What Trumps the Holidays

I am exhausted.  Yes, the holidays surely have something to do about it. Why?  I am not quite sure. They are supposed to be a respite, a time to share with friends and family, a time to relax.  They are not.

Uber- like runs to the airport.  Excruciating trips, posing as pre and post-holiday fun-filled frolics to the mall with half the western hemisphere.  Holiday parties with people of all ilk you have never met before. They are holiday pre-requisites, along with too much food, egg nog, and a strange perversion for little colored lights strewn everywhere, as if we all are attempting to collectively say happy holidays to the astronauts laboring away on the International Space Station.  Okay, now that I think about it, I am sure I know why I am exhausted.  Excessive displays of goodwill are draining me.  They shouldn’t.

They shouldn’t have to be mandatory acts of goodwill acted out once each year cramming everything thoughtful into a year-end push to redemption.  Shouldn’t we try to foster goodwill all of the time?  Maybe, that is why I am so happy that my job with the Greater Impact Foundation.  Its mission focuses on seeking out those social impact enterprises like Sistemsa Biobolsa in Mexico, Eco-Fuels Africa in Uganda and Persistent Energy Group in Ghana year round; organizations founded on the concept that goodwill focused properly can not only solve endemic problems, they can also become sustainable profitable enterprises.  Doing that is a full time gig.  So, the end of the year holiday contrition, celebration and goodwill seems less necessary for me, even though I still like the gift giving. 

This  season I bookended the holidays with trips to meet current and potential new GIF partners.  For me, doing this keeps the holidays in perspective.  The one already completely included Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala in seven days to meet four enterprises, two new which seem very promising.  Short sojourns like this are chaotic.  In and out of airports dealing with immigration and customs in each, long road trips, often on difficult terrain, meetings that frequently run into the night, constant note taking to capture what is going on before everything blurs and runs together.  But, coming across the potential opportunity to help marginalized indigenous Mayan women was invigorating.  Renewing our relationship with the American Nicaraguan Foundation and Food for the Poor proved that patience works.  I did not need the holiday incentive to love this engagement.

The next trip in about two weeks, which requires extensive prep is Thailand (one stop), India (four stops) and Ghana (one stop) are equally hectic and further complicated by extreme long distance travel.  Unlike Central America, travelling across the dateline twice in a short period takes its toll.  I do not care what the worldwide road warriors claim.  So, there is a lot going on. But my expectations have not changed and the idea that I can carry the well-intentioned holiday goodwill even further, well into the new year, is a blessing.

I am not saying that working for GIF is anything at all like the goodwill and good times of the holiday season regardless of how they exhaust me.  What I am saying is that it is better.

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.