June 03, 2009

I'm in Africa Moment

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?


Jen said...

Yes, absolutely! When I worked at a camp many years ago, one of the graces we would sing before meals was "right here, right now, find yourself in harmony, let go of all your fears, and you'll find the place to be is right here." I've started singing that to my 5-month-old, especially when we're having a cozy just-before-I-go-to-bed feeding. Helps me to notice the magic of a sleepy child snuggled up against me.

Jamie said...

oh wow ~ tears are just streaming down my face. it's moments like this that i live for. :)
"life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away" :)

Clementine said...

I have those moments a lot, especially with Hester. I had one on Saturday when I took her to the art museum, in fact. Walking hand-in-hand with her around the galleries, helping her create a house for KidsBuild, watching her run along the Harborwalk...I used to dream about all those things. It hit me hard on Saturday that I'd missed her so much before I knew her. It also made me feel grateful that the reality of parenthood is even better than I'd hoped it would be.

KLTTX said...

Great post. I had one of those moments last night. We were at dinner and I looked at S sitting in his high chair and comments to DH about how cute he is and it hit me that he was our son. He's been ours since the moment we met him but sometimes its just overwhelming.

shmode said...

I have those moments a lot too. When we first got Sweet Pea, I kept saying to myself, 'oh my, I have a son.' and then I'd look over and see my 10 y/o eldest daughter and just be in a moment again, recognizing her amazingness. It's an awesome feeling.

Rebecca said...

De-lurking to say HI and that I loved this post! Beautifully written, and I'm so happy for you that you got to experience that moment.

heather a. said...

You described my evening perfectly -- only with two heads --my six-year-old twins snuggeld up next to me. I've never been to Africa, but I've been in a place when I wanted something so bad and all I had was my imagination to take me there. Now I remind myself to recognize those real moments and take them in before they are gone.

I hope we never give up the "snuggle under the covers, reading a book before sleep" moments. They are some of my best moments of the day with my kiddos, and I will miss them when they are "too big for that."

Thanks for sharing!

a Tonggu Momma said...

Beautifully written. Absolutely beautiful.

Rebeccah said...

Great post!

My mom was here last weekend, and started singing songs to Squeaker that I haven't heard since I was a little kid. It really made me catch my breath.

Brenna said...

That was lovely. I often feel like I am having to always think about what's next on the schedule that we don't get to stop and take it all in. It makes it all the more wonderful when we do though.

Andrea said...

I loved this post for a number of reasons. I can so relate as I went to Liberia,Africa in Oct. 08 to get our daughter we adopted. My huband went a year and a half before and we both look at each other sometimes and say, "Can you believe we went to Africa", and we just smile at each other. Thanks for "reminding" me that "I went to Africa":)


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