What has 2013 taught me? What do I lessons do I want to take into 2014?
Hold things lightly.
I blogged a few weeks ago about living a simpler life, not knowing that my need to let go of earthly possessions would be challenged even more.
On Thursday 19th December at 11:55am, I was told by TF HQ in London that I should get on the British Embassy evacuation plane and out of South Sudan asap. Although the situation in Juba was (relatively) calm, it was incredibly fragile and things could kick off again at any moment. Best for me to get out while I could. So, at 11:57am I rang the foreign office to find out when the plane was leaving.
The man on the other end of the phone asked me, ‘How far are you from the airport?’
‘Not far,’ I responded, ‘Why?’
‘Because if you want to get on that plane, you need to be at the airport in 3 minutes’.
Crap. I slammed down my phone and ran to my room. What’s important? What do I need? What should I take incase I’m stuck in Uganda for a little while (the evacuation plane was to take us to Entebbe, from there we’re on our own)? My life in a bag, prioritised in a matter on minutes.
It’s a long story involving a plane crash on Juba runway and the British evacuation plane being cancelled (and then un-cancelled, but I wasn’t told that part) but I didn’t fly that Thursday.
The following day, Friday morning, at 3:45am I was woken by the foreign office ringing to tell me another evacuation plane was to be coming that day and I should be at the airport by 10am…with absolutely no luggage. I could possibly bring a small handbag, but don’t count on it. The previous day there had be mayhem when the un-cancelled plane had actually arrived and the RAF pilot announced no luggage whatsoever. People weren’t warned and bags including laptops and other important essentials were left on the runway. So today, be prepared, the foreign office lady warned me.
I looked at my things in my small room in Juba. I looked at them and tried to think, it’s only ‘stuff’. What’s important? I decided to risk it and packed a small handbag containing a couple of t-shirts, a few extra pairs of knickers, toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, hairbrush, pocket bible, tablet, malaria pills, phone and charger, purse and important documents. The essentials? The rest of my things I packed back into my rucksack and left locked away in Juba.
I got to the airport at 10am. We sat and waited and waited and waited. At 4pm we were told the plane was nearly arriving but that we were not allowed to carry anything at all – no small bags, nothing. ‘Our priority is people over possessions. People over stuff,’ the British ambassador very clearly told us.
We could carry only what we could fit in our pockets. I put my hands in my jean pockets and wished I had cargo pants. I thought I’d sacrificed enough. Now was the real test: what really are the essentials in life? So often, especially over Christmas, we talk about needing things. Really needing that new pair of heels. Really needing that ipad. Even small things, like needing to get stuffing for the turkey. Things that will make our life complete. I know I’m so guilty of it. But the definition of need became a lot clearer at 4pm on Friday 20th December.
At that moment, I realised all that needed right there and then was my passport, bank card, a few dollars, my phone and my phone charger. The rest was excess. And looking back on it, how liberating to be free from anything that ties us to this world. How wonderful not to be dependent on physical things. People over possessions. Isn’t that how we should always be?And that’s a message I want to learn from all of this, and that’s a resolution I want to take into this new year. Christmas is a time when there can be so much excess, so much extravagance but this festive season, I’ve been learning to hold things lightly. To enjoy possessions, to not feel guilty about having, but not to depend on them. There’s a fine line between the two. And I think it’s a lesson that needs to be learned daily. I thought I’d learned the lesson when I blogged a few weeks ago. But I’m still figuring out what I depend on. What I need.
2014: hold things lightly.