These are weepy, buoyant, surreal days.
Weepy because I stand on the precipice of a dream, what has been mere star dust swirling around me now taking up a glowing, irrefutable fullness of being.
Yet there is also an effervescence that flares from such tenderness, an eagerness to thrust myself into adventure’s arms, and still a disbelief in the chimerical having rooted itself at last.
In two days, I board a plane for Arusha. In northern Tanzania, where the long rains will be giving way to the dry season, I will be volunteering in an orphanage for a month, discovering what it is to inhabit the words I’ve spoken for years, the longing that has been such a fervid companion though even now its impulse still eludes me.
What I do know is I am primed for change. And I have never before felt so restless, been as keenly aware of myself on the cusp of some transformation that will mark me in ways unknown. I have heard it said repeatedly that anyone who goes to Africa returns with a different perspective of who they are, and the space they occupy. The land and people get under one’s skin, the heart returns to a forgotten language. “The bug bites,” as someone recently told me, and suddenly you find a belonging you never knew awaited you.
I do not know what my own journey holds. When I think of the children I will be taking care of, I sometimes wonder if this is perhaps a masquerade of kindness: the swooping in with so much love and attention only to leave them with another dirge of abandonment. Yet I know, too, how vital this love is, how it can reignite or sustain hope, how it finds its way into so many shadows to affirm what’s good and beautiful. And I know they will have much to teach me.
I want to be open to it all. As my departure has drawn nearer, this has been my constant prayer, that my intentions remain pure and my awareness attuned to every unraveling strand of this yearning. I want to be present to hear, to see, to taste, to touch what is meant for me, and to give from a place that knows no bounds or barriers.
Sometimes it feels as if I am already dissolving into a love like I’ve never known, and my heart is too small for all that wants to speak to it. But most days that seat of startling inspiration and even more astonishing resilience feels capacious, as if to do anything else but let in the world would be the most hapless of follies.
Of course I do not expect all wonder and joy. That very heart will surely be broken, and I will be stretched and challenged in ways I can’t anticipate. But that is often the way of a calling. We cannot clearly see the road before us. All we know is it is ours to take, and if we can trust that knowing, the courage to begin will find us.
I do not feel fear embarking on this journey. Yes, I am nervous about venturing into the unknown. I am traveling alone the farthest and longest I’ve ever been from home to a place where I will know no one. And in the last few weeks, the final preparations have certainly been overwhelming. But there will be other volunteers once I get there, and so much to take in I imagine my “aloneness” will be fertile ground for some silent, hidden parts of me to finally be let loose.
Of course, there are those who want to daub my joy with their anxieties: those who speak of terrorists and war-ravaged continents, who cast their eyes heavenward and proffer their prayers as if to spare me from some lunacy. Recently, as I joked with one woman that I was a whirling dervish of activity trying to keep track of my many lists and tasks, she empathized with: “I can only imagine, and then of course, you’re asking yourself, ‘What am I thinking doing this?'”
But I’ve indulged in neither doubt nor the possibility of regret from the moment I booked this trip, and I left her to her own stories of what she has or hasn’t the courage to do.
When I get on that plane, I will walk cloaked in blessing and lifted in love. For what has been most amazing to me is that for every detractor or pessimist, there have been so many more excited to celebrate the fulfillment of this dream. As the momentum has built the last few weeks, so, too, has a vibrant, supportive energy.
The friends who have toasted my voyage, some of them with perfectly chosen inspirational gifts; my niece who could barely contain her excitement as the piñata she bought for me broke open to reveal the tiny plastic safari animals she’d stuffed inside, toys she wanted me to take to the orphanage; my mom and sister-in-law who have been diligently helping me check items off my list; my colleagues at work who planned a bake sale to raise money for the orphanage and others who have donated along the way; my brother who serenaded me with a hand drum at our last family dinner; and the former co-worker who sent me a beautiful version of Toto’s “Africa” sung by a South African boys’ choir as my “anthem” for the trip — if ever I were in need of affirmation that I am being divinely held and protected, they are all illuminating my path.
Just last week, as we wrapped up our quarterly meeting for Journeys of the Heart, the ministry through which I perform weddings, a fellow officiant suggested we close with a blessing to send me on my way. And there I was in the center of the circle, with his words falling softly upon me and everyone’s arms waiting to enfold me at the end as they offered their own individual words of wisdom and support. In that circle, as tears streamed down my face, Tanzania felt more real to me than it ever had been before.
And my heart remembered the song that called it there, though there are verses still to learn.