Meet Zach. He is one of my closest friends and one of the most selfless people I have ever met. We are an odd pair of friends. We have different lifestyles, different majors and different hobbies but, somehow our friendship is strong and timeless. He is the friend that you contemplate life with and the friend that writes you handwritten letters, even if you live in the same town. This past semester Zach was in South Africa, following his dreams and making friends with people across the globe. I asked him to write a blog post for me and gave him permission to go in any direction he wanted to. When I read it for the first time I almost cried. I can hear the passion and the beauty in his words. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did and that these words resonate in your heart.
It is my opinion that an active but brief life is a life well spent. I haven’t always thought this, I used to be worried about where I would be in 5 years, used to think about the future so much that I refused it was coming. For a good portion of my life, I lived in the future. I wasn’t really concerned so much with where I was, but how I would get to my next destination. Eventually I got lucky, or wise, or dumb, or careless, or carefree (yes they are different). Call it what you will, but I got a different view point on life. I realized that in the end, nothing we do matters. Ultimately our selves, our children, our entire species, and eventually our planet will cease to exist. Poof. Nothing anybody has ever done, no matter how heroic or terrible, will ever be heard of or recognized again. And when you think about it that way, the little things suddenly become a whole lot more important. Because really, they’re all you’ve got. When you take your last waspy breath and your chest sinks and stays down for eternity, the only things you’ll be proud of are those small moments that are truly yours. Even the big adventures are comprised of thousands of tiny moments that are ours to treasure. And all of these new thoughts and ideas were suddenly swimming between my ears, free to fill every crevice in my brain. Fast forward 2 years almost to the day, and I was on a plane by myself to spend 3 months working on a farm in the Drakensburg mountains, South Africa, and live with a family I had never met. Forget that being a White farmer in South Africa is the country’s most dangerous profession (they’re on the genocide watch list), all of the aforementioned was enough to keep me up for the first 3 nights abroad. I got homesick, I battled to tell the difference between being alone and being lonely, and I learned more about myself than I ever have before. Life becomes real when you think you may actually die, and perhaps the biggest benefit of those moments is that you see very clearly who you are and who you want to be. Everything else around the truly pure idea of you just fades away. I was lucky enough to have a few such moments during my trip. I got chased out of the water twice by great whites while surfing. I wore a bright red shirt the first day I went into a pasture with 33 bulls (that just happened to be cousins of the Spanish fighting bull) and got demolished. I accidentally stepped on a spitting cobra, who always go for the eyes and rarely miss. The list goes on. After a certain amount of these moments, you no longer need them to see yourself. And as time went on, I grew more confident. If the trailer needed to be loaded with 15 bales of hay, I’d hop on the tractor and get it done. If the cattle needed to be herded, I was ecstatic at the thought of going on a 4 hour solo hike. I got to know the sheep, the horses, the chickens, the dogs, and most of the other animals on the farm (but not the zebra). I felt at peace with myself and with everything around me. I had time to truly think, without any restrictions or worries, and find myself totally entrenched in the moment. And it was beautiful. I don’t use that word often, but it was. I got to feel what it’s like to really not think about the future or the past and just be. And don’t call that moment the present, because by the time you name it it’s gone forever. You just have to be there and know. I found that the saying “Stop to smell the roses” goes so much deeper than those words. There’s an entire lifetime of provocative thinking hidden in them.
Throughout my time in South Africa I learned more than I could ever hope to. I learned which plants can make you better and which will kill you in less than a minute, I skinned and butchered rams in the morning so that the family could eat (no part of the animals we killed went to waste, even the scrotums can be made into coin purses), I learned how to make a sheep trust you, how to herd 100 cattle by myself, how to speak some basic Afrikaans, how to bargain and bribe, and much more. And while I was learning all of these things, I forgot about my life back home, and simply lived. I think I can honestly say that my semester abroad farming and surfing taught me more about what matters (And no, getting an A on your biggest final of your academic career really doesn’t matter) than any semester I’ve ever had at school, and that shouldn’t surprise you. In a world where the norm is to graduate high school, graduate college, and pawn your dreams for a 9-5, take the riskier path. Don’t say you’d like to travel, actually travel. Jump into something that you have no idea about, just for the sake of learning. Stop looking through your friends’ adventure albums on Facebook and go have your own adventure. Because whether you like it or not, someday you will die, and you can’t choose when. Wouldn’t you like to close your eyes one last time and know that you lived your own life, that you did what you wanted, that you took risks and came out on top, that you didn’t waste any opportunities that came your way?