A dream of Africa

“Ever since 9/11 everyone I know thinks I’m dead.”

This single line was written on the back of a postcard sent to one of those anonymous, “tell-me-your-secret” websites. It was chilling, mysterious, irresistibly intriguing. I’ve had countless speculative discussions with everyone I’ve told about it. What would make you want to let all your friends and family believe you’d died on that terrible day? How would you go about building a new identity and a new life after that?

A friend of mine suggested to me, “That would make a great title for a novel. Why don’t you write a story about it?”

It’s a tempting idea, though easier said than done. I’ve never managed to write great fiction and haven’t tried it in years. Still, sometimes I take out the notebook in which I wrote down that line, and I scribble new questions, possible scenarios. Or I just read my notes about it over and over again and let my mind wander.

Who hasn’t been longed for the chance to wipe the slate clean and start all over again from scratch? I know I have. At one low point, imagining myself walking away, leaving everything behind, became a sort of release valve, the only way I could cope with what was going on in my real life. Even now, I enjoy TV series like Survivors and Runaway and FlashForward and even The 4400, which explore all the different things people do to start over when given just that chance.

We all long for change, but what if it’s just not possible—at least, not at the moment? A friend and I were talking the other day about switching careers. She is between jobs, between moves, and trying to figure out what to do and where to go next. I was at that point two years ago, and I made some choices which thankfully seem to be paying off. But though life has settled down somewhat for me, I found myself wondering—if I ever got the chance for another do-over, would I take it? And to my surprise, I found I had an answer ready: yes, I would. And I know what I’d do, too: I’d study international development and go abroad, to work with people to make their lives and communities better. It’s always been a dream of mine to go to Africa, but I’d be happy to go anywhere in the world.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with my life now, in a way I never thought I’d be. But wanting more, wanting change, is not a bad thing if it opens your eyes and your imagination to all the possibilities in the life you have right now. International development attracts me because it involves helping people, in a real, hands-on way. But I can start by helping people here and now—my family, my neighbours, my friends and colleagues. People, after all, are the same everywhere. We all need the same things. And I don’t need to go halfway across the world to make a difference.

And in the meantime, I can keep dreaming. Africa…who knows? I just might get there one day.

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