I came to live in Manila, Philippines two years ago and I died. I died to the person I thought I was. I came with plans and pretensions and these were stripped of me. I was left an exposed man — a man ready to live outside the cocoon of my former self.
As a “trailing spouse,” moving for my wife’s job at a development bank, I experienced the ache of existence that comes when one has no determined role, no ready-made meaning.
I discovered that professors at universities can make as little as $230 a month. I learned of families whose mothers will spend nearly their whole lives working overseas away from their children. I received the small and sweet graces of a progressive faith community of Filipinos.
I live in a gated community, just kilometers away from abject poverty. My beloved Mother Nature, my centering place, is a long drive outside the city, replaced by shopping mall after shopping mall. The air is cluttered with smoke, the streets with congestion. Even the smallest tasks can become complicated.
And yet in all this, I am more directed and more productive. Philippines has been a chrysalis for me. To compensate for loss of opportunity, I am daring to create my own. I am starting my own fledgling website, Citizen Zeus. I am reaching out. I am changing surely and unpredictably as the seasons.
I can now sing an Adele song or hear a soulful blues tune like it matters, because the brokenness of this world has moved further into my bones. I see with greater perceptiveness shared humanity and the jagged reality that exists amid the politeness.
A lot has died and fallen away in me. A lot has been reborn. I was not so brave. This change was forced upon me. But I dared to respond authentically. I raged and I rested, I questioned and I became open to answers. And I do still. The way forward is still not clear. My faith is continually tested.
I randomly ran across this fitting phrase on my smart phone the other day: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit (it produces many seeds).” John 12:24
In this biblical passage, a seed must “die” to its present state, to undergo a remarkable transition into a mature and productive plant. It’s a wonderful concrete example for our own lives. Growth is a process of dying as well as living.
Constantly we grieve for the mortality of human things. Typically we look at death only as the end of something good, and not as a forebear for the tenderer, more profound, or more productive.
We avoid the transformative little deaths of confronted innocence, lost jobs, and ended relationships. Yet we are moved by others who do face death gracefully, like the father who lost his lovely daughter in the Sandy Hook Elementary school bloodshed but still expressed support for the family of the shooter.
There is a dynamic in death as formidable as it is wondrous — we should not forget the wondrous.
Zeus Yiamouyiannis (pronounced Yah-meh-YAH-nis), Ph.D. is a consultant in learning transformation, innovation, and design. He is founder and writer for Citizen Zeus, a website for transformative learning. Dr. Zeus has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education, but is still being certified in parenting by his five-year old son.