Saturday, December 03, 2005

I had a farm in Africa...

One of my favorite movies is "Out of Africa" with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. The rolling Ngong hills, the countless animals on the savannah, the dinners by firelight while out on safari are almost enough to make this city girl want to camp out. Almost. Rather than the call of the wild, I know I would hear and heed the call of indoor plumbing.

Over the past two days, I have been slowly making my way through this beautiful, painful, lonely, lovely, frightening, disheartening, and deeply engaging film. I have seen it dozens of times, and every time I watch it, I find myself imagining myself right there with them, listening to her every homespun tale, looking through his binoculars out onto the horizon he has yet to explore. I know what some of you are thinking: "It's a movie, Gail. Of course it's all romantic and perfect. Real life in Africa is nothing like that." Others are wagging an accusatory finger at the computer screen and reminding me that theirs was an adulterous relationship. The argument could rightly be made that they were taking advantage of the Africans they used as servants and in some cases as lovers. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I still like the movie.

Over the past two days, I have also been engaged in the task of decorating our house for Christmas. The tree is up, but there are still a few ornaments to put on it. The candle lights are in each of the upstairs windows. Steve has strung white and green lights on the bushes out front and is at a local store at the moment buying more lights. While walking Maya in our front yard this evening, I noticed that several of our neighbors have been hard at work on their own lighting ceremonies today. On this rainy South Charlotte night, I imagine that many families are gathering around the hearth (or the television) telling (or watching) homespun (or Hollywood produced) tales. Parents are conspiring about gift purchases. Children are dreaming about gift purchases.

And we all are looking through sets of binoculars into an uncertain future. What will the new year bring? Will there finally be peace in Iraq? Will the troops begin to return home? I hesitate to offer a positive response to these questions for many reasons. Here's one: I spoke to a friend who bought a Yorkie at the pound today. Apparently, the previous owner of the dog had two Yorkies but had to make the difficult decision as to which of the two he would take with him during his deployment in Iraq! He was allowed to take only one; the other had to remain stateside. I am struck by the fact that he was able to take a dog with him to a war zone. I expect that he expects that the military leadership expects to be there for quite a while longer. But that's a whole 'nother blog...

Back to the future: will there be peace here at home? I know of yet another couple getting divorced, another child shuffled between broken homes. A teenager separated from her family is steely and tough during the day, but I bet she hugs her pillow and silently stifles her tears when she thinks of Christmas Eve festivities away from her parents and siblings. Busy parents work long hours and barely have time to enjoy the season. Hurried children are driven from one activity to another, eating in the car, doing homework between piano lessons and basketball practice. When will the silent nights, the peace on earth, and the good will come to pass?

On a more personal note, as I look towards the new year, I have a set of questions of my own. Will I return to Spain with the children for a month-long adventure this spring? They both want to go back, and I would always rather be in Spain than just about any place else. Will Steve and I reach our fifteenth wedding anniversary next June with a sigh or a shift into high gear? What will be the health status of our mothers, siblings, children, and the two of us at the end of this year and the next? Will I ever be published apart from on this blog? What lessons are left for me to learn by the end of this year? I'm sure there are many.

Isak Dinesen left her home in Denmark for an unimaginable adventure in Africa. She met a man there whose influence in her life would change her forever. She experienced a continent rich in scents, colors, people, culture, language, strife, and sorrow. She contracted an illness that nearly killed her, but ended up making her immensely stronger. Ultimately, though, she lost her farm, mourned the love of her life, and was forced to return to her native Europe monetarily poor but emotionally rich. From her years of life abroad, she gleaned stories that have ushered readers into worlds they could only imagine. I am one of those readers.

I will never have a farm in Africa. I will most likely never see the Ngong Hills. However, often I describe my life with the same adjectives I ascribed to the film I will someday soon finish watching: "beautiful, painful, lonely, lovely, frightening, disheartening, and deeply engaging." I plan to spend the rest of my days spinning tales, looking towards the distant horizon, and dreaming of broad flat houses with equally broad porches, and unexpected guests who ask for nothing more than my company, a glass of fine wine, and a conversation that lasts longer than the candles that light up the night.

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