Monday, August 24, 2015

One step forward

Steve and I have been watching a history channel show called Alone. It has captured our attention. It is a show about ten men, supposed survival experts, surviving in a terribly hostile environment on the northwest coast of Canada. They were allowed 10 survival items to fit snuggly in a backpack and were each dropped off in various places miles apart. Boundaries were given so they would not come into contact with the other survivors. The one that stays out the longest wins $500,000. It's a survival show like many others except these guys have been taught how to operate the cameras and video themselves so that they are truly alone without a single soul around. Within the first few days surprisingly several of these experts drop off. They each have a Sat phone that allowes them to punch out and call for a rescue. Right now we are engrossed in watching the four remaining men continuing to slog it out after over thirty days alone in the mouldering forest. The frost is coming... (cue ominous music now)

The brilliantly spellbinding part of this show is watching the men soften and melt exposing their core vulnerability. A vulnerability that is most often cloaked and well hidden under "normal" circumstances. These men allow us a glimpse into their inner man grappling with both physical and psychological survival. Some of the video journal entries are hard to watch as they sob and cry out for answers and relief against the staggering loneliness. My heart goes out to them and at the same time I am uncomfortable with their naked yearning. It strikes too close to home I'm afraid.

Moving to another country is somewhat like a survival experiment only there's no promise of a cash prize at the end. There isn't a team of editors waiting to wade through the material to shape an episode or season out of it. And you aren't physically alone. There are people all around. The rugged terrain of community surrounds and is at once comforting and intimidating. Vulnerable feelings bubble up like unwanted house guests camping out, refusing to leave.

If I had a video camera pointed at me this afternoon you would have seen my ugly cry face and heard my shuttered breath hitch and choke on hard feelings. I miss my old life however temporary it was and the temporary life before that one and even the one before that. Mostly I miss feeling rooted and comfortable. I miss knowing things effortlessly. Today I went out and had a lovely lunch with a new friend. It is beautiful to see a new friendship blossom through shared stories. It's like connecting random dots and seeing a friendly, beautiful shape take place. However on the taxi ride home my new friend was speaking better french with our driver than I, even forming a connection with him. I sat in the back feeling lost and frustrated with my inability to communicate fluently even though I have lived in french speaking Africa for over six years. I felt slow and stupid, out of step.

One step forward and two steps back. Moving to a new place even one that is known is uncomfortable. It takes time to feel connected. Familiarity is a distant feeling. I yearn for more than I have at the moment. It will come and I will be connected and familiar and find a natural rhythm. It won't be long now, it's just getting though this learning curve. It's not retreating and not allowing those self-focused pity parties to loudly and obnoxiously drown out the progress.

Our favourites on the show are the ones that feel the depths but don't remain in despair. They face the hard feelings and move through them to the other side. They get up the next day and go about their next task. They don't retreat. They don't surrender. One survivalist says he doesn't feel he's competing against the other survivalists, he's competing with himself. His main goal is to come out of this experience at peace with himself. He's articulate and entertaining as well as introspective. He shares feelings of regret over the relationship he has with his son and the mistakes he's made to contribute to it. He says he can only move forward and try to do better and not give up.

They share a common grief in their aloneness. They are only miles apart in distance and know they can call in a rescue however they are compelled to continue. Man verses nature, man verses self, the age-old battle rages on across our computer screen. We peer in with equal parts sanctimonious advice and empathy. We root for one and speculate the other will be making the rescue call soon. Sometimes, I confess, I erroneously feel this is how God is watching me. He is without and above the fray. He is distant and silent. Watching my feeble attempts to survive in a hostile environment. Yet I know the truth, my feelings can't be trusted when it comes to this.

The truth is Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness just before the beginning of his public ministry. He fasted and was hungry. He was alone, though led by the Spirit. It's a mystery I can't solve, this God-man feeling human feelings. Satan came to him at the end of his forty day fast and tempted him first with food, then with security, and finally, with untold wealth. Jesus never wavered in the midst of what must have been staggering temptations. After all, he was fully human. After watching these guys survive alone in a wilderness, scavenging whatever nutrients they can find, hoping to win a life-changing prize, I am awestruck by Jesus Christ, God incarnate, living in our skin, loving us up close.

The scriptures are rife with God reaching out to his people in the midst of the wilderness.

Today before lunch I was waiting for the taxi and a lovely quartet of girls came along up the path singing together and giggled out a greeting to me. I melted and and returned their greetings. The littlest one, probably around three or four years old, reached out and shook my hand. She grasped at my skin just before letting go and as she walked away she closely studied her hand to see, I imagine, if my whiteness had rubbed off on her. The eldest girl of about eight or nine swept her up and carried her on one shoulder. And off they merrily went down the path. It was a delightful moment. A gift of reaching out and connecting. Progress. One step forward.      

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