Being at peace in the maelstrom

I flew to New York City on October 18th.  That visit launched a whirlwind of events that is likely to continue through my flight to South Africa on November 22nd:

  • I injured my left ankle on October 18th and 19th, leaving me immobile on October 20th and wheelchair-bound on the 21st as I flew home.  On the 29th, my doctor checked it by X-ray, concluding I did not have a stress fracture.  I continue to limp, though, and I try not to walk long distances.  My goal is to be walking normally by the time I make landfall in Cape Town.
  • In the late afternoon of October 22nd, I received a phone call informing me that the moving company would arrive on the morning of Friday, October 23rd, to begin packing my household for shipment.  The team put in a very full day of work on Friday.  They did not reappear on Monday, though, and when they didn’t appear on Tuesday, I phoned the company.  After their initial packing day, the company realized that they did not, after all, have a contract to ship my belongings.  I agreed to pay them to complete the packing on Tuesday afternoon, shipping it all to their local warehouse while the shipping contract was finalized by the university.
  • As I wrote in my prior post, the contract to sell my house closed on October 30th.  I moved my last items to my friend’s place that morning.  It has been wonderful that so many people are willing to house me for the interval before I leave the country!  Of course, the sale of the house triggers all kinds of financial interactions, from terminating my homeowner’s insurance to investing the proceeds.
  • I owe my colleagues at Colorado State a visit, and so I drove north to Kansas City on November 4th.  Happily, the relative of a friend showed interest in purchasing my car, and November 6th completed that sale.  From here I will fly to Denver for the week of November 9th.

With so many activities swirling in the air, it would be easy for me to feel completely lost.  With the rest of this post, I would like to call out my rogue’s gallery of terrors and to confront each, in turn.

I am a man without a home.
By the time we reach middle age, most of us have accumulated a collection of stuff. Mine featured plenty of practical items, like a living room set and bedroom furniture, along with a considerable number of sentimental items, such as my Winnie-the-Pooh clothes hamper from childhood or homespun paintings I inherited from my downstairs neighbor in San Diego. I do feel rootless for having sold my home, but its contents were precious to me, too. At this point, I do not expect to see my 20 foot container of furniture until January at the earliest; it hasn’t even begun the trip across the Atlantic, to the best of my knowledge. I used the months before moving day to impose a heavy culling on my household, and I will unpack much less from the shipping container than I originally had in my Nashville house. I hope that the Winnie-the-Pooh clothes hamper will be loved by a child in Nashville; it went to Goodwill along with many other long-loved items. I will have what I need after a short time without.
I am abandoning people who love me.
Rather than tiptoe around this topic, I wanted to look at it head-on. To be sure, I am moving to the opposite side of the Earth. Looked at fairly, though, I think I have put together good strategies to remain part of the lives of friends and family. I will return to the United States for at least one week a year with family. Despite the eight hour time zone difference, I will make time available for chats by Skype. Beyond that, I plan to have a fully-furnished guest room. I will welcome visits from friends or from family! Physical distance does not inevitably become emotional distance.
I am not in control.
I am a creature of habit, and I cultivate predictability in my life. The number of open questions currently bedeviling me is legion. What if the consulate does not return my passport with a visa in time? Just how does the real estate market in South Africa function? How do I convince their notorious power utilities to switch on electricity? What if I crash my car right away because they drive on the other side of the road? No, I am not in control. Here’s the kicker, though. I don’t have to be in control. If my flight to South Africa must wait for yet another hurdle to be cleared, all is not lost. For almost my entire life, I have operated under the assumption that reality must reflect my plans for it to be counted a success. It is time for that to give way to a new model. Successes can happen even when the plan goes out the window.
The future of South Africa is bleak.
Many tragedies currently afflict South Africa. One can easily imagine very frightening destinations for the nation, whether it is descending into civil war or becoming the new Zimbabwe. I argue, though, that the nation had a much more frightening direction in the 1980s, when the chaos seemed to pit all sides against the others. If you want to know more, you might examine the history of “necklacing.” Even though only darkness seemed to lie ahead, South Africa instead turned the corner, dismantling its apartheid regime and replacing it with a truly democratic government. It is a nation with tremendous potential. South Africa always seems to find a way forward.

Saint Augustine wrote “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”  I believe I will succeed in establishing myself in South Africa. My ability to imagine a thousand ways this attempt will fail helps me to avoid those traps; I will not let it discourage me. What I can do and will do is resolve each problem as it arises. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this challenge explicit: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”


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