Eighteen months ago I was anxious to the point of a nervous breakdown. Soon I’d be leaving for Mali and my great African experience could finally begin but I couldn’t help but feel claustrophobic stuck in the center of the US. I was working, coaching and spending quality time with my family but these were all selfish obligations that were stealing precious moments that could be spent with people who really needed me.
I can vividly remember a brisk day in the spring before my departure when my dad and I were out playing tennis. The summer hadn’t gotten around to stealing that frosty bite from the air that slurs your speech, but in Nebraska, that’s still outdoors weather. After hitting around for a bit I met my dad at the net and told him that no matter how hard I try, my thoughts are consumed by the belief that I could be doing something “more important” with my time. The very metaphorical greener pastures of Africa were calling and effectively drowning out every meaningful experience I was having.
Eighteen months later and here I am, coincidentally recovering from an eerily karmic near nervous breakdown, sitting in my apartment in Mali counting down the days to a trip back to the US for the holidays. The greener pastures are once again calling, but somehow they hopped back across the Atlantic.
Wait a second; let’s break this down. In the US, I was guilt ridden, had more amenities then I knew what to do with and couldn’t help but feel like I single handedly was causing 3rd world poverty every time I started my car or sat in air conditioning. Now, I’m living in said 3rd world country, frustrated with how difficult it is to get any work done, admittedly missing some creature comforts and now I yearn for the overwatered green lawns of the US.
Where is the balance? This cycle can’t continue or my sanity won’t.
Let’s go back to the source: The infinite search for greener pastures. How about we just put that myth to bed right now, because most of the soccer fields here are dirt and the lawns back home are chemically induced, over-watered and comically green. Here’s the kicker, kids swarm to the rocky dirt soccer fields here with the same passion that western kids flock to the finely manicured fields in their hometowns. What gives?
I’ve realized, it’s not a green (or brown) oasis they’re chasing, it’s the idea of what they can do there that is universally alluring.
Now, is it possible to translate that to life after recess? Probably not, but what else have I got to do?
It’s taken me over a year but I’ve finally been able to pick out some of the “greener” aspects of living at such opposite ends of the spectrum.
Let’s start with Mali. The biggest green patch here, that can potentially rival all of the stadiums in the US, is the gift of time. Time, you remember, that thing that babies wallow in yet immaturely squander because they don’t realize how soon their schedules are going to fill up with preschool and play dates followed by kindergarten, piano lessons, soccer practice and summer camps. No need to go further because by middle school free time is a concept too distant to comprehend. Yet in Mali, there is time to read, to take walks, to spend an afternoon in the park (not a typo, I’ve only found one), etc.
It’s taken me a year to figure out how to productively fill my own days and weeks with personal activities I find mentally stimulating. A skill that I believe will prove valuable.
Now, back to the motherland. The American media machine scares me and is what I believe leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I'm Stateside. If the American media machine were a Goonie it’d be a combination of Data’s mind boggling inventions and Sloth’s brut force and boyish good looks. (I forgot that Josh Brolin was Mikey’s older brother Brand).
Considering this monsters force it’s far too easy to get caught up in Lady Gaga’s trendy fashions or worry about what’s going to happen next week on Glee. It too often effectively replaces individual thought instead of posing as what it really is, a mere suggestion.
But the truth is in America I am still a human living on this earth capable of making my own decisions. Yes, there are more of them and I need to be a little more informed when attempting to make the most responsible choices. So if I want my pumpkin spice latte then I should be willing to spend a few minutes figuring out where this coffee is imported from and if this cup I’m drinking out of is biodegradable.
Let’s see, my grand conclusion…
Greener pastures are a state of mind not an illusive magical problem free sanctuary. For me that pot o' gold is being ok with who I am, where I am, what I’m trying to do and going from there.
This isn’t easy.
I am who I am at this present moment and there is no reason to feel neither pride nor guilt in the face of this fact. There are decisions to be made today and sitting around feeling proud of my past accomplishments won’t alleviate them any more than guilt over previous failures should hamper them.
It’s a difficult thing but we should all heed the advice of the great philosopher Garth Algar from Wayne’s World and try everyday to “LIVE IN THE NOW!!”