“Was it life changing?” my daughter, Zoe asked me this morning as I groggily sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee. I’d gotten home from nearly three weeks in South Africa the night before, had managed a few hours of sleep, and was now on my third cup of coffee and it wasn’t even 7am.
“Was it life changing?”
“Yes and no,” I said. “Yes, of course, and no, not really.”
And it’s not because I’m jaded by my recent travel to Bali last November, Nepal this past April, and the last many weeks in South Africa where I traveled with my 21-year-old daughter Ruby, and my 79-year-old mother Suzy.
It was incredible to tool around in a jeep on a large private animal reserve in South Africa and to stumble into a herd of elephants taking down trees for breakfast. It silenced me to get as close as we did to the pride of lady lions whose faces were covered with blood – “lipstick,” our guide called it – after they’d just taken down an impala – a kill we’d seen them circling for, heard them attacking deep in the bush, and watched them emerge from afterwards. It was ridiculously amazing to watch a mama rhino and her baby lumbering along a shady dirt road, taking their time as our vehicle kept a safe distance behind. The closest I’d ever gotten to these animals – cheetahs, giraffes, rhinos, leopards – was in magazines or on T.V., and it was both oddly wonderful and disconcerting to be so close to them. One day we drove right up to a lion napping in a dry, sandy riverbed. He raised his head to look up at us and then went back to sleep. That night, as we drove with flashlights, we came upon a leopard crouched in the bush, his canines sinking deep into a warthog he’d killed earlier.
But was it life changing? Yes, of course, and no. No, because after a week of nature and stars – courtesy of the spectacular Southern hemisphere – we were back in another world— a world where lipstick sits on the MAC counter in Heathrow International Airport, and the woman applying eye shadow on my exhausted eyes is telling me about how much her 12-year-old likes to read, and I’m nodding and wondering if she’ll be pissed that I’m not going to buy anything, but had simply stopped by her counter to see if she could make me look a little more awake after one 11-hour flight and heading into another.
Yes, the African savannah with its dried grasses and soft green hills was dreamy, enchanting – staggeringly beautiful. And yes, the township of Soweto in Johannesburg—with its heart-breaking mix of tin roofed squatter houses with no electricity and plumbing, and its open water pipes (watering holes for the poorest of the poor, who gather to wash their hair and clean their dishes)—left me dry-mouthed and quiet. Yes, two hours in the Apartheid Museum is not enough time to take in the cruelty and injustice of Apartheid, which, though it “ended” over 21-years-ago, seems just as real as ever with the economic disparity of blacks in South Africa. Yes, I wanted my daughter Ruby to see all this, wanted both of us to be changed by it, and yes, not a day later there I was in Heathrow seriously considering a $130 bottle of Jo Malone perfume.
I don’t mean to be hard on myself. I’m just trying to come clean about this life changing business: this ability of mine (and probably yours) to wake up and come alive when you’re in the midst of so much wonder, and then to fall back to sleep, resuming business as usual.
I would love to wake up changed; more generous, more loving, less concerned with the petty shit that feels so real; Will I get this blog post out in time? Will more people sign up for my classes? Will my money last all summer? Will I ever put to rest this obsession with my body and its size? Hell yes I’d love to sort out what matters from what doesn’t, to actually wake up. But it doesn’t work like that for me.
It’s a daily process of waking up and falling back asleep, perking up and slipping away again. Wake, sleep, remember, forget. Wake, sleep, remember, forget.
Only time will tell.