Sunday, January 18, 2009

the time of extremes

I stop wanting what I am looking for, looking for it.

~Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

August 8, 2008 - January 18, 2009

The last six months of my life will always be earmarked as ‘the time of extremes.’ On the one end of the continuum lies paralyzing grief, on the other intense love. Inside is as astonishing adventure, predictable routines, quiet down time with friends and family, an exciting exploration of a new country, lazy days in my hammock, early morning strolls on the platte river, exhausting basketball practices in Voinjama, relaxing time spent in my brand new loft in a metropolitan city, exhausting time spent filing buckets for showers and washing clothes in the bush of Africa, going away parties, welcome back parties, yummy food, tummy parasites, and so much more….In six short months I watched myself get ripped to shreds and then felt the pieces get mended back together again by simple acts of kindness, goodness and love.

On August 8th I took my last stroll with Tuesday on the Platte and packed for my journey back to Liberia.

On August 14th, in a disturbing expression of an addict’s stupor, my mother and I watched nearly every moment of the Olympics for 10 straight days. From table tennis to water polo, the only thing we enjoyed more than the actual competition was the exciting back stories of these renowned athletes.

On August 24th I arrived back in Liberia and found a piece of my heart I had left behind.

From the 1st of September until November 5th I focused predominately on work, feeling passionate about the trauma recovery groups and equally as proud of my staff for accepting the challenge of a new training module. They were anxious and nervous and were forced to work hard and study hard and yet when it came time for their 25 page comprehensive examination, they excelled and clearly showed me they had learned much and grown tremendously. This success was accomplished in a country that, according to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, has an abysmally high illiteracy rate of 63%. Broken down by gender, 73% of women are illiterate, 50% of men and only 25% of rural dwellers can read or write. All of my staff got their high school diplomas in the refugee camps of Sierra Leone and Guinea and all of them would be considered rural dwellers. Their professional and scholastic accomplishments are clearly an exception to the norm.

On November 6th, I lost one of the most important people in my life and realized I would simply have to find a way to recover from it. For the next few weeks my father and brother and I spent time together, shared stories and turned to friends and family for support. One of the most touching expressions of support was given to me the day before I left Janesville. In a moment of gentle concern, a friend I have always called Fav, gave me a comforting hug and then handed me a small stack of cards. Each envelope denoted the day in which I should open the card while I am away. The day that was chosen was Tuesday. The contents were supportive remarks and one simple expression of support that Liberians say to those who have been bereaved, “Take Courage.” She had remembered the day I had told her how comforting this simple statement had been for me in the minutes and hours after I heard about my mother’s death and she had decided to borrow this tender expression to show her support for me. I still don’t know if it was the statement or the selection of the choice of Tuesday that moved me to tears each and every time I opened one of her weekly gifts but I will always remember what she did and how she did it.

On November 18th, I celebrated my 32nd birthday dressed in black with a heavy heart. Putting my grief aside for a brief second I felt intensely loved by three special men who have always been in my life. Together we toasted my life and the life of the woman who gave it to me.

On November 30th, I departed from what will always be my mother’s nest, her home, and thus by extension mine, and I started the long journey back to Africa. On the coast of this small African country someone very special waited patiently for my return. This person held my hand, wiped my tears, listened when necessary and took my mind off things when possible. Because of this, and so much more, he will always have a special place in my heart.

From December 2nd until January 18th I have been trying. Some days are better than others and yet I have finally reached a point where I know things will be ok. There will always be a void and some topics simply remain off limits but so is life and somewhere along the line I have stopped wanting what I was looking for, looking for it…..

1 comment:

potatogreens said...

Gwen, I am so sorry to about your mother. I just happened to stumble upon your blog and read about it.

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