“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.”~ George Orwell.
The first time I visited Jamaica after an absence of over 14 years, I fell in love all over again. It was not difficult. For a start I was staying up in the verdant hills of St. Andrew, looking up at the Blue Mountains. One of the trips we went on was to visit the work under way at a location known as Strawberry Hill. The developer was Chris Blackwell (of Bob Marley fame), and the vision was for plantation style villas, with artisan crafted gingerbread woodwork framing the eaves; large gracious verandahs with views to die for. But at the time we visited, it was early in the project. Most of the back-breaking work was being done by hand, as large trucks and diggers could not make those winding, narrow, scary, rock-stone drizzled lanes. Those roads (with views to die for) are not for the faint of heart – sheer drops on one side; sheer rock face on the other, and the possibility of meeting a bus or a truck around a corner requires excellent reversing skills. But those views.
Over 25 years later, Strawberry Hill Hotel is a destination: a site for weddings and elegant receptions; hot stone massages; spa-days and just chill out days. An infinity pool sends water cascading over an invisible edge. The flowers, the birds, the breeze, did I mention the views? Folds of mountains look like imprints of a giant hand. Tufts of clouds nestle in distant corners, while in the early morning, mist lingers in the valleys below. Perfection.
On that first visit we met the site manager, an Englishman (white) who had come on vacation and stayed, ditching his 9-5 banking job (bowler hat and brolly) for the ‘soon come’ mentality of ‘no problem, mon,’ Jamaica. And he and his wife had 2 little blond-haired blue-eyed kids, born in Jamaica, who reveled in the natural beauty and spoke nothing but raw, raw patois (how strange is that?)
It often takes an absence for us to appreciate the presence of someone or something. It is the health check that forces us to pay attention to our body. If we are lucky, that health check is survivable, not permanent. It is a hint that we need to first take care of ourselves if we have any dreams or goals beyond today. If we are lucky we get an opportunity to tell someone how much we appreciate them, before they disappear, gone in one of those circumstances we could never imagine. Death is always around us, yet most of us have the arrogance and audacity to not be prepared when it touches us. Somehow we are still shocked, still taken aback by the only fact that is inevitable for everyone on earth who is born. Death is the only way out.
The acceptance of that reality is what can lead to a greater appreciation of the present, of the here and now, of our day-to-day reality. We often suffer the most about those things over which we have absolutely no control. Once you recognize that, life becomes a little easier. The poem adopted by twelve step programs, written by Reinhold Neibuhr, pointed out that it takes wisdom to be able to differentiate between those things we can change and those we can’t.
Many of us waste a lot of precious energy on things we wish were different. Buddhists teach that suffering comes from wanting things to be other than they are, for guaranteed outcomes, for predictable conclusions. Most of all, we want other people to behave differently, or at least more to our liking. When you live with fixed expectations about the behavior of others, you have to be prepared to be frustrated, for the only person’s behavior we can truly control is our own. Now, loving someone means accepting those things about them that we cannot govern. And that leads to true contentment.
The other night I had one of my crazy dreams, the kind that is more like a movie than a dream. It seemed very ‘end-of-the-world’-ish. Mother Earth was paying us back for all of the evils mankind had perpetrated upon her: the flagrant acts of pollution; the careless use of her treasures; the abuse of her bounty; the disregard for longterm consequences; the lavish lifestyles that throw away more than they consume; the callous contempt for the global population. Unfortunately, thanks to social media, we can see evidence of this indifference every day: oceans clogged with plastic; wild-life choking on garbage; trash heaps burning and harming the health of children; sea levels rising. In my dream, recognizing that we all could die at any moment I walked around telling strangers goodbye, and wishing them a ‘peaceful death.’
This life is strange. When you think about it too hard you recognize that we have more questions than answers still, despite science, research, telescopes and computers. But we have a responsibility to start with ourselves, and appreciate the amazing creation that we are. I have spoken with too many people who sell themselves short, who see only the imperfections and flaws, without being able to see the spark of the divine that makes them unique and full of potential. And if we care for our children and grandchildren (and the grandchildren of strangers around the world) we also have a responsibility to appreciate the earth’s treasures and use them more judiciously. In the words of Mother Theresa (often quoted by my father) we should “live simply, so others may simply live.”
This Friday morning I hope you can see your own strengths instead of your weaknesses, and put your talents to use. I hope you can celebrate your Mother Earth by doing something in her honor. And I wish for you a peaceful death (and may it not happen for many, many years!).