I remember when Wendell Berry first told me to “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
I was in Nairobi, Kenya at the time. It was mid-December 2013, and I had just received news that clashes had broken out in the capital city of South Sudan. There were rumors of an attempted coup d’état, and Juba had essentially shut down. The airport closed and my South Sudanese colleagues would not be joining us in Kenya for a lovely Christmas holiday on the island of Lamu.
At that point, I had been living and working in South Sudan for just over a year. I had just gotten somewhat of a handle on the work I was doing. I had started to make some friends and was making myself at home in Juba. Sitting in a room at the Mennonite Guesthouse in Nairobi, alone, I had only an inkling of how, in an instant, things had changed.
From the moment I found out, all I could do was wait, and listen. I watched as news poured in online about the developing situation. I reached out to friends still in the country and clung to any responses I got from them. I cried alone in another room I had been moved to, since I had to stay at the guesthouse longer than expected. I answered concerned questions from friends and family back home. I told them yes, I was safe, as I also felt angry at them for only expressing concern for me.
The only other thing I could think to do was pray, and ask others to pray, which I did. Then I received a video from an old friend with an atheist guy talking about how when you encourage people to pray, you’re encouraging them to speak to an imaginary friend.
Then another friend I had made, who was living in Kenya at the time, shared a poem by Wendell Berry on her blog. The poem was “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” which is packed with beauty and wisdom:
“So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.”
“Ask the questions that have no answers.”
“Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.”
“BE JOYFUL THOUGH YOU HAVE CONSIDERED ALL THE FACTS.”
“Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.”
There is so much more in the poem, but I highlighted a few lines that resonated with me. I certainly recommend reading it in its entirety. At the time, when I first read the poem, the line that says, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts” grabbed me. And even if Wendell Berry was another imaginary friend, I was grateful for the advice.
But I was also like, WHAT?! What do you mean be joyful, Wendell? Do you know what the facts are?
Facts: South Sudan appeared to be at war, after only 2.5 years as a new country, and after having separated from the north because of decades-long violence, oppression and war. People were being murdered based on what tribe they belonged to. People were being murdered, period. Everything the country had been working towards was now being destroyed. Millions of people were scared for their lives. People were fleeing. And this was just in South Sudan, Wendell.
I figured Wendell probably knew. He seemed to have lived a long enough life and the stuff he wrote about made me think he was aware of life in all its complexity. I decided to take his advice and did the best thing I could think of in my situation: I took myself on safari for Christmas. Even though I didn’t quite understand what the hell Wendell was talking about, I made up my mind to be intentional about being joyful though I had considered all the facts.
It’s easy to be joyful on safari. Maybe I’ll write about all the animals and landscapes and sunsets and dung beetles another time. But being joyful on safari while I knew what was happening in South Sudan was tricky. I’m still grappling with the complexities.