We Are So Small

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Wegerif 400

A short while ago Jack Nicholson’s movie “About Smith” finished and for quite some time after the credits finished rolling I sat very still. It wasn’t just Nicholson’s genius for understatement and facial expression that made the movie so funny and tragic at the same time, but perhaps the way it brushed up hard against many of the feelings I’ve been going through myself in the last three years. At the very end, when he’s speaking in his mind to his sponsored foster child in Africa, and he says, “We are all so very small. I am a failure. I cannot think of anyone to whom I’ve made a difference in my life.” I had to grit my teeth to keep from blubbering all over the place.

But it’s true. Lately it seems so much that days and weeks and months, and now years, go by with a growing sense that the threads that had attached to various people I got to know when I was younger are all snapping. And the older I grow the less my presence seems to mean, (truly mean, not just polite gestures) to anyone. Daily the sense that the years will pass and my time alive will have moved no one flickers at the back of my mind. I morbidly wonder sometimes just who would bother to come to my funeral were I to die tomorrow. My family, yes, but precious few others.

And so much of this state of affairs rests on my own failure to be there for others.

Back in 1995 when my wife and were bicycling around Europe for six months for our honeymoon we encountered a man in Sweden whose charisma remains as potent today as the day we met him. His name was Boudewijn Wegerif. We had been cycling through a wilderness area surrounded by spruce forest as far was we could see, down a straight road with not a car or soul to disturb the stillness for most of the day. It was hot and when we came upon an old stone well we joyfully set our heavy bicycles down along the verge of the road and helped ourselves to some of the ice cold water from the well bucket. The well sat well back from the road and we worried a little about being out of sight of the bicycles, so when suddenly we noticed this big, bearded man wheeling what looked like a baby carriage up to our bicycles and stopping to examine them, our heads popped up. He waved to us and we went down to meet him.

It turned out that he was walking from Kiruna in Northern Sweden down to South Africa, walking for peace and love and a society of sustainability and less reliance on a money economy, or, in his words, “Love’s Victory Over the Debt and Guilt Cross of the World”. The sun had burned his bare arms and face bright red and he was sweating, so when we offered him a swig of the cold well water he beamed us a big smile. We took to talking and for half an hour we conversed about setting up and living in gentler and more earth-friendly communities. His enthusiasm was infectious, so much so that even after he continued down that long, hot road, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

What was especially strange about the encounter… actually about most of that trip… was that part of the goal of the journey was for us to find a community with which we could become a part and to change our lifestyles from the hectic urban runaround towards something with more cooperation and attendance to the land. One after another we seemed to meet just the kind of people we needed to talk to, in the oddest and most unlikely places. Boudewijn Wegerif, I later found out, was quite well known in Europe and his 2 and a half year walk to Cape Town, South Africa was produced as a documentary film called “Long Walk Home” by the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Yesterday I discovered he died last year. Though I had only met him for an instant, the news shook me. Coupled with today’s Nicholson movie, Wegerif’s death and the gentle influence he had on so many people made me think about just how I might be able to make a difference in people’s lives.

Because it is not too late. And there is no reason whatsoever that I should give in to sadness. As Wegerif asked the people who read his web site, “What matters to you?”

No matter how small we may be, the spark still makes a difference.

13 Responses

  1. Oh, you’re back!

    Phew.

    Big sigh of relief.

    And the site looks so beautiful.

  2. I’m a longtime lurker here (so happy to see the site return!), and I just had to sign in to tell you that you’ve most likely affected far, far more people than you realize with your photos and writings.

    I found your 3/6 entry to be both beautifully written and some much-needed inspiration for me. In the past month, I’ve been laid off and survived a major car accident, and I’ve been struggling with a sense of loss of my own place in the world, and whether it’s time for me to choose a far different path than the one I’ve been plodding along all this time. Reading your eloquent, thoughtful account of your own, similar exploration, and the answers you’ve found for yourself, gives me hope that I too will come out the other end of this tunnel with renewed vigor and joy and appreciation for the world, and a clearer sense of my own purpose in it.

    Thank you.

  3. Much food for thought… both in your words and in Wegerif’s. Thank you

    And good to see you back!

  4. Do you know how happy I am to see you?

    Thank you so much for this post – for the introduction, and the message, and, again, for coming back and writing.

  5. It’s good to see all of you, too. Like walking into an old cafe that I hadn’t been to in a long time and finding the old gang still hanging out there. And then being welcomed with open arms! Nice!

