First, I feel like I should apologize for not writing in a while, though to whom the apology is addressed, I’m not so sure. It’s not that I haven’t thought about writing, but that life, in all of its whimsical, hectic, and sometimes serendipitous nature, stood between the blog and I. In spite of all of life’s busy-ness, I’ve still found ways to apply what I’ve learned in Senegal to my context in the US. There are at least four lessons I’ve learned, or light bulb moments (maybe five) that I’ve had since returning home. I’m apologizing now if this post sounds “preachy”; feel free to bail out if you need to. I promise I won’t be offended.
The first “a-ha” moment I had, I think I shared before, but is worth repeating. Greetings are important. The simple act of acknowledging another person and their humanity has the ability to change someone’s trajectory in life, and I don’t mean that in the literary, hyperbolic sense. Sometimes people crave recognition because they feel rejected, cast off, or forgotten about. Perhaps your greeting reminds them that they matter, they are important, and that they have an unrealized purpose. A few weeks ago, I stopped at Walgreen’s to pick up something – I don’t remember what – and a gentleman gave me what I felt like was an obligatory greeting. When I responded like he was a friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time, his whole posture changed. His tone was friendlier, and his smile was brighter. We had a great conversation that lasted maybe five minutes, and we were both on our way. Just yesterday, a contractor working on a building shouted, “Ain’t nothing better than a woman with a smile.” To which I replied, “And why not smile? It’s so much easier,” and then I began to ask him about his work. The brief conversation ended with an exchange of names and an elbow bump – his hands were covered with paint and dust from work – and we parted ways. So, I guess the lesson or the lightbulb moment for me was more than about greetings. Our time is a gift that we can give to people. If you feel like you can’t stop and spend time with someone because it’s too valuable and you have so much to do, just imagine how the person feels who knows that you’re busy but took the time to visit with them, even if it is for just five minutes.
Next, gift giving is a way to show appreciation. I think sometimes the act of giving a gift is marred by holidays – people expect a gift from someone because they gave them one at the last gathering. That ruins it. Gifts should be given as an act of kindness and love, not out of obligation or personal gain. It’s not about the amount or the size of the gift, but the thought and intent behind it. When I give a gift, especially if it’s after I’ve returned from a trip, it is because I have really thought about the individual, who they are, and what I think they’d like. Unfortunately, my bank account is not set up in a manner that I can give everyone a gift, but when I do, it really is heartfelt and I feel bad about not being able to spread the love to everyone. Just recently, my husband and I were at a reception celebrating the newly formed sister-city relationship between Dakar-Plateau, Senegal and Pasadena, California. During the reception, there were several gifts exchanged, to my delight. It took me back to the many school and home visits that I made with my host- and co- teachers while in Thiès. I smiled at the exchange. When it was noticed how many gifts were exchanged, I very enthusiastically replied, “Gifts and hospitality are important!”
Third, there is something magical about staying in touch with people. I think this lightbulb moment connects to the idea of greeting and acknowledging someone else’s humanity. Your contact may come at a point in their life when they feel forgotten about or alone in a struggle. If someone is important to you, if you value them, drop them a line so that they know it and feel it. Don’t leave it for people to assume that you think they’re important; show them. There’s an expression that I hear a lot, unfortunately, at funerals about giving someone their flowers while they’re still living to appreciate them. I haven’t always been the best at it, but I’m learning to be better little by little.
Years ago, Maya Angelou wrote a poem called “Phenomenal Woman” and the first two lines of it brings me to the fourth lightbulb moment I had. The lines go: Pretty women wonder where my secret lies/ I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size … The “a-ha” moment was when I realized that what I had been telling my students all along was true definitely true for me too. I don’t have to “dress to impress” to feel beautiful or dress in a way that leaves very little to the imagination. Doing the former doesn’t make me any more beautiful and not doing the latter doesn’t make me any more of a prude or an old lady. True beauty comes from within. It sounds like a very simple statement to make, and some people might feel like, “duh”, but it took a lot for me to get to the point where I could dress in a way that made me feel comfortable and not care about the backlash or the furrowed brows. It is beautiful to be who you are. It’s complicated and simple at the same time.
Finally, words are powerful! As an English teacher, I tell my students all the time that there is power in the pen. As writers, they hold readers’ emotions in their hands. With the stroke of a pen and one word choice, they can evoke tears of sorrow or joy, gasps of dread or delight, or moans of agony! That’s powerful! The same is true for the spoken word. The book of James tells us that life and death lie in the power of the tongue. Thing about your last conversation or comment to someone. Was it encouraging or was it full of doubt and cynicism, masquerading as realism? With our tongues, our pens, and our keystrokes, we have the power to hurt or heal the next person. Even if they’re on the other side of the planet.
If you’ve read to this point, congratulations. You’ve reached the end of this post and my musings for today. Feel free to comment or ask questions. I’m more than willing to share. It’s all in love. #TakingSenegalWithMe #DontMissYourLife #AlwaysAnAdventure