Back around thanksgiving of 2009, my friend asked me to go with him to South Africa to make a video about a bush pilot. While recording in a little bush plane just 300 feet above Kruger Park, we had complete engine failure. The plane would be on the ground, no matter what, in less than a minute. The question was… where, and in what condition? Luckily we had come far enough back from the park to be within range of a road and a sugar cane field. Our pilot opted for the road. Gliding in fast and hard, avoiding cars and power lines, he touched down safely and brought the plane to rest next to the field. The police arrived shortly to divert traffic and make a report. The owner of the sugar cane field also arrived with his whole family to witness the spectacle. He offered us an armed guard to protect our plane and our lives in the event we were stranded there past sun down. We eventually repaired the engine and the police cleared the road for take off. Crisis over. Day done.
At the time, I didn’t fully realize the danger we had just come through. The pilot, having properly earned the name “Captain Crash” over his decades of trial and error, assured me that this indeed had been a seriously life-threatening situation. We were lucky the engine hadn’t failed a moment earlier. I suppose that made an impression on me. And it wasn’t just the close call in the plane that got under my skin. The whole trip to Africa had been eye opening. The scale of it is breathtaking. The sky seems so much bigger and higher there. There is a strange contrast between life and death there too. Mortal danger is palpable, personal security is a moment-to-moment concern, yet the whole place teems with loud colorful life on a massive scale. Anyway, it all made my life experience up to that point seem provincial, and it exposed my worldview as being far too parochial.
Gradually but steadily and compellingly, my priorities shifted and many long-held perspectives simply melted. A year later I divorced my wife of 15 years. One day after the divorce, I eloped to Vegas with the girl of my dreams. Divorce is expensive. The past four years I’ve lived in 700 square foot cottage in a run down part of the city. I suck at my job, I’ve lost my religion, and I think about death much of the time. I’ve never been happier in my entire life.
The closer I get to sensing that I’m living my life to its fullest potential, the happier I get. People have become a huge part of this happiness. Despite the fact that I don’t believe most of what my church believes, I still attend, and I still love my friends there dearly. I still love my ex in-laws and we celebrate the milestones of my 18 year old son’s life together with great enjoyment. I’ve rekindled old friendships I haven’t had since childhood (no, not on facebook… real honest to goodness get togethers, playing in bands, drinking wine by firelight, singing Christmas carols, eating rubbish). I’ve also made more friends in the past two years than I have in the past two decades. I’ve gone back to school where the best part has been forming a new tribe, Cohort 22A.
People are precious. The moments we create… the attention we pay one another… these are the highest form of currency I know. Where can this treasure be had more often and more richly than in the occupation of counseling? If you know, tell me. That’s where you’ll find me.