“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” ~ Carl Jung.
Childhood is a time of puzzling mysteries. We try to make sense of our world, and of the complexities of human beings, of why things are, things that grown-ups seem to have all figured out. Once we grow up we realize that the grown-ups were faking it, half the time they were still trying to figure it out too! If you are lucky, you find adults who haven’t forgotten what it is like to be a child. When my family moved to Jamaica, one of the adults who greeted us and tried to make sure we felt at home, even though we had been transplanted from a cold grey UK city to a tropical rural town, was Deacon Evan Jackson. His role was almost like the landlord, he made sure we settled in smoothly, that any issues in the manse were resolved quickly. I don’t know how old it was, but it was a grand old house, with hardwood floors, a ‘wrap-around’ verandah with views of the surrounding hills.
Much had been done to make sure that the family were comfortable. An indoor toilet and shower had been added (the pit latrine was still there in case of emergencies!) and they had even installed a hot water heater! That was an absolute luxury then. Early morning showers for those without that mod con would be brief and icy! In the hills of Clarendon, before the sun came up to warm the water in the pipes, a shower would be a rude awakening!
But apart from making swift repairs, or making sure that the yard and shrubs were kept tidy, Deacon Jackson exuded a warmth and welcome that overcame any fears the family could have. His approach to my mother was a little different. He was not used to taking orders from a woman, so if my mother asked for a job to be done he would respond ‘Right away, ma’am’ but it would not get done until she complained to my father, my father would relay the message, and presto! I was the youngest, and probably the least traumatized by culture shock. I was old enough to be adventurous but too young to be upset at being removed from the familiar, from friends, from city life. And Deacon Jackson had the twinkliest eyes I had ever seen! At some point we started a tradition of greeting each other with random inappropriate holiday greetings, like saying ‘Happy Easter’ when it was Christmas, or making up new holidays: ‘Happy August!’ And I don’t know when it was that a simple thank you could last indefinitely as we each kept saying ‘thank you for thanking me, for thanking you, for thanking me!’ Possibly annoying to others, it was endlessly amusing to me.
In a world where people can be going through the motions, faking enthusiasm or politeness, meeting people who are genuine and authentic is a gift, and I was blessed to meet many such people as I was growing up. They may not have been the most educated, or the most influential, but they taught me many informal lessons for which I will always be grateful.
I thought of Deacon Jackson the other day. I was listening to a student who was having difficulties in school, but realized that her problems were confounded by a personal situation: a mother with a terminal illness in another country. As I listened and looked at distressing photographs, I could imagine the struggle of a young person who on the one hand was trying to improve her personal situation, but on the other hand was distraught, unable to be there to support her mother. For those of us who emigrate away from family, this is a reality we all have to face. You can’t jump in your car and drive to see your loved ones when they are sick, and if you can travel at all, it may be too late. As I let her talk I could imagine the situation, and the complications of trying to understand the medical prognosis when receiving information third hand, in a country where none of the options are good. The student told me she had heard that I understand students, that was why she felt comfortable talking to me. So, I thanked her for letting me know that, which made her stop and say ‘No, it is not you that should be thanking me, it is me that should be thanking you!’
The richness of life can be found in such interactions, when we remember that we are all members of the human race, and all subject to pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow. Last weekend I traveled to Siesta Kay, a small island off the west coast of Florida, where the pace was laid back, the vibe relaxing, and the sunset stunning. As I stood on the beach and tried not to take too many photos of the sinking sun, shades of orange deepening as the sky to the east reflected a pinky glow, I watched small clumps of other appreciators of the art show stand and patiently await the moment when the sun was swallowed by the horizon. When it did, we all clapped. Such a display was worthy of applause. I hope the sun was thanking us for thanking him!
On this Friday morning I am feeling gratitude for the people in my life who have taught me to appreciate all that life has to offer. At times we are ungrateful, complaining about inconveniences and annoyances, forgetting that things could always be worse. It may be hard in our pressured lives to remember not to sweat the small stuff, to take a deep breath and recognize that this too shall pass, and we may even miss it when it does!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! And thank you!