Long ago, while I was still a college student, I spent the summer in West Africa with some friends. We were there long enough that we settled into a semblance of a routine and the sights and sounds and foods began to grow familiar. Eventually we stopped talking about all the new things we were experiencing and instead went about our day chattering and laughing about the small things of life. If someone were to only have audio for our conversations, they would have never guessed we weren't just walking across the quad back at school. It is how human minds work, I suppose. The familiar, or even semi-familiar, fades into the background.
I remember so clearly one afternoon late in our stay when we were waiting by an empty school playground for our transportation to arrive. The school was on the edge of the town; to one side of us was a dirt road leading back to scattered brick buildings, to the other side and ahead of us stretched empty land and community fields, seas of broad green leaves of the crops. We had waited like that, in that spot, dozens of times before, and we were just killing time, joking around with each other about who knows what. Except one woman in our group, who stood with a distant look on her face. "I'm in Africa," she suddenly said, apropos of nothing. "We're in Africa." And immediately all of us were aware of the red earth around us, the broad purple sky stretching endlessly above, the feel of the humid air on our skin as we collectively took in the amazing privilege of standing on a continent nearly half a world away from where we were born.
Ever since then, Todd (who was one of the friends on the trip) and I have used "I'm in Africa" as our personal shorthand. It stands in for those unexpected, defining moments we have every now and then. Not the exceptional moments that are of course burned into your memory (your wedding day, seeing your child's face for the first time). But those otherwise ordinary occasions when you briefly step back from the flow of life and think, "Wow, I'm suddenly aware of how hugely significant this time is." When you realize you're in the job you love, or are now somebody's spouse, or are standing in a place you always wanted to visit. After we moved, I was flipping a light switch one night and thought, "Holy crap, I own a house." In those times, "I'm having an 'I'm in Africa' moment," is all Todd and I need to say for the other one to understand what's going on.
I had an Africa moment last night. It was at the beginning of the end of a long day, right as the sun was setting. I sometimes feel like my whole parenting day is about keeping us on certain trajectories: out the door in the morning, toward dinner in the evening, to bed after dinner. Not that we don't often enjoy ourselves along the way, but I'm always keeping the schedule in the back of my mind while focusing on whatever task or shorties' crisis is at hand. But last night I was next to Puppy in his bed, reading a story aloud like I have countless times before. We sat together, our legs stretched out under his sheet, his tiny blond head bent down toward the picture on the pages as twilight took over the room. And out of the blue I was overwhelmed with the thought, "I am this awesome little boy's mother and we're reading together the way I used to dream about doing." It was such a rejuvenating, uplifting flash. I'm still humming with the happiness of that tiny moment, hours later.
Have you had an "I'm in Africa" moment lately?