Completely

Emily Hess - Senegal


November 11, 2010

As I fumbled along the strings of the guitar, I only remember praying.

I prayed that I would have the strength to sing in front of these people, I prayed that I would remember which chords came before which, I prayed, especially, that I would convey the message to my peers just how much this song meant to me. At one point in time, when I was a little younger, I played the guitar regularly, I drew and painted, and I sung every time I had the chance. But my fear kicked in and threw all of those things in the trash because I thought, “I’ll never be as good as so-and-so, so I might as well just give up.”

I truly missed the days when I considered myself an artist, and although I have my occasional bouts of creative inspiration, I find that these bouts of inspiration are quick to pass and often come at very inconvenient times. Not to mention my terrible habit of trying to avoid embracing them because of my fears that I will not express them properly. Essentially, it is a very sensitive subject, me and art. I always loved that part about me and at one point in my life I was doing it constantly and enjoying it above all other things. But over the past couple of years, if you’d have asked me to play for you, draw for you, or show you my talents, I’d politely decline because of my habitual, “I’m really not that good, no, really,” state of mind. The last weekend in Dakar, though, the fellows of Senegal gathered together for a moment of passage on the roof of our school at ACI Baobab.  I slipped up and told someone that I “used” to play guitar and pretty soon the whole group was urging me to play something. I got up and played the only thing I remembered how to play.

Something powerful struck me that night far beyond the music I was attempting to convey. I had a profound realization that completely negates the feelings I used to have about myself. The song, “Wish You Were Here,” by Pink Floyd, has been a favorite of mine since I watched my father play it in awe as a child. It was the first song I ever learned, and the only song I never forgot when I began to neglect the guitar at 16. I listen to that song often, when I feel unsure, lost, confused, and need a way to reach into the back of my mind for some solitude. I needed it a lot in Dakar. I struggled daily with being in two places at once. My body was in Africa, across the ocean, thousands of miles from home.

My mind, on the other hand, was on my couch in my apartment, eating Oreos and talking to my cats, waiting to get in my car to go to work. It was comfortable for me to keep a part of me there. But trust me when I say this: nothing is harder than being far from your own mind. In this way, I was making Senegal harder than it needed to be. That last weekend in Dakar, I could not explain the fear and anxiety I was feeling from the thoughts of finally being completely separated from the things that kept my mind at home. So when I strummed the chords and plucked the strings that night on the roof, I realized at once that I was here, and in order for me to finally be okay with this final move, I was going to have to be here completely.

Playing in front of my friends awoke that realization along with one other that I had buried for so long—I was an artist. All of this pain I was feeling, all of this homesickness, it wasn’t just because I was far away; it was because I was ignoring something essential to my being and my existence and something that I had been ignoring on my own volition for years. I needed this song, but I didn’t just need the song, I needed to sing it, I needed to play it, I needed to see that I could, even if I was afraid to. And this need in me awoke something greater than the song itself, but the symbol that it was for me. I had been neglecting the artist in me all these years and when I saw her again that night, my mind leapt off the couch in my apartment, got on a plane, and flew back to my body.

I am an artist, and I should never tell myself any less. My mind being somewhere else wasn’t because my body was gone, but because I was forgetting who my mind really was.

I found her waiting for me on a roof in Africa, completed.

Emily Hess