Going into this experience I expected that I would see the world in a new light and this would help me grow and change me in ways no other experience could. I was expecting to learn life lessons that would affect me forever.
And that has happened but there have been a lot of simpler, smaller changes too. One unexpected outcome from my time in Senegal is my rekindled love for reading. After years of being forced to analyze books to death and writing essays about imagery and symbolism, reading felt like a chore, an inconvenience. But here reading is one of my favorite activities. Instead of trying to read between the lines, using Sparknotes to try to answer my homework questions, and stressing about if I missed an important theme or metaphor, I just read and I’m able to simply enjoy the story.
Another unexpected outcome was that some of the most valuable life lessons would be brought to my attention through the words of some American novelists.
I recently finished reading “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd and one quote stuck with me. August Boatwright is talking to Lily Owens about how she painted her house “Caribbean Pink” because it “lifted her sister’s heart”. And then August says, “some things don’t matter much. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person’s heart–now, that matters. The whole problem with people is…they know what matters, but they don’t choose it…The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.”
After reading this I stopped to really think about it. And I started to think about what really matters.
Since in Senegal I’ve developed the mantra “It’s not the end of the world.” It’s not the most positive motto but it reminds me not to get upset because of minor annoyances. When the kids took my pens or when people laughed at my Wolof or when my family came in without knocking it could really send me over the edge on a bad day. But they weren’t the end of the world. So I would just shake them off. I was looking at my problems by thinking about what doesn’t matter.
I now see a better way to look at them is by looking at what does matter. When my cousin asked me for one of my last pens instead of giving it to him and thinking “having spare pens isn’t important” I thought “I can sacrifice a pen if that’s what will make him happy.” When people laugh at me I don’t think “It doesn’t matter what they think of me.” I think “I’m glad that my lack of Wolof can at least make people laugh.” When my family barges in and gives me demands I don’t think “It’s not a big deal they just came in.” I think “I’m glad that they feel comfortable enough with me that they treat me like a real member of the family.”
When I was thinking of what doesn’t matter as a way to cope with issues I felt fine, competent, tolerable. But when I thought of what does matter I felt fulfilled. The world is a happier place when you start making choices because of what matters. It’s the purest form of happiness you can find. Realizing what matters most to you and treasuring it.
I have to disagree with Ms. Boatwright a little because even though people know what matters, sometimes they forget what matters more. I certainly have before. I’ve cried over miscellaneous things. I’ve posted some melodramatic tweets with crying emojis when I was in a bad mood. I’ve convinced myself I was a victim when really I was causing my own suffering. Looking back at things that upset me in high school I realize how minor they were “in the overall scheme of life”. What I thought mattered then doesn’t matter now. Forgetting what matters more is what makes some choices so difficult. But if you take a moment to remember what really matters, choosing can be the easiest thing in the world.