Beware of Air: A New Version of Ourselves

heart image

 

I prefer to wash my hands to the beautiful lyrics of ACDC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” But you can do whatever you want. It seems like every day is Groundhog Day and the end is nowhere in sight. It is funny, though, because no one seems to know what day it is anymore and it has only been two weeks of isolation. Every single one of my neighbors took out their trash a day ahead in complete social conformity believing that it was Trash Day when it was not. Confusion runs amok and we are all reacting the best we can.

This major shift has cast upon us a new world that will never be the same again. The way we live, shop, eat, work, and interact will morph us into a new society. This pandemic is a catalyst for change and for unifying our species as one. And at the same time, death seems one breath away.

Still, never in our lives have we been faced with the idea that we are all just one person. For this pandemic does not recognize race, ethnicity, sexual identification, nationality or preference of self. This is the first time that humanity must work together as a whole community without borders to save our own lives and the lives of others. And we are in fear of not having toilet paper!

The magnitude of this event is completely shocking: displayed readily by the highs and lows of people interacting the only way they know how, through memes and social media. Our lives have been condensed to living with few distractions and entirely facing our own selves in our own skin. Unless you have borrowed someone else’s skin and that would go against our newly integrated law of social distancing. (Kids do not try this at home.)

Faced with this new norm are choices. I have already made a few. First, I reveled with humor faced with my possible demise. And I hope that trend continues to last. Then, I sunk into depression: a familiar darkness I have felt many times before. But I knew what to do.

In the throes of despair, I asked myself questions that truly will shape who I will become in the aftermath of this utmost urgent time. Who do I want to be when this is over? Oh, I could be hospitalized, quivering in a room with no locks waiting for my next dose of Valium. That is entirely possible. I could be on the floor, altered and discombobulated, in front of my son who is already terrified. Or, I could be the best version of myself.

And I choose the latter. When this is all over, whatever that means, I want to be fit, healthy, accomplished in ways that are aligned with my soul. I want to be loving, kind, and strong. For the lack of distractions beckon me to focus on myself for once in my life while I live in the bubble of my home for endless days unknown.

Listen to the media if you want. That is a definite rush and will keep you away from yourself. Fight on social media about how “right” you are about some opinion. But I do not speak in opinions, I speak only of experience. And experience has taught me to be more silent and listen. Conflict is a short-term rush much like a drug that makes a person feel high. I see why it is happening. Fear shoots cortisol throughout your body which immerses your body in fight or flight until it is processed through your kidneys and livers. Get high if that is your thing. But, know there is no escaping yourself. The only way out is in.

Fear is a great motivator. But so is love. And I will not be reduced to social conforms and sheep-like tactics. It is a time to beat to your own drum unless you drop dead but at least you know you did with glory. So I challenge you to be the best version of yourself and to recognize the state of affairs lies completely in our own, hopefully, clean and washed hands. No one can save us but ourselves. This is a time of unity and an opportunity to actually live as one: an opportunity we all said we strived for but have yet to achieve.

Take what I say as you please. I know there are haters and lovers and extremely numb people who may read my rant. But, consider this an opportunity to come together, for once, and focus on our similarities while we live in isolation so we can save lives on a global scale. Forget America First. We lost that the day the virus began.

 

Africa

eagles

 

Africa is not a place for the weak. It is dangerous and unruly and poverty- stricken. The people make an average of $1.50 a day. It is a place where instinct defies logic. It must. It is survival.  A tall white blonde woman from California has no business trying to fit into this way of life. But I was going to try to do just that.

I should have trusted my gut feeling immediately. The State Department, with all its rules, and protocol, was especially adept at making its diplomats feel a sense of loyalty toward its cause: by removing the individual from its environment and into a foreign place to serve as a liaison for information.

We looked rich compared to the native people. We were rich compared to native people. How was it that we lived in a compound larger than a village? The precedent that was set drooled of power. But, to me, it felt like it placed us in harm’s way. When I asked about the danger, the others scoffed. We were safe, they said. We were American.

However, I became apprehensive as I stepped into my new home. No one told me that there would be a panic room in my bedroom. I did not realize we would have a guard, glass shears pointing up from a barb-wired electric fence above our compound wall or three locks on the door. I felt I could trust no one; not the doctor at the embassy, not the other diplomatic wives and especially not the villagers working in my home. Trapped and powerless, I grew angry quickly. As always, anger turned into depression as depression usually does.

Diplomacy knows nothing about holding grudges. Yet, I was angry with my country for placing my family in a volatile environment. I felt a million miles away from those I loved and the truthfully, I was just that: a million miles away both physically and mentally.

The most exciting upcoming event happened to be that my husband was turning fifty. However, he was scheduled to be in Nigeria. I insisted that we come because I did not want him to be alone on his birthday. While still living in the honeymoon phase of diplomacy, I was still a wee-bit trusting of the State Department to protect me.

When we landed in Nigeria, I learned quickly that the rule of thumb was to “duck and cover” inside the bullet proof Marine vehicle because Nigerians shoot white people. And we were rushed into the American hotel and being told clearly not to leave. I questioned why I came. But I was there and that was that.

Then….Boko Haram tried to blow up the UN in Nigeria. Eighteen people were dead. My husband was assigned to the situation as a crisis manager. We were escorted to the safety of the other doctor’s home while they both evaluated the destruction and if the other diplomatic families could go home.

My son and I were placed safely in a diplomat’s home where all the doors were barred shut and two large dogs could protect us. I slept mostly. Corey played with two boys that lived in the home. Finally, Steve arrived and we were going to be allowed to leave that night.

When I returned to Accra, I could not get the terrorist attack to leave my mind. I kept feeling the government did not have our backs. They would let us die. I did not care what anyone told me. I needed to get out of Africa and I needed to take my son with me.

I convinced the State Department to send me home. By doing so, I had relinquished my medical clearance which would cause my husband to resign. I did not care. My safety and the safety of my child was all I could think about. I could tell that other diplomats felt I was weak as if a Scarlett “A” of sorts were tattooed on my soul. It hurt. But I could not stay.

A year later Benghazi happened. And now more and more attacks occurred. My hunch was correct. The “War on Terror” was not over and they could not hide it forever. But in my opinion, they certainly tried.

In the end, I knew my gut feeling had been right all along. I was not safe in my travels abroad. But this mattered not, now. I was home. I was safe and I would always trust my sense of knowing where I was safe and where I was not, for the rest of my life. It was a valuable lesson to learn. My dignity was sacrificed to ensure my sense of well-being. My life was saved in return. I believe it was a fair trade. However, my world view darkened through that experience and it is only through my appreciation of the beautiful human spirit that I am persuaded to find pleasure on this earth.

Some may believe I was weak, but my character rescued me. Sometimes instinct is not pretty but such is life. And I am here to tell the tale so others may awaken their sense of self and know the world is not what it seems.