From the moment my family and I decided to spend a month travelling through Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi, I knew this trip was going to be a life-changing experience. I expected several weeks in Africa to completely alter my worldview but I hadn’t counted on how profoundly a few days in Paris would open my eyes and change me.
On our way to Nairobi, my husband Art, and our two sons, Rider and Burke, stopped over in Paris for three days to break up the trip, get a bit of culture, and ease into the radical time difference. If you’ve been to Paris you know that isn’t nearly enough time to take in all of that great city. But we tried. We sipped magnificent coffee and inhaled chocolate ice cream sundaes at outdoor cafes, admired the Impressionist paintings at the Musee d’Orsay, and visited the amusement park near the Louvre—twice. And we people watched, admiring how Parisians move with grace, passion and strength even while starting up a moped and forcing it into dense traffic, dark hair flying in the wind.
As I watched tourists and locals rushing from place to place, cell phones plastered to an ear, I caught a glimpse of what I must look like blindly dashing around back home and I realized how much I needed to slow down. Life in Colorado had been especially hectic and emotionally draining before we left for this trip as I had been juggling my work and the boys while spending a lot of time with a mother who had lost her young son. Watching my sons and other children play at the amusement park in Paris, I remembered her and it all became so clear: I needed to stop running and begin to see again.
I thought about how the word ‘loss’ can mean many different things: loss of a job, a relationship, a limb, an animal, a child or loved one. While it may mean different things to each of us, any loss carries with it a sense of emptiness. My own loss had been within. I had forgotten how to just ‘be’ with myself, to trust myself and my decisions. As a grief therapist and in my volunteer work, I’m so good at helping others but not always as good to myself. I love what I do but often find myself depleted, with little left to give myself or my family.
Now, I wanted to operate from my heart, to get in touch with my own feelings. In Paris I began to be aware of, and to let go of expectations, judgments and fears I had taken on and were weighing me down. Paris cracked me wide open and the wilds of Kenya helped me to heal.
Completely unplugging from my everyday life and spending weeks in the presence of undomesticated animals, wide, open spaces, and a completely different culture, filled up parts of me I had neglected. Each day of our journey, I felt a little more complete, a little more at peace.
I made a promise to try to hold on to that feeling when I returned home and I can say with complete honesty that a month later I’m still changed by my experiences. I’m spending more time alone, writing, taking long walks and listening to the same music I did in Africa. I feel calm, as if everyday I carry the strong but quiet spirit of those beautiful people and their simple lives with me. I’m aware of the physical beauty around me as the leaves are beginning their transition of colors. I’m more tuned into my needs and I’m following my intuition. Mostly, I’m feeling blessed for all that I have, particularly the love of my family.
Life will get crazy again and I may lose the centeredness I have now. What I know is that I have my pictures loaded on my computer for those moments. When I buy holiday gifts and begin the decorating, I will have a fund to buy presents to send the children of the guides we had. We have plenty, they do not. I’m gently encouraging my boys to begin to find ways to raise money for the schools of those children as well. If my family and I can find ways to get out of ourselves, our own worries, and focus more on others, I believe the rest of our life will be more fulfilling.