When the final storm approaches, what’s your plan?

The unseasonably early rains fell hard last night, waking me up around 2 am. When I padded quietly out to the pool, the Bermuda grass was dense with dew and seeds were scattered all over the ground. Helluva rainfall. Early, too, for here. April is when the rains officially begin, which most folks around here don’t enjoy much because they’re inconvenient, but they’re a part of life.

Today is my last day here on Mafia Island. I leave tomorrow morning on the small plane that ferries people back and forth to Dar es Salaam. I leave behind new friends, as always, and a plan to return, if I’m fortunate. There’s no guarantee. Thunder on the horizon, for me, is partly an issue of time. What I have left of it, and what I am going to do with that time. For anyone around sixty, that thunder has rolled in a lot closer. You and I would be wise to consider our options, if age or illness or other considerations are factors. When the thunder gets very close to the lightning strike, well.

This morning, Mafia’s thunder has moved out over the ocean. It may or may not return. As the sunrise slowly erases the stars overhead, I consider my last day here, as well as the conversation with the owners of this gorgeous lodge yesterday.

Marco and Francesca, both sea-loving Italians, have been in Africa more than thirty years. They have built a true eco-lodge which caters to adventure divers and those like me who have a tentative toe in the sport. And who also want to see perfectly lovely places that are well out of the way, which have great stories, and deserve to have a future in an increasingly overwhelmed world.

Thunder is on their horizon. The owners are 58, no kids. They have aging parents, whose thunder is far closer. They too are considering what to do. Without a family to whom to leave this lovely gem of a lodge, they wondered what to do with it. They don’t want to sell it, for that would put their life’s work to an abrupt end. They do want to explore options for turning this very special place into a working research center. I heartily agree with that approach.

The upshot of our talk was that I’d pitch their place to a friend who has a world-wide research and social action organization which has a particular interest in the ocean. In many ways, Mafia Island is unique in its healthy reef systems and rich biodiveristy. Having a base of operations here could be ideal for the right research institution, with the bungalows, kitchen, bar and staff already in place. I was sold. I wrote the introductory email last night, copied the secretary and we’ll see. I am beside myself with excitement about the idea and the potential, not only for the lodge, but also the surrounding community, all the people who will eventually benefit from the expansion of the excellent work my friend has been doing all his life. I have promised to chase that down to help find the right people for this place. Someone is bound to say yes eventually.

Last year I rewrote my will, bequeathing whatever I have at death to the above research organization and one other not for profit. Each of us has something to give, whether it’s to kids or grands or an institution, doesn’t matter. Perhaps what’s most important is that what remains on earth, well beyond the point where it serves us, continues to work in a way that we feel happy to support.

These two owners have spent a lifetime developing awareness around animal welfare, for example. Many villagers here dislike dogs, and a while back convinced the local government to shoot any dogs on sight, whether or not that animal happened to be a treasured pet sitting right next to a house.

Francesca, who has been working for years with a vet from the African continent to sterilize and vaccinate the many dogs on the island, was horrified. She was able to get a stay of execution, if you will, for the remaining animals, and has engaged an international agency to help her complete her work with the remaining dog, cat and donkey population the island.

It’s backbreaking work, but it’s a work of love. Francesca, who like me prefers animals to people, worries terribly that once they are gone, the animals will again be subject to summary execution. She’s spent years educating locals on their animals, teaching them to love and respect them and how to take care of their health. This is the very definition of good work. She has reason to want it to continue.

Thunder on the horizon.

Not everyone cares about leaving a legacy, at least one that contributes to the greater good. However, in the deepest part of ourselves, we all want our lives to have mattered in some way in the big picture. We may not need the fame of a Jane Goodall, whose huge new center about chimpanzees is under construction in Arusha.

But each of us has a piece of the human puzzle. Some of us leave no legacy at all, and barely a thumbprint to note our passing. Yet we ache to matter. When we’ve done truly good work, work that improves life in some way for others, it’s natural to want to perpetuate, even guarantee an expansion of that work.

I’m good at connecting people. That’s part of what I do well. I also am a good writer and my books are my children. With any luck they’ll create value long after I’ve stopped munching mangoes somewhere in the world at large.

The thunder is approaching. I can hear the crack of lightning. It’s still distant, but it’s marching my way. Yours too. All of us.

The rains come for all of us eventually. The trick is to do our best to lay the groundwork for those seeds which will leap up long after we are gone, bearing fruit for future generations.