Story and Images by Terri Wingham
July 11, 2011
A surge of cold, angry water crashes over my hood and slides down the beige plastic of my flimsy poncho. When I look up to my right, past the wall of mist and water, I see a vivid rainbow slicing the corner of blue sky in half.
The smell of wet grass and freshly washed air mingles with the taste of minerals on my tongue and I lean back to feel the spray on my face. A shiver runs up my spine as drops of water escape to run between my collar bones and gather again in my belly button.
With gripped toes, my feet fight against sliding off the sides of my flip flops and I am grateful to the booming of the Falls for drowning out the squidging noise I make with each forward step. My hand reaches for a slimy wood railing as I splash through a shallow pool of water and pull myself up to a lookout point at the very end of the path.
When I get my footing, I lean over the rail and look down at the abyss of white water. One misstep and I could go over. The combination of my proximity to death and the beauty of life fills my throat with a baseball size lump. When uninvited tears spurt from my eyes and edge down my cheeks, I am relieved to have this corner of the Falls to myself.
Surrounded by clinging mist and roaring water, a fleeting, but intense peace blankets me and for once I am fully present. In this moment, I am safe from my fears about where life might take me and my sadness about the trip ending tomorrow. Even all of the other thoughts and worries typically circling the drain in my mind have disappeared and I stand mesmerized by what the local Kololo tribe once called “The Smoke That Thunders”.
Eventually I look down at my blue fingers and notice the bouncing of my teeth; I hesitate for only a moment longer before stepping back onto the path. As I head toward the sunshine, I meet more and more people broadcasting looks of amazement to match my own.
A friend took this without me knowing…it was a perfect moment!
The heat blasts me as soon as I get out from under the Falls and I find a rock along the river to dry off and spend a few more minutes alone. As I savour my final African sunset, joy and sadness chase each other through my chest. Everything about being here feels like a contradiction: peace amidst the roaring water, blazing sun when I step out of the freezing spray, and solitude while surrounded by people from all over the world.
As I write this post, three weeks later, I am both happy to be home and homesick for Africa; restless as I think about planning my next adventure and relieved to sleep in the same bed every night.
I can’t help but think about the beautiful contradictions each of us face every day. Isn’t life really about those moments of faith and doubt; hope and despair; joy and sadness; and courage and fear? Moments like the pain and joy of childbirth, the fear and hope we feel when fighting cancer, the joy and sadness of falling in love, and the excitement and apprehension about changing our lives in either a minor or a major way.
What if we gave ourselves permission to experience both emotions at the same time?
This past week, I read a guest post on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer written by Debbie Woodbury. In it, she shares with us the gifts and losses brought about by her experience with cancer. Her use of the word “gift” caused quite a stir on the website (check out the comments section to add your thoughts to the conversation).
But why can’t a terrible experience result in both loss and gain?
For me, cancer offered plenty of challenges, but it also gave me the beautiful gift of perspective. I was recently asked to write an article about my experience with Breast Cancer for a London based e-magazine called xfxthemag. In my article, entitled “You have (breast) cancer!”, I bring you along to experience the shock and pain of my diagnosis day as well let you in on some of the lessons I can appreciate a year and a half later. Click here to read the article.