As our hours in Zambezi are numbered and we embark on the ‘What now?” portion of our journey, I can’t help but be both haunted and empowered by a question posed during a night of stargazing from the water tower: “How do you end your time in Zambezi well?”
At the time I couldn’t comprehend a single scenario suitable for response. While I’d often thought of our final days and how I would feel, I’d reassure myself I still had time. I still had tomorrow. Stay here, stay present. But the time has come when I need to begin contemplating how I will process this experience. The time to evaluate where I have been in order to fully understand who I am and where I am going – in this instance, where I am returning. I don’t have any more tomorrows left. Recalling the question, I did have an initial reaction as to what I wanted at the end: contentment. But if my time in Zambezi has taught me one thing, it is to continuously “live the questions” and delve deeper into my thoughts and encounters. Did I truly want the simple satisfaction of mere contentment? What meaning is there in living if we do not actively seek to find it? Contentment became a passive word that I never wanted to settle into, a form I could no longer see myself working toward. When one is merely “content,” we fail to strive for the magis, a promise our group made at the onset of our journey together. When one is content, we stop asking “why” and start blindly accepting. When one chooses contentment, we are choosing to remain bound in Plato’s metaphoric cave, living life simply through the passing shadows of the truths we seek. When we are content, we allow life to happen while never stepping through the doorways that await us.
When content, we trick ourselves to believe that we can be certain, especially of self. Yet we should constantly be growing in self-awareness through our experiences, regardless of age, lest we should lack or forget sense of purpose and being. As humans, we are constantly “hungering for meaning in our lives” — and wasn’t it our dear pal Greenleaf who stated that “awareness is an awakener and a disturber” that can lead to such?
Among the endless uncertainties I am now facing, I find little consolation in the one thing I do know: describing this experience is going to be no easy task.
But, just as the act of living the experience is the easiest part of Being, the process of reflection and understanding is the most important. So for those of you at home who are anxious for a glimpse of our daily lives and the magic of not only our group but the Zambezi community, I will try. I will share stories and journal entries and video footage and camera cards. But right now it seems nearly impossible to translate into words the emotions I have felt and the scenes that have emblazoned my senses when words don’t seem nearly enough. But I will try.
First, I will try to explain the title of my blog. Perhaps it speaks to the obsession I hold for my Zambezi roomie Megan Dempsey, or perhaps to the fact that we are philosophical soulmates. But in actuality, the phrase is one I have not been able to shake since hearing it in Dipilata a week ago. The scene was one mentioned in entries prior: crowded around a campfire in a remote village as the beats of Zambian music penetrated our very souls. It was somewhere around the time while I was enjoying the violent pelvic thrusts of Mateo that Josh leaned over to our group and said “Don’t forget to look up.” He meant literally to take advantage of the night sky appears endless overhead, where galaxies take shape in the form of murky clouds. Figuratively though, I like to think of this phrase an awakener, an opportunity to seek awareness. Don’t forget to look up.
As I return home, I know I will eventually return to my daily routine, but I think I can end my time well in Zambezi if I remember to look up. To look up and see the beauty in the lessons we have learned from our time here and shall carry with us back to the United States, so much more than we can ever return to the people of Zambezi.
The awareness that there is so much to come of “being uncovered and exposed,” where it is “easy to be happy because it is easy to be free.” To look past the “heart wrenching condition in which many people are living,” as Jay and Stephanie expressed, and “recognize the good in a community living out its humanity in full.” To, through Analise’s reflection, to notice the moments of grace in your life, those precious encounters that though they may last only seconds, you gave or received love in a way powerful enough to feel blessed. To slow down, as Melissa noted, allowing ourselves to lose track of time and extrinsic worries as the only way to find inherent meaning in the bigger picture.
And for me, the greatest source of awareness, remembering to learn and recognize what one’s own heart needs – that we can’t always be strong for others, but rather admit our own humanity and be with others. And perhaps the hardest part of this is in the trust that must follow. Trusting that “all will be well” in the end. Believing what our hearts know rather than what our eyes see or our heads think.