  6. Sakka… It’s when life seems too heavy to bear that your faith in the worth of getting up each day suffers its most grievious trials, doesn’t it? Sometimes I wonder how it is that our minds were designed to withstand the doubts and to witness so much ugliness and indifference. And yet the mind usually manages to cope and then to step beyond the worst that you can imagine. We truly are born of this world. I guess I am realizing now, more than any other time in my life, just how important it is to savor just being alive. On days when my diabetes is bad the awareness of how precious this vessel is sometimes outweighs the pain or dysfunction of my limbs or vision or clairty of mind. And the pain reminds me that I am still here. And a beautiful world it is. There is nothing better out there or after here.

  7. Good to see you are back – there is a wonderful posting about ‘Star Friendship’ on Pacarras (a friend’s weblog) that you should read:

    http://www.pacarras.net/gm2/pac.html?

  8. OnceWritten

    Oh, Miguel, you inspire so many of us. Because of you I have discovered a community (of bloggers) where I feel a happiness that gets down beneath the skin. Though I’m older than you, I think I have a lot to learn from your talent and joy in writing, drawing and just being. No one could have eyes more clear than yours. A big thank you for being here.

  9. carla macgregor nee wegerif

    My sister sent me this link, which her partner found when he was surfing the net. How extraordinary to read this about our father.
    In his walking and life he probably met many people who he influenced in some way or other. Just recently my mother, who works for the church in Sweden, found some study notes for church groups to use in discussion about money etc. that had been directly inspired by the author hearing about another action by Boudewijn. These are probably just two stories of how Boudwijn influenced people whithout ever knowing about it. I am sure that is the truth of the situation. we cannot live our lifes without influencing others. But more often than not we have very little idea how or what influence we have had. We can only try to ensure that our walk through life is one of truth, integrity and above all love. This was Boudwijns endeavour: as his daughter I am able to testify to the struggle he had to stay true to that calling and I can also testify to the immense grace and strength Boudewijn was given in that struggle. He had so many faults and failings, but love was more powerful than all of that.
    So don’t be disheartened by the feeling of failure, we are all less than we are ment to be, but if our hearts and souls are turning to love, we will be covered and taken up into the depth of an immense love. We may not see it and know it but our lives will be an influence on every one we meet.
    And finally if we don’t start to lose our ties and attachments (including the need to be noticed) how will we be ready to pass on and die when the time comes?

  10. Hello Carla. What a delightful surprise! I never expected to hear from anyone related to Boudewijn. It truly is an honor. And I know it’s late, but I want send my condolences.

    I’ve always had a strong sceptical streak in me when it comes to divine love and salvation and such, but as I get older and more and more “coincidences” seem to seemlessly occur around me I’m beginning to doubt my own doubt more and more. I don’t know exactly what to call it… and I’m defintely not a Christian with its emphasis on conversion and heaven and a separate, disembodied god, but if I stop for even a moment and really look at the world around me, there is an immense presence there that includes me in its embrace. For the short time that I met Boudwijn I felt this sense of community and kinship. I knew he was really alive.

    Faults or no, he left a mark on me. And that’s all you can ask for from anyone in this life.

    Thanks for leaving your mark, too. It gives more meaning to that meeting on a lonely road in Sweden.

  11. I knew Boudewijn through email only. He was a good man who lived a life worth living, and he continues to inspire me to this day. I think of him often.

  12. Charles Penty

    Hi There: My name is Charles Penty and like you I had a strange encounter on the road with Boudewijn. Like you, he left a big impression and I still think of him a lot. In 1996 I was riding through Turkey as part of a round-the-world motorcyling expedition called Mondo Enduro. On a long stretch of straight road, a man tanned brown as a nut and wheeling what looked like a shopping trolley or pram hove into view…We were heading back to England and he was heading south along a similar route to that which we’d taken so chatted, exchanged some travelers tips and tales. He invited us to set up camp with him as the evening was drawing in. On our mad dash for Istanbul, we turned down his offer — a mistake as I think an evening by the campfire with Boudewijn would have been most enlightening. We “interviewed” him and he does make an appearance in the DVD of our trip called `Mondo Enduro” (you can find it on GOogle etc). God Bless you Boudewijn. `How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace..’

  13. It’s been interesting reading about your wandering experiences. I found this blog while searching for Boudewijn’s articles on debt free economy. I’d got to know him through a Christian psychologists internet forum when he posted this profound little poem he penned as a gentle rebuke to some psychoanalyst:

    “Bombs for Peace”
    This is a good example of a Dialectical Behavioural Response (Therapy?)
    to our Collective Borderline Personality Disorder
    which some of us wear on our sleeves
    and others of us have hidden so deep away in the soul
    we imagine we are perfectly ordered
    well enough qualified okay
    to spot our disorder at a glance
    in those of us who wear the disorder on their sleeves
    Boudewijn.

    Since then I’d been following his campaign as a subscriber to his ‘What Matters’ site. His passing has been a loss for me personally.
    Thank you for introducing Boudewijn to your blog and all the best,

    Christ must increase and “I” must decrease,

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