this is an end. from it, abutting it, is a beginning. one that I can't yet see.
I am writing this in east berlin. it is raining softly. the skies, however, look like they are about to clear. there is a hum of traffic from a nearby street. from my balcony I can see four silent statues, perched on the roof next to mine, staring, dark with soot.
I go home on Wednesday. I don't know what I am supposed to do there. there is some type of beginning, but I can't see it, not yet.
the rain has stopped. the sun. here it comes. blinding, brilliant.
some type of beginning. my thoughts are heavy with it. I am nervous. I remember the last one so well.
I remember its excitement, its inevitability. I had spent years placing circumstance onto careful circumstance until they formed a fine point, and I knew exactly where I was. all I had to do was step onto a plane and into an exact thing. the openness of what lies ahead is uncomfortable. it doesn't feel like it fits as well. it is too loose.
last october, I was waiting to go away. I had done my training with MSF in germany, and was waiting for my mission. I was sitting outside of an office at the university, waiting for a meeting with the director of the international health office, a friend. my cell phone buzzed in my pocket. it was the HR officer for MSF's toronto office with the first offer of a mission. he asked me if I would consider darfur. he said it would be a skeleton team, only men for reasons of safety, and the security would be tenous. we would likely live in tents, move when we could, and try to access populations that were difficult to reach. he told me he had done a similar mission before and almost left early because of stress. would I go?
my friend came to his door and waved me in. I asked the HR officer if I could call him back. yes. tomorrow? yes.
I sat in the meeting and watched my friends lips move. I could not focus on what he was saying. I nodded, laughed occasionally, but my mind was roiling. tenuous security. reasons of safety. is this what I wanted to do? I had always known that this was a possibility, even hoped for something like it. i said that this was a time when I would go anywhere, do anything, that I had no wife and no children and no debt, that if there were a time to take risks, this was it. I not only said that, I had worked hard for that to be true. but now that I could see it so clearly, dangling so closely, i was uncertain.
I left the meeting and got on my bike. I pulled onto dundas street and started to head home. when I arrived to to my house I kept riding. i turned down alleys and back streets full of leaves until I arrived to the shore of lake ontario.
why was I doing this? what was I trying to prove to myself? to everyone else? that I could take it? that I was intrepid and brave? my direction and decision that seemed so clear an hour before now seemed so insistently serious. I liked things the way they were. it wwas the best. my days were full of friends and excitement and beautiful things. what was I hoping to gain, what might i lose?
I returned home, feeling the true momentum of where i was for the first time. I walked upstairs and sat down at my desk and turned on my computer. the cursor blinked dumbly. no answers. I started to go through old emails, from friends, from family. I found one from my friend Michael. it was from a commencement speech by joan didion. it was this.
"I'm not telling you to make the world, because I don't think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass thru it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you should ask me why you should bother to do that, I would tell you that the grave's a fine and private place, but none I think there do embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the amazon, or touch their children. And that's what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it."
I called the Toronto office and said I would go. I said, like before, I would go anywhere.
it didn't work out. the mission was too aggressive for a first missioner, no matter how willing. three more came up before abyei. finally, in January, I received an email that said, "sudan?". and then, suddenly….
and now, just as suddenly, the end. from that beginning to whatever this next one will be.
it is particular to each epoch that its people consider theirs the most important, their power and responsibility unique. for us, however, it is true. and it is not just because we are fighting over diminishing energy supplies in a warming world, or because we are facing epidemics of obesity at the same time as we struggle with famine. ours is the most important because we won't be around for the other ones. for us, this is it.
I realize that some of the people who are reading this are considering doing a similar thing, either with MSF or in another way. of course, not everyone needs to practice medical humanitarianism. you simply have to use what you know to effect the change in the world you most want to see. I do not consider a moral overstatement to say that because each of us has a role in making the world, we must take some responsibility for what it is. accept it or change it. why not. live like you have been granted your deathbed wish to do it all over again. the grave is a fine and private place.
I used the analogy of the old black and white television before. i had one when i was a kid. downstairs. once you turned it off, it went from a bright flurry of beautiful blurred hurried stories, flashflashflash, to a bright white dot, brilliant in its intensity and focus, then slowly fades to black. it is how i think about the difference between life and death. one minute we are bursting with energy, atp popping off like kernels of corn, everything a million miles an hour, and the next we are concentrated to a singular point that grows fainter and fainter until it finally disappears. the good part is that life continues on just as brightly elsewhere. just not my version.
like this blog. I am struggling because I don't want to end it. I have developed such a deep affection for this, I don't want it to stop. the problem is there are other versions, people working to perfect a window into another part of the world that deserves attention. they can use your support. it was invaluable to me. let's help them. check out the other msf blogs. i will.
I am humbled by the people who have taken the time to read this, and to all those who wrote me. I have written before that when I was at my worst, this helped me through. I am particularly grateful to msf. not just for allowing this forum, though that too, but for all the other reasons. for allowing me to feel in the company of friends, for meeting me at the airport regardless of country and time, and most of all for assuming the difficult mantle of caring for people who would otherwise be doomed. even through the controversy about this blog, I knew that most of the criticisms were rooted in a concern for the men, women, and children we work for.
particular thanks go to ken. brother. I don't know what I would have done without you helping me out when times were toughest, for making this blog possible, for trusting me. and to avril, your support was unflagging. thanks to my family, my mom, my dad, my brother. you didn't miss a beat, not one. bro, i knew that if I ever needed you to, you would turn your car around in the middle of the road and head to the airport without grabbing your toothbrush (which you should have done). and to the people whose packages made it me in the dusty desert. may I return the kindness some day.
when I was leaving last year, suffering through false start after delay, people were wondering if I planned to leave at all. some suspected me of fostering sympathy in order to perpetuate parties. that was partly untrue. one of my friends even took to calling the long series of departure events my "going away jubilee".
the coming home jubilee has started in earnest. berlin is simply its first stop. the soft stop date is Halloween, though if I can keep up the momentum through November and dovetail onto the Christmas/new year's season, it might end in early 2008. i hope my friends are well rested.
before I end this post, I wanted to offer an apology about the blog. as much as I wanted to write the story of sudan, I never did. the story of the country is complex and requires a lesson in its history since independence in 1956. this was not my story to tell. it can be found elsewhere. like all things, if we hope for change, the only way to recognize its machinery is to inform ourselves. it allows us inform our government as they ponder bills on our behalf, it allows us to be conscious of the support we give to Canadian companies who act in our name around the world.
alrright. that's it for me. it is dark. the statues are just silhouettes and behind them, berlin shines. let the jubilee begin. good night.