I was thirteen and the world came alive for me. It was spring of my first teenaged year when my family lucked into an opportunity to spend a month in Vienna, where my father coached Team Canada in World Cup hockey. Before that, our trips consisted primarily of traveling long hours in our cramped car, usually to visit family in Canada and friends scattered across the northern states. My excitement about this great adventure grew as I counted down the days and crossed them off the calendar that hung on my bedroom wall.
When we finally arrived in the Austrian capitol, I felt like a horse with blinders taken off for the first time. The world was bigger and wider than I realized and I was completely enthralled. I wanted to taste the foods, listen to the sounds and take in the smells of this place that was rich in history and culture. I noticed people who dressed differently than I did, but offered the same smile in passing. I wondered what their lives were like and what life was like in other places, too. I wanted to know and experience more. I wanted to see the world.
Since that time long ago, travel has been an important part of my life. For years, a videographer and I jumped on one airplane after another to immerse ourselves in people and places and bring their stories home to share with TV viewers. And when I wasn’t working, my husband and I scrimped and saved for one trip after the next.
New friends sometimes ask me why I'd rather put money into travel than replace my old truck with its odometer that reads 260,000 miles. The answer is simple. Experiencing new people and places changes me. It changes anyone who's open to it. Every destination has captured a part of me and shaped me for the better, but I venture to say that none has done so like Africa. My husband spent much of his childhood on this rough and rugged continent, living out tales of adventure that sound more like scenes from a movie than real life. For a couple of decades he had dreamed of showing our children and me his long-ago home and the birthplace of his creative spirit. Finally, we did it.
My imaginings of this place could not begin to capture the reality of it. As always, I learned along the way, but these lessons feel more profound, maybe because they are lessons of the land and of nature, things primal and so much a part of who we have always been as humans, yet lost in the fixings of our modern world. Getting up with the sun and going to bed after it sank in brilliant shades of red put me in sync with nature's rhythms in a way I don't think I have ever been. Abiding by a sky-bound clock felt good. Being out in the bush, watching the animals, and breathing the air renewed me in a deep way. Nature also taught me unexpected things.
Every animal in the bush inherently knows what it's good at it. The cheetah knows it's fast and uses that to its fullest, running sixty-five miles per hour to catch an early morning breakfast. It also knows that a pack of hyenas could take that hard earned catch so it eats its fill quickly. The leopard, on the other hand, isn't as fast, but it is strong so when it makes a kill, it hauls it up into a tree where other animals can't get it. There, it eats at a more leisurely pace. And the hyenas know they are more effective in packs so they often hunt as a group, capitalizing on the strength they have in numbers.
Every animal knows what it's good at and utilizing that fully is a priority. One creature doesn't envy the others' skills, or doubt himself and wonder if he should do it differently, or begrudge or criticize the other. He know what he has and he hones it.
It seems to me this is a good way for us to live, too. Rather than looking at what everyone else has, wishing we were stronger, or faster, or prettier, or thinner, or smarter, or funnier, or more athletic, or more creative, shouldn't we appreciate what we have and who we inherently are? Shouldn't we use the skills and gifts we've been given to their fullest and not compare ourselves to others? Shouldn't we just be okay with who we were born to be?
The animals show us that minding our own skills is a natural thing. So do what you’re good at today. Do it to your best. And don’t worry about everyone else around you and how they're doing what they do. Then, enjoy the bounty that comes in living into your gifts.
Africa is a rich and beautiful place with much to teach us. More on that ahead.
Meantime, peace and love, Underdogs!