July 10, 2011July 10th, 2011 at 10:57 pm by Deanna Dewberry under Deanna's Journey
I spent a couple of hours sitting by the pool making a hat out of palm fronds. It was the highlight of my week in Jamaica. My instructor was Randolph, a Jamaican whose age I couldn’t possibly fathom. After a lifetime spent in the sun, his skin was the color of dark chocolate, wrinkled and leathery. His fingers were thin, heavily calloused and the nail of the thumb of his right hand was filed to a point. He used it as a tool to help thread the thick fronds into a beautiful lattice pattern.
There were a dozen of us standing around him – our fronds in hand – trying, often in vain, to replicate the work it had taken him a lifetime to perfect. We were all from western, industrialized countries – Canada, England, the U.S. And we were pummelling him with impatient questions. I sat next to him, studying his hands, not his face, when I asked, “Could you take a look at mine? I don’t think I’m doing it right.”
He was holding another vacationer’s hat in his hands when he told me quietly, “Just a minute. When you rush, it does not turn out as nice as we would like. Rushing makes me nervous.”
“Oh come on Randolph,” I said teasing him. “We don’t make you nervous, do we?”
“A little bit, yeah man,” he answered without smiling.
That was the first time I looked at his face – really looked at him. His eyes were dark and soulful. I wondered what those eyes had seen. The whites were yellowed and deep wrinkles created crevices from the corners of his nose to his mouth. He was concentrating as he worked, squinting at the heavy fronds in his calloused fingers with the intensity and care of a surgeon navigating the brain of an unconscious patient.
I smiled at him. “You make it look easy, Randolph.”
“It’s not easy, though. I spent years getting it right,” he answered.
And it’s then that I felt shame wash over me like warm waters of the Caribbean Sea over rocks along the shore. My shoulders had been tense with impatience. I had really wanted to finish this friggin’ hat. I’d been working on the darn thing for more than an hour, and I just wanted to go do something else. After all, to a bunch of westerners accustomed to rushing around in our self-important tasks, an hour creating a hat out of leaves felt like forever.
But for Randolph, this wasn’t just a craft for the entertainment vacationing tourists. This was his profession, his livelihood, and he took great pride in his ability to “get it right.” He was providing a necessity for anyone who spent time in the Caribbean sun, and he took pride in the quality of his work.
And that’s when I exhaled. For the first time in eight months, I exhaled. It’s funny. You don’t know that you’re tense until you’re not. Since my breast cancer diagnosis in November, I’ve been a walking, talking, ball of tension. I continue to anchor and report the news, take my kid to his activities, volunteer, teach children’s church, go to chemo, doctor’s appointments, tests, surgery - all the while I’m so tense I can’t sleep at the end of the day.
But finally, I exhaled. I felt my shoulders relax and my neck stop aching as I slumped against the back of the chair and watched Randolph work. He gave me a sideways glance and smiled wryly. It was as though he knew the worry was seeping out of my ears at that very moment.
Every cancer patient should escape to a beach, or a pond - a place of peace at the end of treatment. This trip was a gift. I did a lot while I was in Jamaica – climbed Dunn’s River Falls, rode an inner-tube down a rainforest river, swam in a lagoon where microorganisms light up the water. But no experience was more valuable than sitting poolside with Randolph.
He taught me the value in slowing down, tackling one task at a time, and telling the rest of the world to just wait. He taught me that a job done well is a job worthwhile, and worth should not be determined by a western standard that values a job only by the zeroes in a paycheck. He taught me that respect for oneself and one’s work is the greatest reward. He taught me to just relax.
And I got a great hat.
And so it is. God made Jamaica. God is good.