“You HAVE to have both the light and the dark.” Says Lydia as she and I lay back watching our group partake in a late night activity.
Out of the many great conversations I have had with both my fellow Zags and members of the Zambezi community, this was one that resonated more than others. After trips like these, I have always wrestled with the question that will always get asked, the question being, “Well, how was it? What was it like?” Lydia and I talked about this and rested on the idea that no matter what you say, whether it be a lot or a little, detailed or broad, insightful or concrete, you HAVE to speak about both the light and the dark. One does not, and should not, exist without the other. Questioning the idea of light and dark and also being out in the unique situations that Zambezi provides has forced me to look inward into my own character and where the light and the dark play roles in my own life.
Say I had a mirror. And by looking into this mirror, it would show me my reflection. But not the reflection of my outside, but of my inside. The reflection of my inner self. If I looked now, what I would see would be practically unrecognizable compared to what I would have seen years ago. The inner me of the past would be small. He would be holding his hands in front of his chest and staring back with tearful eyes that said, “Please, don’t hurt me.” I used to be tormented by my own head. My days were full of worry. I worried about my mistakes, my flaws, and my awkwardness, and I feared what other people might think of me. My self esteem was practically nonexistent and I could only describe myself with one word: Inconsequential. I once thought that this was my light, but it took time to realize that it was my dark. Battling my own head with its bouts of depression and its intrusive thoughts of OCD tore me down to my core, a point where I eventually couldn’t take it anymore. You only change when you’re wise enough to know you want to or when you’ve been hurt enough that you have to. My circumstances finally decided for me that it was time to change, whether I wanted to or not.
Looking into the mirror now, I now see the reflection of that change. The inner me I see now, is tall. He stares down at me with eyes that don’t judge, but show empowerment and confidence. He stands like a soldier. After I changed my reflection, my life took on a new light. I felt confident and strong. I finally felt like I had some self worth, and a lot of it. Adversity still came, but I could handle it. Many people didn’t like this change. People had been too used to who I was to accept who I became. I lost a few friends in the process and my priorities changed, but on the path to self worth it was a price I had to pay. This, was my light.
Here in Zambia, there is a cultural practice called Makishi. On the surface, it is a large celebration filled with the dancing of several masked characters, each one representing some specific character. The celebration is often associated with the rights of passage that young boys and girls of Zambia take. Rights of passage are incredibly important in the Zambian culture and our wonderful Fr. Baraza spoke to us as a group regarding these traditions. He explained to us that rights of passage are universal experiences that all people face, and not only sometimes, but all the time. We are always walking a right of passage. We learned of the three sections of a right of passage: Separation, Testing, and Reintegration. While separation and reintegration and incredibly quick moments, the middle period of testing makes up the vast majority of any right of passage. I couldn’t help but feel that Zambezi was pushing the levels of testing in my passage. For Zambians, the most common right of passage is where the boy or the girl transitions into adulthood. The tradition used to have the kids sent away for months at a time, away from their homes, away from their friends, and away from their families. They’d live in a camp where they would symbolically die as children and return as adults. There were times where the boy or the girl would actually die during this long journey. Fr. explained to us that the testing period of any right of passage is one of near-death. At any point of testing in any right of passage, one could die.
During one of the many intimate conversations on this trip, I sat with Sooyoun and Jimmy and I was asked a question about my ideals of strength and empowerment. I was asked, “Do you think that that strength you talk about may be a defense mechanism? A way of not getting hurt?” The answer came to me before I could even react. Yes. Of course it was. What I once saw as strength, suddenly became weakness. I could see how my reflection had been changing over time. To look into that mirror again is to see the reality of the change I made. The man who stood tall is now on his knees. Panting, budding with sweat, and grinning wildly, he waits to be struck again by life, so he can prove his strength by getting up again. He thinks that this is strength. Being hit again and again and still getting up. It is admirable, but he won’t last forever. He will eventually break and may never be able to get up again. What was once my light became my dark once again.
Going to Zambia was easy for me. I prided myself on my ability to adapt to new situations and settings with ease. I prided my self on my resilience to adversity and my ability to continually persevere. But it is a strength and ability that I have developed for the sole reason of keeping myself from being hurt again. Strength became synonymous with resisting discomfort and retaliating against pain. The man is beginning to look like the small boy who is only trying his hardest to not be hurt again. But despite the pain of the truth, that is the only way the boy will grow. I have voiced to the group my thoughts on the meaning of the Zambia trip. There are many different possibilities, all equally valid and all equally plausible. To me, the meaning of this trip is to hurt us, to confuse us, and to make us uncomfortable, either with the world or with ourselves. It took some time, but I finally felt some pain on this trip and that is where we grow. As I said before, sometimes the only way to change is by getting hurt so bad that we have to. While the two images I saw of myself are now both a part of my dark, they were both my light at one point. For me to find a light that will last, it’ll take more than retaliating against my adversity. It’ll take the strongest act of all, which is to let go of my barriers and my walls. To let the small boy in the big man’s body face the world head on.
The first time I changed, it was the end of a right of passage. The change was good and necessary, but I hadn’t noticed myself stepping directly into another right of passage. But I can feel my reintegration coming soon. Maybe Zambia will be the place where I allow myself to get hurt again. Just like the end of any Zambian right of passage, I will have to dance with the Makishi. And if that means dancing the night away with Death itself, I will gladly take its hand and see what it has to teach me.
– Chase Hoyt