For the last year, I have been residing in a dangerous, struggling, war-torn country in the middle east. Though most of the time I have been as safe as anyone really can be here, I didn’t get around as much as I would have preferred. I like to think that I was ‘grounded,’ for lack of a better term, to a compound outside of the biggest city in the province. The compound held all of the typical traits of the area, namely swampland, lots of sand, clay, and foul smelling mud when it rained. It was home to many of us that were asked to advise and assist the local population’s security teams on how to improve their skills, take ownership for their lands and people, and make a better life for themselves. It was definitely a huge mission, considering the history of the area. We were placed right in the middle of the oldest and most well known smuggling routes in the country. Not a place where real estate speculation is on an upswing, I can assure you. The compound also houses many local nationals who, like us, are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. They sacrifice their time and relationships to put themselves in harm’s way, just like we do. We shared our cultures with each other, awkwardly at times and definitely with some mistrust creeping in at others. Nonetheless, we were all there, living and working together in the midst of the trash, the smell, the filth, and the flies. We just made the best of the situation and tried to keep our spirits up when the average person would have flat out said, ‘forget this place, there is no hope!’
Throughout the course of the year I experienced what you could call ‘seasons,’ just like anywhere else. One day it was 130 degrees or more, other days I was donning my fleece jacket to ward off the cold. The rains that came, sporadically at best, were overwhelming torrents that flooded the entire area and turning everything into standing ponds of water or slick, disgusting, pig sty style mud and slop. Hail even graced us with it’s presence once or twice (the closest thing to snow I would have seen this far south). All in all, average, comfortable, nice days were just not in abundance; but they did come occasionally.
The nice days came without warning, when they came at all. Oftentimes people didn’t even notice them. A few times, even I failed to realize that they were here until I got that awkward feeling that something wasn’t right; something was different than the usual. Walking back from the shower or stepping outside of our meager living arrangements, I would stop and look around, keenly aware that it was quieter than normal. There might be a fresh breeze in the air that washed over my face, enlivening me, invigorating my senses, transporting me back to times in my life that I was surrounded by nature and beauty. Images and feelings from the farm where I grew up would snap into my mind, the calm that always followed a warm, breezy day enjoying a lake with friends, the pleasures of spending time with loved ones, laughing and telling stories, enjoying a cold drink and watching the animals enact their own playful rituals during perfect Spring and Autumn weather.
These days never truly lasted for very long, but they were there, hiding in the background. They would peek their faces out from behind their shroud on occasion; but even when the days were not perfect, mother nature had her way of subtly letting you know that she was there and that she understood. You just had to look for the signs, something that people have begun to lose their ability to see. In the rush and daily hustle, people have forgotten to appreciate the smallest signs of beauty. Even here, amongst the backdrops of dirt and debris, gravel and mud, I have caught sight of a the uncommon butterfly, flitting around in front of me, carelessly letting itself be taken by the breeze to wherever it may end up. Even the occasional ladybug would allow itself to be seen, nonchalantly landing on a sleeve and then flying away just as casually.
All these things happen, friends. They happen around you everywhere, regardless of where you live, where you work. I believe they happen as a test. The questions are simple enough: Have you lost yourself? When was the last time you stopped and looked past the cement and glass? When was the last time you ‘truly’ opened your eyes to what goes on around you? Things of beauty are there; things that can relax you, ease your stress, maybe even put a small grin on your face. Children see these things all the time. Maybe it’s time we allowed ourselves to learn from them for a change. Things of beauty are there. Open your eyes and listen to what they are saying.