June 30th, 2010 – northwest Vancouver Island, Canada
I woke to a splash and a shout. Confused, I sat up and strained my senses beyond my sleeping bag. The sound of lapping water was close – much closer than it should be. Was it at the tent? Someone was outside and moving around – another shout. A voice was trying to wake the guys in the next tent. The tide! The tide had risen and the boats were slipping away! I woke the girls next to me and began to fumble in the dark, groping for my headlamp, boots and jacket. I tumbled out of the tent and tried to take in the situation. The instructors were both leaping through the dark waves after the kayaks that had slipped loose. The guys’ tent was taking on water, and they were scrambling to simultaneously get their dry things to higher ground and catch the small items which were beginning to float away. We had camped too low.
In the morning, we began the full-scale salvage operation. We combed the beach, rocks, and woods for little lost items – a second sock or shoe, a glove, a hat, a toiletry bag. We sifted through the food sacks, pulling out whatever had been spoiled by sea water. Then the real crisis revealed itself. Leslie had lost her meds and was in a tense discussion with the instructors. “You’re recovering from ovarian cancer and you didn’t tell us? You had prescription meds and you’ve lost the whole batch? What about that situation wasn’t relevant when you signed up for this trip?” Leslie was tightlipped and tense. I could see the struggle. She needed the meds – they were an important part of her cancer treatment. She also wanted to be on this trip, but why? We were currently 20 miles by boat from the nearest human contact and much farther than that from the nearest pharmacy. Either she would have to be taken back and sent home, or she would make do without the meds for a week, or the instructors would have to use the satellite phone to call the head office and ask for a replacement via air drop. All three options involved a high cost. Mostly I agreed with the instructors: why had she taken such a big risk in coming? What was she even doing here?
October 7th, 2017 – Johannesburg, South Africa
“So what are you doing for October break?”
“Camping!” I responded. “A friend and I are heading down to the coast for five days. We’re going to camp in a national park. Maybe do some kayaking. We’ll see. I just have an urgent need to sleep in a tent and listen to the ocean.”
She looked at me with concern. “But … is that … wise?”
“Wise? What do you mean?” I stiffened as I caught a whiff of her meaning.
“I mean … with your health and all. Couldn’t that be bad for you?”
My eyebrows contorted involuntarily in a mixture of surprise and contempt. A flurry of thoughts swept through my mind: ‘How could camping possibly be bad for my health!? What did she know about it? About me? About anything at all for that matter? I am fine! Didn’t I just get done telling her I was fine? The thyroidectomy was three months ago, and anyway, sleeping outdoors does not ‘feed’ cancer. It’s not the flu, for crying out loud! I mean, my neck might get stiff from being on the ground, but I can stretch that out. Somebody get this girl a science book!’ Thankfully, I said none of this. Instead, I relaxed my face into a patronizing smile and waved a hand in the air. “I’ll be fine.”
October 16th, 2017 – iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, South Africa
By the third morning, I had begun to compose a letter of praise to REI. They had designed a great tent. Not only was it lightweight with lots of headroom and pockets, but its zipper design was monkey proof! Sure, African monkeys may have figured out how to unzip regular tent zippers, but this teardrop door shape was brilliant. The two zippers started at the top, not the bottom, and went opposite directions. Surely that is what had the monkeys here stumped. Of course, we had also taken the necessary precautions – all the food and drinks were stored in the car. There wasn’t anything in the tents that a monkey might be interested in; even so, I was confident that, thanks to REI, I could rest easy knowing the monkeys would stay in the trees and out of my tent.
In that great smugness, Robin and I left to go find hippos and rhinos and whatever other animal might deign to have its picture taken. We did not return until late afternoon.
As we pulled into camp, I leaned forward, scanning for possible signs of animal infiltration. All seemed well until I spotted a small bottle between the two tents. It looked like eye drops. “Is that yours?” “Umm … I don’t think so … is that yours?” We looked at each other and then to the tents again, both noticing at the same moment a monkey holding something in his hand. We scrambled out of the car. The bottle on the ground was the spit guard for my snorkel mask. I glanced under the rain fly, discovered the teardrop door open, grasped the situation, and went looking for the monkey. He had climbed now into the tree above my tent and was holding one of my two pill boxes. Half of the lids were open. The second pill box was lying in the sand beyond the tent.
*Note about monkey psychology: possession is 100% ownership. Once a monkey gets hold of an object, it belongs to the monkey. Trying to get that object back is the best way to make a monkey mad.
We chased the monkey for about ten seconds before we realized that chasing it would only send it farther into the woods with my pill box. We slowed down and waited, hoping it would lose interest and drop it.
The consequences of me losing my thyroid meds there in iSimangaliso were not quite as serious as Leslie losing her meds in the wilds of Canada. The nearest pharmacy for me was an easy hour’s drive away. Plus, the monkey hadn’t been as interested in the thyroid hormone as in the vitamins. The important stash had been dropped by the tent, and there were still untouched pills. Still, standing under that tree waiting for a monkey to drop my box of vitamins, I finally understood why she went on that trip so many years back.
A foundational part of healing is found in living. Life doesn’t stop when we get sick. Nor does living only start again when we are perfectly whole, healthy, and strong. Life is now. This world God has gifted us is big and beautiful and worth exploring. I do not have to wait to begin. It’s not as though, one day while I’m sipping tea and sitting on my couch wrapped in a blanket, Health will come knocking on my door saying “I’m here! Let’s go!” Good health is lived – one meal, one day, one adventure at a time. Whatever my state, however much time I have, there is beauty and joy and wonder waiting to be discovered.
When the monkey did finally drop the box, I went back to my tent and mentally revised my letter to REI. A cheeky monkey had hacked the door design, sat on my sleeping bag, unzipped my toiletry bag, reached past my toothbrush, and stolen my pills. Perhaps they should consider designing a tent with lockable zipper pulls. A mini-carabiner to hook the ends together? I had some big safety pins at home I could use next time. For now, I needed to boil my toothbrush.