“The Other Side of the Veil” (One of 25 things that make me happy)

happyLast night, in the middle of a very stressful phone call, I was given a word-image.  The caller told me about how, earlier in the day, “Jjaja Jack” (Grandpa Jack, my dad) had taken little, individual ice cream packets to the kids at our home in Nkumba (pronounced “in-KOOM-bah”).  Somehow, the store clerk had sold Dad three more containers than we have kids and staff, meaning there were three leftover.  Our head teacher, Jane, immediately came up with a fair way to determine which kids would get the bonuses.

She divided the group into three age groups, and then proposed an appropriate question for each group.  The first student to get the answer correct in each group—got the ice cream.  And in typical East African style, each winner was cheered and celebrated by her/his colleagues—even though it meant they didn’t get the bonus themselves.

But the image that really stuck with me was the one of Uncle Tom (one of our senior managers) seated on a handmade stool, with little Derrick (age 2) in his lap.  Tom carefully helped Derrick eat his cold treat, one bite at a time, eliciting grins and giggles from Tom, a grown man constantly surrounded by children—yet still taking full delight in a very present moment with another spirit just emerging into the fullness of his human experience.

Today, I am so focused on academic and career goals and deadlines looming and beckoning as early as Sunday and as far off as December—on wellness goals in late April—on budget needs next week—that I fear I am missing similar here-and-now-ice-cream moments.  Moments that have the capacity of breathing strength into me, a strength I too easily surrender to the anticipated fatigue of tomorrow.

And so I shall take a short break from tomorrow to focus on that which I am grateful for right now, right here—today.  Once a month I tell my journal (and blog) about such things, and the list always matches the date.  Today is the 25th of the month, and so, here—in no particular order—are 25 things that make me happy:

  1. Text messages and emails from my kids.
  2. Inexplicable technology that links me with my family in a rural African village no matter where I am.
  3. The inexplicable.
  4. Reading myself to sleep.
  5. Clean sheets.
  6. Big pillows.
  7. Sleep.  (I’m seeing a theme emerge.)
  8. Emerging themes.
  9. Green tea.  (Supposedly it burns fat and toxins.  PS It tastes good, too.)
  10. Tasty things that burn fat.
  11. A new notepad and a sharpened pencil just before a creative meeting.
  12. Creative meetings.
  13. The word-images in the reflection above.
  14. The imagination.
  15. Chilly mornings followed by warm afternoons.
  16. Finding ways to engage the sense of humor of someone from a culture different than mine.
  17. Other cultures.
  18. Not being alone.
  19. Music that offers praise.
  20. Toothpicks.  (Often in Uganda, we must resort to the use of matchsticks.  Not quite the same.)
  21. The sounds of my kids cheering and laughing.
  22. The sound of my kids sleeping.
  23. A clean room.
  24. A full moon surrounded by stars, giving a glimpse of the grand party that awaits us on the other side of the veil.
  25. The other side of the veil.

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4 Responses to “The Other Side of the Veil” (One of 25 things that make me happy)

  1. Anonymous
    March 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    When we live in a culture that is different than the one we were born into we often develope a keen sense of gratefulness and our needs change and our prayers change. Oh how I am thankful for the opportunity to live and learn from many people in my life. Also thankful that I will have the blessing of spending part of each of the next 3 years overseas. Now even tho’ I am at ‘home’ I can still sense that my needs and prayers are forever changed.

    • March 25, 2013 at 6:17 pm

      Thank you for this. In psychology, we talk about System 1 and System 2 thinking. Most of us function on a System 1 level in which we engage with the world and with those around us on a flat level–on what seems obvious and clear to us. System 2 thinking, though, challenges us to think beyond the obvious, and to see, sense, and know what is just beyond the obvious. I think living in another culture requires us to use System 2 thinking with more frequency, making us more aware–and more grateful. Thanks for this.

      • Anonymous
        March 25, 2013 at 9:02 pm

        Yes it was me. seeing beyond the obvious horizon cause life to be wonderful rather than mundane . .

  2. suzy from Africa
    March 26, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Thank you Nathan…again your words made my heart soar. Your are such a skillful writer…I always read them many times over…and send them on. My friends draw much strength from your blogs..as well. Hey, did you catch the headlines in the Kampala paper yesterday?

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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