Bound for Kenya

For the last several weeks, I have spent hours laboring over words for Aiming for Okay none of you have ever read or likely ever will. I’ve sat down at my computer and written words that turned into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, but never paragraphs that turned into anything that felt right or done. I’ve struggled to tell myself, “You’re okay. Today is just not the day,” as I go to bed frustrated, disappointed, anxious, and feeling guilty rather than hitting send on what still felt incomplete.
This time next week I’ll be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean making my way to Limuru, Kenya, a small town outside of Nairobi. I think it’s safe to say, however, I’ve already been making the trek in my mind now for weeks. In those late night and early morning hours, when I’ve been unable to tie together ideas I can see in my head but can’t seem to translate to the page, I haven’t been at my dining room table or a library desk. I’ve been in Africa.
Last November, during a visit to Indiana to see my great aunt, a nun for over 70 years, I was introduced to one of her fellow sisters, Sister Catherine. Sister Catherine had just returned from Kenya where she’d spent several years building programs to serve a community suffering under the heavy yoke of poverty and AIDS. Together with her order, the Daughters of Charity, they built a school, a library, health clinics, a hospice, a bakery, a women’s entrepreneurial center, and more. Having desired to go to Africa most of my life, it felt all too providential that at the peak of a spiritual crisis that sounded something like, “Where am I going? What do I do next? What is the Cosmos/God/Divine asking me to do?” Sister Catherine would sit down in front of me and tell me about her life in Africa over a piece of chocolate cake.
When I left my great aunt the next day, I didn’t leave with any answers to my spiritual quandaries, but I did leave with a clue. Now I had something tugging on my sleeve, begging for attention. In a process I can only describe as very easy, I worked with the Daughters of Charity to arrange for a six-week trip to Kenya. After four weeks volunteering with the Daughters of Charity, I will head north for a week and then maybe east for my final week in the country. I am going alone with not much more than a rough plan and a belief that while my last clue was in Evansville, Indiana, my next clue is somewhere in Kenya.
Since deciding to go to Kenya, the days and weeks seem to have picked up their pace, readying and steadying me for the unknown. There were the holidays; a flurry of freelance writing projects that challenged me and inspired me in unexpected ways; the start of my own monthly literary column for a Nashville magazine; and my first public reading of my work followed days later by another reading opening for one of my writing heroes and a living literary giant. I took my 500th Pure Barre class, which may seem silly, but represents a commitment to my body, my health, and my self-esteem that I thought I would never know. I sat around a table with my closest friends last week and celebrated the day three years ago I decided my life wasn’t working and had to change. With the help of countless individuals, I started and completed a city-wide fundraiser, demolishing every goal I set out to meet. The last three months have challenged me to look at every fear I have and ask myself, “Is it worth it?” And each time, when the answer came back, “Not anymore,” I kept walking forward.
So I haven’t been writing as much for Aiming for Okay. It isn’t for lack of trying. I have written thousands and thousands of words intended for this space only to save them as yet another draft life hasn’t informed me enough to finish. My mind is elsewhere. I’m pulling double duty trying to stay in the present, soaking up all of life’s most recent delicious offerings while preparing (obsessing) about this trip. And on that fool’s errand, Aiming for Okay became the collateral damage.
Last week, in a flood of tears, worry, and fear, I wondered why I was doing all of this—the expense, the shots, the stress, the complete upheaval of my life to abandon comfort and embrace discomfort—and all I could come up with, all I could land on was what I’ve known all along, “Because you’re supposed to.” I have to go. I have to watch old, weak beliefs crumble and new, or maybe not new, but just more deeply hidden beliefs find their way to the light. Then I have to write about it. I have to meet the people life has been working to inch closer to me. Then I have to write about them. I have to go where the next clue is. Then I have to write about my journey discovering it.
I bought the ticket. I have to take the ride.