Summer of 2009.
We were camping in a small backpacking tent surrounded by large, hunting lions. They were so loud that their roars shook the ground beneath us. Surprising to me was the discovery that the powerful, loud roars weren’t quite as frightening as the shorter, softer grunts they would make; worse was the sound of them gently lapping water from the stream just below the hill where we had pitched our tent. The most terrifying yet, however, was hearing them breathe just outside our tent. Hearing the breath of a wild lion mere feet away is one of the most perspective-shifting experiences I’ve had.
My whole life until that point, I had viewed myself as the protagonist of a very complex and poignant story. At that moment I was fodder. All I could do was hope that I was the uninteresting iceberg lettuce of the savannah buffet.
The first night out we both were relatively confident that we were going to die. So, we said a prayer and held each other close knowing that it had been a beautiful–albeit short–life together. At any rate, we agreed, it was a better way to go than slipping in the shower or choking all alone.
Yet, after many long hours of darkness the sun rose. As it did, we slipped outside of our tent to find brilliant hues of peach, orange, red, and yellow painting the horizon of Masai Mara. The silhouettes of acacia trees gradually became illuminated by the morning sun. We peeked around the nearby premises, and we found those hairy buggers who had kept us up all night. They were just settling down to sleep all day.
The second night in our tent I was inclined to think we would be fine. After all, with hundreds of wildebeests migrating the lions weren’t hungry. So, barring a rogue, human-eating lion, we’d probably be fine. This is the logic of an extremely tired person.
I was exhausted from not sleeping the previous night, so I asked Collin (desperate for reassurance to my proposed logic), “do you think we’ll be alright?” and he replied with badly masked uncertainty, “yes…[pause. hesitation.] I do.” And that was good enough for me. I put in my ear plugs, rolled over, and went to sleep.
Collin, on the other hand, laid awake all night wide-eyed and armed with a tiny kitchen knife we bought for 70 bub in the market. I’m not sure what his plan was…to poke it in the eye? The illusion of self defense made him feel better, I guess. I don’t know. If anyone could fight a lion almost barehanded, it would probably be a Palkovitz. Of course, they’d just as soon try to lull it to sleep with beautiful songs they’d written on their guitars, but if that didn’t work…
I often think back to those nights and days on the savannah. Our life was completely just ours. We made it a point back in those days to get as far away from other humans as possible to experience extraordinary things in nature. Often our excursions would last for a week or more at a time. We’d come out of the woods or off the savannah looking slightly more like animals and feeling much closer to God.
Some girls prefer diamonds. Some people like to have their lives figured out with dishes that match and drinking glasses that aren’t primarily comprised of mason jars that were former gifts of jam.
As for me, my wealth comes from other sources. I love knowledge and the exchange of ideas between people. I love people and relationship. And I love experiences and sharing those experiences with the people I love. I’m not going to pretend these experiences are always free or even inexpensive; it costs a pretty penny to fly to Thailand and spend a month there as a family of four. But we put our money and time into these experiences because they matter to us.
When I am about to die, I doubt that I will say, “I just wish we would’ve had nicer things.” When I die, I will have lived and I will have loved, and I won’t regret that.