A Time I Felt Alone: Sarajevo 1996

You see this hole in my sock? It is from this time. When i’m holed up in the house of Save the Children USA on a steep hillside neighborhood of Sarajevo.

My burned sock.
The sock, 14 years after being burned on a Sarajevo lightbulb, and still keeping my foot warm... well, mostly.

I am here because i’m looking for adventure and what do i have to keep me company but a turning chunk of cheese and a half-loaf of thick white bread. Why i am here in this house? I’m waiting for the driver from Save the Children to get back in touch with me. I’m waiting for some return phone calls from several other NGOs – a Bosnian woman, a Norwegien veteran of a half-dozen other major relief operations, an American conflict resolution trainer best known back home now for his affairs with trainees and students. But me, a 23 year-old male grad student with barely a clue or any similar post-war experience, i’m inconsequential. The phone doesn’t ring. It’s a drizzly May day, but even though i want to, i can’t go out to play.

The driver eventually comes by. Be barely speaks any English, even working for an American NGO. He tries German. I know only a few dozen words. Still we can smile and laugh, recycling the few words we share, “okay”, “brot” “telephone.” And he leaves again.

I get impatient…venturing out in the drizzle, i gaze at the highly mascaraed faces of the women downtown, the shops for which i have no money, the bombed out buildings still five months after the cease fire, just waiting to be rebuilt.

No body talks about the war, except the adventurers like me who came here to gawk. I walk back up the hill to the house, passing under a cable that still holds remnants of a tarp that protected people from being seen and killed by snipers. It’s all still fresh…and silent.

I walk into the empty house, stripping to dry off. The socks are the worst; i foolishly brought just one pair for these two weeks. But at least there’s electricity on now. At least there’s light to read by.

I hang my socks next to the glowing bulbs on the chandelier. Then dive into my book….

Ten minutes later, i smell a terrible burning odor, like plastic. I rush from my book to discover that my sock has fallen on the light bulb and melted a hole in it. Hey though, it’s salvageable. I can still wear it, and go on with this crazy trip.

So here it is. I guess I’m still going on with this “crazy trip.”

A recounting from May 1996, written as part of a series of contemplative writing exercises in the Lancaster Friends Meeting, March 2010.

Noticings as Life Practice

Since high school, i’ve kept a regular journal and it’s been like a friend to me since.  But i can’t open an old one up still without getting emotionally embroiled in the angst and crises that i wrote about. Sometimes after reading a previous journal, i get a “toxic” feeling, a sense of being highly unstable, like an element unable to exist on its own.

I can’t trace where this originated, but a second phase of journaling began when i started a “noticings” practice.  It works like this:

  1. Write what you notice – both factually and experientially or internally
  2. Appreciate it without analysis or judgement
  3. Let one noticing take you to another, without agenda for “all the things” you want to write about
  4. Allow the noticings to move you toward doing something if any hint of motivation arises.
  5. Be thankful for your insights, but not proud, nor judgemental.

My last week or two have greatly benefited from noticings.  It would have been easy to get bogged down in depressing self-criticism at what felt like an ongoing, overwhelming situation and periods lacking apparent productivity.  I’m officially “unemployed,” a fact that from outside might appear certain to evoke depression or negativity in this “depression” era.  But almost every other day, when i need them, my noticings shift the energy into a place of ease, self-forgiveness and clarity.  I see why i have feelings i don’t understand, like utter impatience with my children or high anxiety about small issues.  And i see what i need to do next – and next after that.

Actions out of clarity bring more clarity.  And more ease…usually.  But there’s always a time again for more noticings.  Like now…

  • I notice that i’m dehydrated after eating too many salt and vinegar chips;
  • I notice that it’s time for me to be in bed;
  • I notice that i’ve been successful at sleeping earlier since my coaching four years ago;
  • I notice that i want to finish this post;
  • I notice that i’m impatient to finish this whole blog;
  • When will this site backup finish anyway?
  • And so on…

Blessings on your own noticings.