A Trip to Africa

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What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

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It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

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A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

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We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

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The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

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Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

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Why Don’t I Like Her?

Ms. Garcia was fussy. She was tense and persnickety. She was one day old when I met her and addicted to meth. Understandably, she was not easily soothed.

Some of my best teachers were infants. There was a time years ago when I held babies at St. Luke’s Hospital in the nursery. It was a wonderful program initially created for newborns who were at risk for AIDS. But as crack grew to epidemic proportions, the program expanded to include drug-addicted infants. Most of the nurses were wonderful, but their work load was full, so they enlisted volunteers to help with the holding and feeding, giving the babies human touch when their families were unable to be there.

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What I found fascinating about the infants was that instinctively they felt more comfortable in some arms rather than others. While Ms. Garcia would allow me to feed her, Mr. Brown did better in the arms of Cindy, one of the pediatric nurses. We all had our favorites. Because so many of the infants were taken from their mothers following the birth, they were referred to as Mr. and Ms. So & so since few had been named.

One important lesson the babies taught me is that we are drawn to some people and not others. Prior to that, I worked so hard to have others like me. I was not a popular kid. The more I tried to fit in, the further down the social ladder I fell. It never occurred to me to check in with myself to see if I liked them. So from the time I was in elementary school I measured my self-worth by the acceptance of others. Not a winning strategy.

The babies taught me to trust my instincts. To listen to the feelings I have when around others. We all come up with reasons why we don’t like one person, or why we like another. But what I saw in the hospital nursery was that the reasons came later to us. We like whom we like. We see it most in dating. I dated a lot in my twenties. I met a lot of people who were very nice, but I still wasn’t interested in them. When I asked, I would say, “he was boring,” or, “we didn’t have the same interests.” But the truth was, it just wasn’t right. Not because of our interests, that was incidental to my initial experience with the date.

As a psychotherapist this lesson has been invaluable. Since I see psychotherapy as a path back to trusting oneself, the relationship matters. When asked for recommendations, I suggest meeting with a few therapists so a potential client has a chance of getting a good feeling about their prospective therapist. This might be the first step in learning to trust themselves.

I learned to trust myself after working with the infants, observing how and with whom they bonded.   I am grateful to the Misters and Ms.’s for this important lesson. The babies I held are in their twenties now. And I’m hopeful that they are returning to their natural state of being, in touch with their instincts. After all they gave freely and unknowingly, they deserve that, and so much more.

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NYC Marathon

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Watching the NYC Marathon runners down First Avenue was simply inspiring. Seeing each person with their own reasons for running push through to continue their relentless course communicates discipline and tenacity. For a few hours this windy, Autumn day I screamed on the sidelines to strangers. I was able to see someone I knew, which was amazing.

The marathon is meaningful to those who run their race. They set a goal and mostly achieved it. And, if they fell short, they can be proud of making the effort to complete it. The marathon is very real, but it’s also a metaphor for life. In my work as a psychotherapist, I witness my clients face challenges in their lives. They work hard to overcome the limitations in their lives, like those who choose to do a marathon. And, mostly, they succeed. Then they face another obstacle and move through the pain and constraints to get to the other side of that challenge. And, so on and so forth.

Most personal processes are private. The individuals who go the extra mile to accomplish their goals have no one on the side-lines cheering them on. The courage they experience is known to only them. It is a solitary path. Depending on the achievements there may be bragging rights. But perhaps not. My good fortune is being able to witness my clients’ triumphs. I may not be yelling, “You Can Do It!” behind the barricades, but I am inspired all the same. I feel so fortunate to respectfully observe the marathons that change lives, both on and off First Avenue.