"To live is to be marked. To live is to be changed, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know."
Going to Africa never interested me and I had never stopped to consider why this was true.
It had always been easy to know why traveling to Japan or Europe were essential. I'm an artist and my creative and spiritual sources reside in Buddhist temples in Kamakura and the museums and streets of Paris and Rome. Even Corfu and Athens made more sense because of the literary and philosophical connections I have with those places.
But Africa felt at most like an obligation, never a desire until, driving with my friend Alan between Rhinecliff and Woodstock in Upstate New York through winter snows, he suggested that we go. At that moment I knew I was ready to make the trip.
It may have been related to the fact that, in the long aftermath of a painful divorce, transitions had become a priority. Most likely I'll never really understand why Africa was suddenly a place I was ready to experience. But I do know that, once he suggested it events in my life seemed to constellate around that decision. I had been to Spain and France the summer before but finding the money and time were easy to do somehow.
But the real preamble to the trip took place in front of the apple bin in Whole Foods in Berkeley six weeks before I was scheduled to leave. A sensual woman with striking blue eyes stopped me to ask if I was Chris Johnson. "Yes" I admitted and we chatted idly for a few minutes before she went away and I continued looking for sugar to feed my hummingbirds. A few minutes later this same woman walked up to me suddenly, handed me a pink index card with her phone number on it and said that she wanted to ask me out. After four years of being essentially alone I found myself in a love relationship that became a key part of what was to unfold.
In all too short a time, she and I were making plans to marry and I paid her way to New York, the first leg of my trip, so she could spend a last few hours with her grandmother who was dying. Then I flew to Paris and she, back to Oakland where she shortly began remodeling my house as we made plans by phone across the distance between us. The fact that we would be apart for more time than we had been together did not seem strange or worrisome. We were in love and all things were possible.
As soon as I got home the relationship began to fall apart in the sad confusion of really discovering who we were with each other. It's over now and she's gone, but I can honestly say that I've learned more from this whole episode, about myself and the true nature of a spiritual practice than any other phase in my life.
The journals are the result of another wonderful conicidence. Just before leaving New York I met a friend from California who showed me his amazing folding keyboard that I could attach to my tiny Palm Pilot. I rushed to buy one just before leaving for Europe and this made it possible for me to enter text and send email messages from wherever I happened to be on my trip. What follows are the messages I sent home from Africa.