Spending Simple, Uncomplicated Time With People.

Is it simply because I’m getting older, or is it because I am getting wiser? That is for you to decide. But I think this has been something West African people taught me.

The older (Wiser) I become, the more I desire to spend simple, uncomplicated, non programmed time with people. I’ve been through enough programmed event friendship to finally realize that most genuinely enriching interactions cannot be programmed, and rarely take place at an event. The best social environments are natural life environments; sitting under the Palaver Tree, over a meal, while relaxing, just being. Sitting with people during their life celebrations, sadnesses, and daily routines.

When we try to control relationships by turning them into a “thing”, an “it”, we then feel we have to plan it, prepare for it, schedule it, follow it up, design how it should unfold, and then duplicate it week after week. Good luck with that.

My wife and I share an ideal vision of a date; stay home and be with each other. We enjoy dinners out, the odd movie night, the odd event. However, our first choice is to get snacks and simply stay home, together. We enjoy chatting, snuggling, reading together.

Maybe, that is why we enjoy Mali so much. We have people to spend time with, people who actually come and visit, and time to spend with each other. There is very little of the planned, programmed, scheduled event stuff clogging our lives, or the lives of the people around us.

So as I am out and about my humanitarian work, the planned stuff, I make time to chat with the people. I want the people to sense I care, that I want to hear about their life, village, health, and family. That I come not just to accomplish something, to further some program. But that I really do like them, and wish to be immersed in their daily story too. It need not be complicated. Let me live with the reality of who you are, and what we have become for each other.

If and when my work is ever complete in this place, I hope to leave behind a “people”, not a program. I hope they say they lost a friend, not a program director, NGO or Humanitarian.

This quote so resonated with my soul.

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence.

Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.

But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.  (Henri Nouwen)

The second paragraph is very descriptive of the first half of my life. In our younger days we are working so hard to make a mark. To grow something, to become something (What was that something anyway?), that we lost out on people. A lot of good people.

Now that I have entered the second half of my life, I really do not want to be what I was in first half, nor doing the same things the same way.

Spending more simple, uncomplicated time with people.

My “legacy” here, will not be a program left behind.  I will have done a good job if even a few can say, we lost our friend who truly loved us.

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