I remember the day my father told me that “Blankie” was lost. I was devastated, having held onto the remains of that blanket since the day I was born. I remember the love I felt for the threadbare piece of cloth, how it comforted me when I saw it after a long day of playing in the woods or riding my bike. Years later, my father confessed that he and my mother had decided on that day that it was time to throw it away. I felt betrayed.
When my oldest son Ben was around 8 years old, he had an “Oatmeal Bear” that replaced his beloved Blankie, and during a visit to San Diego, we inadvertently left it behind, tangled in the bed sheets. I went to great lengths to get it home….calling the hotel every day, asking if it was found. The hotel staff kept saying it was not there. I finally had the idea of asking them to check at the laundry service company, and sure enough, they found it and sent it to us. I think I was more excited than Ben was to open the box when it finally arrived in the mail.
Letting go of good things is something that I talk frequently about with my children. It is easy to let go of something bad, but incredibly difficult to let go of something good. It takes a special courage, and belief that better things are yet to come. There is risk with this also: what if the next situation does not work out as well?
I left my corporate job, one that I truly loved, when the first of my three children was entering college, a very difficult time to decide to do this. I was petrified that I would not have the same financial security than when I had this steady job in the lucrative field of Information Technology. Yet I knew that photography was my first love, and I had never tried to make a living from it. If I did not do it now, then would I feel up to the challenge when I retired? Would I even be around then? The concern of never making the leap outweighed the risk of remaining status quo. And I was right, my income did decrease extensively, and it has not always been easy to live with the question regarding where the next photo assignment might come from.
But I gained many things that I could never have attained had I stayed in my comfortable job. I learned firsthand about marketing and public relations and accounting and client relationships. I also learned how to shift my business plan as the field changed. And by far, best of all, I got to see extreme delight when people were happy with a photo I had made. Today I enjoy consistent and incredibly fulfilling work, and I will go to my grave thankful for those who believed in my talent years ago more so than I did, and were there to encourage me to give this a try.
As I navigate the issues that are present here in Ethiopia, I love to watch how important an Ethiopian gabi is to the villagers. They are comforted by the softness of the cotton, men and women wrapping it over their heads and shoulders. I see them stroking the edges when they are worried. I watch them shivering in cool evenings and wrapping up in their gabi to stay warm.
When I purchased my own, I could not help but remember how it felt to have a blanket be a source of comfort. As I move through these days here, my gabi brings me peace and inner warmth. When I wear it outside of my room into the town center, many villagers tilt their head and exclaim “Firenji! Gabi!”.
They know what this big square of cotton brings to me. And as I take yet another important new leap after I return home, I am happy that this gabi will be there as a source of comfort and a reminder that it is nice for even grown men and women at times to be wrapped in something soft and shielding as we make our way into the throes of uncertainty.