Musical Memoir - A Million Dreams I remember my first introduction to Africa. I was sitting in the pew of a church in grade two. I was there alone and truth be told I attended simply because they served pinwheel sandwiches following the service and they had these really cool things I would later learn were called "tracks". These palm-sized mini books hosted vivid images of stories I knew little about. The words felt sophisticated and important and they were FREE! I treasured each one as if it were a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. I read each one "religiously" (pun intended) many times in an attempt to understand their content. (More than 40 years later I still don't comprehend much of what I read but I do know there was a common theme of compassion, service, and sacrifice.) This particular Sunday there was a guest speaker who was a missionary in Africa. I don't recall what part of Africa he had travelled to and I don't remember his words, I do however remember every image in his slide show presentation. Now before you travel the path in your mind that suggests I was moved by undernourished children, a lack of resources, a barren topography, or a continent in need; remind yourself that I am in grade two attending church simply to cash in on the ability of women to weave white wonder bread, peanut butter and a banana into what I still consider an art form. The truth is none of the above is what moved me. What captured my attention were the intoxicating smiles. The juxtaposition of children my age and younger who in the midst of nothing seemed to be expressing a joy that I could palpate. I could feel it coursing through my veins simply by looking upon them. I wanted what they had. The photos were radiant and if I were asked today to recreate them I believe I would be able to draw them with precision. I have spent a lifetime looking for a joy of equal expression and have yet to discover it. I do at times wonder if what convicted me that day was a deep, spiritual connection that can only be experienced as a child but I like to think it is still accessible - just undiscovered.
I am turning 50 this year and as young as I feel I know that half a century is a milestone many will never see. I have had a privileged career where I have been witness to the loss of life so many times over I can't begin to count. I have seen the wrenching destruction cancer can have on a child and their family turned into a story of triumph, courage, and resilience. I have known children whom by all accounts could have declared the grave injustice of our world with authority but in lieu chose to express the heart of a warrior determined to lead their army (friends and family) to victory. I have sat at the sidelines in awe as I have seen a child at the tender age of five leave a legacy far richer than many who will live to be a hundred. And I have had the pleasure of sitting beside a child ravaged by disease, disability, and pain sharing jokes to comfort those aching for what will be their loss. You see my journey has been unified in direction. Following that day in grade two, I have been witness to what many would see as devastating, tragic heartbreak. It has followed me in a way that is undeniably the universe nudging me, challenging me, and prompting me to constantly dig deeper.
When I reflect on the themes of what I read in those tracks at the tender age of six, and the themes that are the foundation of every young (and old) warrior I have been honoured to know, I know this, the themes are consistent. There is a resounding echo of compassion, service, and sacrifice that is so loud it deafens me. It is THAT sound that is calling me to Africa.
As I prepare to travel on what is nothing short of a trip of a lifetime I know this, my motive is not to change anything. I am not going as that missionary whose words I can't recall (the truth is I don't believe in first world, privileged white people going to places they know little about with a call they consider noble, spiritual, or preordained). I am not going to leave impressionable "tracks" with sophisticated messages of hope. I am going to experience a place that was uniquely etched on my heart as a young child. I am going to sit in the presence of what has quietly tugged at my heart for a lifetime and I am going to celebrate that unlike many others I will successfully reach a privileged age of 50. I am getting on a plane to plant my feet on the place I believe started my journey of exposure to immense compassion, service, and sacrifice. A journey I am grateful for every day. I am travelling to a place that opened my heart to the reality that deep joy can be experienced in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. I am going to embrace the images of children that planted a seed of hope in me that geography, nor culture, nor race, nor religion serve to divide us but rather that they invite us to explore the depths of what makes us equal. I am going to Malawi - the Warm Heart of Africa because she is known for the kindness of her people and I hope to bring a piece of her back with me.
*Photo above of a village in Malawi supported by www.loveavillage.org
*If you would like to experience the beauty of Malawi Video
*And in case you don't know what a pinwheel sandwich is - According to this random website they are a simple snack with a great protein-punch in a pinch. They’re very portable and the perfect size for little hands. (And here I just thought they were pretty!)