The challenge lies then, as Mateo put it, in our “beautiful burden as a privileged minority,” a duty to act following this new awareness. The challenge for the soul who has loved, finding the balance in the uncontentment of a world we see with new eyes. We now stand from a new frame of reference. This question alone remains: What will we do now? In promising to continuously live THIS question, I see my time in Zambezi ending well.
Brady Essmann, fondly known as “Bread”
Class of 2014
As a side note (or novel, really) I just wanted to touch upon the institution of which this blog bears its very name: Gonzaga.
As a Gonzaga student coming from Missouri, people often question me as to how I ended up in the West. What quickly came to be my favorite question due to the conversation which ensued — “Why Gonzaga?” Many times I joke that it was both my parent’s greatest unbeknownst mistake and simultaneous blessing to let me visit Gonzaga my senior year of high school; because once I had seen the campus, looked in the faces of the students and felt a part of the community, there was no doubt in my mind it was where I was meant to me, where I would leave my mark. Where, one day, my heart would remain long after my feet had left. In many ways I feel this same connection with Zambezi.
While both circumstances physically took me from my parents, first halfway across the country and then the world (a debt to them which does in fact pain me most days), I know in my heart and that loved ones understand the everlasting consequence of my time at Gonzaga is the transformation into a more engaged and fully developed person – spiritually, intellectually, creatively, and now, globally.
For that, I wish to thank first my parents.
And all the parents and those back home who encouraged, in some cases allowed or even made possible for their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, and friends to take part in this experience – for without them, my experience would not have been the same or nearly as impactful. This group has challenged me, asking the questions I didn’t know how to ask myself and pushing me to “stop thinking and just do” time and time again. They have been with me to work through the hard days and they have been support in moments of confusion and heartbreak, as there have been many of both. They have been alongside me as we search for greater understanding, entering in a probing conversation over a cup of tea or amidst giggles as we have perhaps become almost tooooo comfortable with one another. The fifteen of them (sixteen including a cameo appearance of John Meyers) have been with me to indulge in the happiness of the good, dance to the soundtrack of the awkward, laugh in the pure ecstasy of friendship. But above all of this, they have been inspiring people for others that I have been blessed to surround myself with. In simplest terms, this group of women and men make me better for having known them.
And, secondly, a thank you to GU.
It is rare to find an opportunity to satiate the innate calling for what is missing in our lives, a chance to “place us in the vicinity of the knowledge that leads to kinship.” The right time and place to “look up” from the distractions of our lives. Gonzaga provided the foundation, and Josh Armstrong provided the push. So for that opportunity, I say thank you. To Dr. Big D “Smooth Ride” Houghlum and Melissa for seeing US all at eye-level as adults and leading us through your genuinity. To Nolan Grady, our personal encyclopedia on Jesuit ideology, for always making the inappropriate joke, being willing to be a “diiiiiishhhhwaaaaashhaaaa” night after night, and for asking the hard questions our hearts most needed to answer. And to Josh, for putting the entirety of your energy into this program and exemplifying for so many of us the possibility of passion meeting professionalism for the greater good. And perhaps a thank you where it is most appropriate yet may be hardest to relay: to the people of Zambezi, for allowing us to share, explore, and reflect upon their own personal piece of Heaven, taking it into our hearts and making it our own.
For anyone contemplating to take this step in their life journey and apply for the Zambezi program or any cultural experience, I would say there is nothing more important. If you feel in any way stuck in a routine or pondering why there is a “void” or something missing as you look back on your life, consider stepping out of it. See through the eyes, walk the same steps, and feel the same pain as another. Uproot yourself from the potted-plant syndrome on the mundane and explore the unknown. Remember what it is to “love hard” and trust in the humanity of yourself, the love of others. Remember to look up.