, and when it is suitable for me to speak.
As I am busy saying goodbye to the people and places I have grown to love and my emotions change daily from sad to happy and anxious to confident, I’m not worried. I’ve learned that life is tension, and that there truly is a time for everything under heaven. And, yesterday in my last siSwati church service we just happened to sing Send Me, Jesus, the very same song that St. James sent me off with when I left Portland one year ago. It seems I have almost come full circle... which means that I'll be starting again soon. Thanks for coming along on the journey.