What Changes You?

I am old enough to know better.  No matter how often I do something new like venturing into the unknown, I know the result could either be benign or even devolve into something quite terrible, even harrowing.  Nevertheless, I cannot help but become excited. It is irresistible.  Perhaps, I am a bit of a masochist, but I think not.  I just get a rush of adrenalin when something new is about to happen.  Why?  It is quite simple.  It changes me.  It seems to alter my DNA (figuratively speaking).  And, without fail, that change is a result of the people I meet or the places I experience, that always seem, in some symbiotic way, to transform me for the better.  Here are a few examples, not all, but they help make the point.

Nine years old. My parents sent me to sleep away camp in Kents Hill. Maine.  My first time away from home… alone, for the entire summer.  I wanted to go, but was certainly a little bit scared.  We drove to LaGuardia.  I was loaded onto an Eastern Airlines shuttle to Boston with a bunch of other scrawny kids, probably as scared as me.  My first flight.  Theirs too.  No one really talked.  No one knew anyone else.  Thinking back all I really remember is the kid next to me throwing up.  Then a bus ride to Maine on which I threw up.  Not an auspicious start.  I went to that camp on Lovejoy Pond for nine years.  Loved every minute, except for the first two hours, which frankly I forgot about other than to write this blog.  All I remember are the people at that camp who changed my life.  A big deal when you are nine.

Nineteen years old.  Drafted.  Vietnam War accelerating.  Lottery number 18.  I was going whether I wanted to or not unless I did something to avoid it.  I love my country, but did not think this war was just.  So, I sought a way out.  Fought the draft legally.  Eventually, went to Israel instead, again alone.  Worked on a Kibbutz doing hard labor in the fields.  Long ago I forgot about the trauma of being drafted, forgot about the hard labor in the fields.  I only remember the people and that kibbutz that changed my life again forever.

32 years old.  Again alone.  Divorced.  Working all of the time just to have enough money to stay afloat.  Walked into a bar on election eve I had never been in before and met my future wife.  Still today, I only remember the person who changed my life… again and forever.  The bar was forgettable.

62 now. More than three decades have passed since I met my bride.  I have been incredibly lucky over the years.  I have travelled extensively, as an itinerant, in relatively corporate comfort, on vacation with my family and friends.  Time has passed and I could go on forever about moments and people that have changed my life yet again, but this is a blog and I am already over the recommended word count.  I haven’t even begun to tell you how my kids transformed me when they were born as they still do today.  So, obviously, when I think back, what I really remember is not only the places I have been, but more so the people who changed my life.

So, again I am going on the road, headed back to Africa for the Greater Impact Foundation to reconvene with enterprises we already support and to conduct due diligence on three new opportunities in Uganda, Kenya and Ghana.  As I gear up, I do so with optimism. Why?  It is fairly straightforward.  I am expecting… no, I am sure, I will experience something new and meet someone who will again change my life.

Jean Paul Satre in his seminal play, No Exit, characterizes hell as other people, but he was an existentialist.  I do understand what he means, but for me the opposite is equally true, heaven is other people and heaven is right here on Earth.