Saturday, May 15, 2010

Contentment is Hard Work!

Contentment is Hard Work!

You must understand that other than my latest "Venezuela" post (that came out of a conversation with a local just a few hours before writing it), all that I write is not only very personal and subjective, but also "old news," at least to me, if not to you. I am so far behind in writing about my experiences that I feel like I am living a double life. I want you to understand the struggles and culture shock I experienced, yet through persistence and the help of others, many of the technological issues, limited "world view" and terrible loneliness have changed. I just haven't written about the changes yet, because I have not shared with you the full foundation, the first month and a half. But today, I wish to sum up my emotional state after my mother left, if not already clear. I struggled greatly with loneliness, at times depression and often questioning my decision to move. With language issues, transportation constraints, monetary limits, stories of strikes, potential dangers of being here as a single woman, lack of friends, and getting sick when I ate out at the college cafeterias within walking distance - I felt, to put it bluntly, imprisoned.

In future posts I will still share with you some of the stories of "the past," including notes on most of the above, but it is time to start telling you how I dealt with the difficulties, as well as challenging you to consider how you would respond personally.

Last night I attended a presentation by a famous local architect and professor. His son gave a moving tribute in which he said he is following in his father's footsteps to become an architect. But his father did not teach him his own style or technique. His father instead taught him how to think. I could not help but tear up along with the speaker, because if there was only one thing we all need to learn how to do - it is to learn how to think. It’s what I strove to do when I was a counselor in schools, to teach the children critical thinking skills – not just to memorize and spit back out.

So I hope when I write that here in DR there is not always hot water or electricity, perhaps an architect or builder is thinking, "What a fantastic market for solar power!"

When I told my brother about a friend's difficulty in getting windows installed in her home because of repeated delays - he was thinking, "If an installer got a reputation for being on time, he could have a huge competitive edge. But first he'd have to address the problems of having the windows delivered on time, so that he could install them on time"

Maybe you don't think in terms of building or installing. What about getting cash when you can’t open a bank account and all but one bank's ATM will work. How about trying to get cell phone service or an internet connection when you don’t know if you’ll be her longer than three months, but they want you to sign an 18-month contract? It's not just here in the Dominican Republic you may face various difficulties of this kind, but right where you are.

And yet the ability to resolve annoying problems is not the contentment I speak of in the title of this blog, though this too is hard work. It is the contentment that we need even when: the electricity goes out and it is really hot, when torrential rains fill the streets and stall cars, when the internet keeps disconnecting, when it takes five calls to the phone company to resolve a problem. Has anyone in the United States dealt with such things? Of course. Most of the problems I have with the telephone company here is that I run out of minutes while I am on the phone calling to resolve problems with my health insurance (in the US) or with false charges on my credit card (in the US) or arguing with the US-based e-bay on a three hour "chat" in which they keep passing me off to someone else. Then the phone or the internet here gets cuts off. Hmm, where exactly is the problem?

Well, whether it is here or there, I struggle with that Bible verse in which Paul brags, "For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11 – 13.

It's so easy to say, "Well that's Paul. He was an Apostle. I’m not like that." Because many of us have heard this verse over and over it becomes so rote that we miss one word - "learned.” "I have learned to be content in everything...I have learned the secrets…" It did not come easily or naturally to Paul either. But we, or should I just speak for myself and say “I”? I want to be content and not have to learn it, not have to work for it. I want contentment to fall down on me and fill me, overtake me, control me... even when I forget to pray for that contentment I want contentment. Even when I’m complaining and don't even try to be content.

Just before beginning this trip, my mother gave me the book "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, because her experiences reminded my mom of the adventure I was about to begin. I’ll say up front, the book is not Christian. She uses some Christian terminology and gives credit for her emotional healing to God. Still, the author helped me to finally understand what Paul was saying and what I (all of us) need to do when it comes to lack of contentment.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes, "But I felt a glimmer of happiness when I started studying Italian, and when you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt--this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight."

Therefore, the author helped me to understand what I already knew - happiness (or contentment) is hard work. And that hard work is worth it. This is where the double life comes in: Somewhere between the first six weeks that I still write about, and month four that I currently exist in, I made an important decision. I chose to be happy. Of course that decision is not a one-time decision. I have to remind myself all the time. I have to work at or learn to be content. And when I remember, somehow I am.

Heather J. Kirk, Photographer, Author, Graphic Designer "We...a spirit seeking harmony for a world that's out of sync" - purchase an e-book at:

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