A couple of years ago, my family and I lived in a house on a hill along Jamaica’s North coast, overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Life was idyllic.
We went to the beach 4 or 5 days per week, did yoga on the balcony, and read a lot. I wrote. We ate exotic foods. We met people. Friends visited. We traveled the island.
One morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, I walked outside into the yard to stare at the Caribbean [This never got old]. The birds chirped. Sea breeze smelled divine.
Time is always slow in Jamaica, but that morning time simply crawled.
Stood still in fact.
Then I heard a rustling in the tall grass just beyond our fence followed by the telltale dinging of a bell and bleating of goats.
Goat herders in Jamaica graze their goats anywhere they can – roadsides, empty lots, or in the backcountry.
A moment later, a Rastafarian man walked over the crest of a hill behind his goats. He was shirtless, with a body any North American man would dedicate a lifetime trying to attain. He had dreadlocks to his waist and a machete in his hand.
He looked at me and smiled. I’d seen him around before but we hadn’t spoken yet.
I walked to the edge of the fence to ask how he was doing. “Mi deh yah,” he responded slowly in Jamaican Patois.
Luckily I knew a few key Patois phrases by this time.
“Mi” means “I”. “Deh” means “here.” The verb “to be” or “am” is implied in this statement. “Yah,” is an affirmation.
In other words, “I’m here.”
I asked him how he was and he said, “I’m here.”
This might not seem very groundbreaking, but I’ll remember it to my dying breath.
Some moments are sticky. You can recall them in your mind’s eye with exacting detail.
Have you had this experience? This kind of memory is different than normal memories, which are fuzzy. Most memories only leave a fuzzy impression. Never mind the billions of moments that don’t elicit a memory at all.
A “splice of reality” is vivid. Smells, sights, sounds, and the feeling of the moment all come rushing back. That’s how the, “Mi deh yah,” moment was for me.
Why does this type of moments leave such an impression? I think these ‘splices of reality’ are stories worth telling, and I think we’re allowed to apply our own meaning to these moments.
We’re always allowed to interpret stories however we want, so long as it’s loyal to the event. A single event will have many different interpretations.
“Mi deh yah,” is the Patois equivalent, “I’m fine,” in North American English.
It’s throwaway small talk.
But to me it expressed something uniquely Jamaican. There is a special moment-by-moment awareness in many Jamaicans – especially many Jamaicans.
I’m not idealizing Jamaican culture. There is much wrong with it, as there is much wrong with my own culture. But this ‘simply being’ in the moment is one of the good parts.
My goat-herding friend’s modus operandi was slower and in many ways more conscientious than my own ever-striving North American way.
Being here now is a gift, and to me this man’s three little words embodied presence, a rare quality in my busy North American life.
I reflected on the encounter for many days after and I still think about it from time to time.
His message left a lasting impact on me, and this is what I want you to understand about yourself whenever you share a message.
Truth comes in the simplest form. Don’t be too fancy in your writing. Convey simple messages. If people have to think too hard to grasp it, the message won’t stick and it’s likely too complex.
As a philosophy graduate I always struggle with this, because in academia needless complication is rewarded. I remember finishing my essays, only to realize they were pages short. So, I would go back in and write a bunch of bullshit to fill my quota.
Nobody reads academic bullshit unless it’s their job.
I think this simple message, “Mi deh yah,” can help you. Because I know you’re probably a striving North American, and I bet you’ve lost some of your presence. I bet you don’t often take a moment to realize that ordinary moment-by-moment awareness is pretty special.
Our friend the Rastaman knew this, and I want you to know this. So I’m sharing this message with you.
Speak Your Truth
A few months after we left Jamaica, Robyn was talking to her dad on the phone [it was his house where I encountered the goat herding Rastaman].
He told Robyn that my friend died. He came down with a mysterious illness and two days later was gone.
There are many things I could say about this, but just like all stories I’m going to choose the meaning to this story that I believe is best.
His death is sad, of course, but this man impacted me.
And he did it with a message — an incredibly simple message.
Now I’ve shared it with you. If you and I both do something with this message it means he passed along his message in a meaningful way.
People will take your message as it best suits them. This man didn’t think he was saying anything special. I read the message in the way I thought best.
But if he was agitated and not present, I bet his simple message wouldn’t have resonated with me. He spoke his truth. It rang true to me, and that’s ultimately why I’ll never forget it.
This article was adapted from a short ebook I wrote. You can get the whole thing here.
Read more of my articles here:
Hey! I’m Zander, and I’ve ghostwritten more than 20 books for major publishing houses and self-publishers. I’m also editor-in-chief of the ManTalks blog. When I’m not writing I help entrepreneurs understand, own, and tell their story through a process I call a “story extraction.”
I also help them get writing through my Creative Life Coaching. I believe the world turns on powerful, raw, and true stories. Book a call with me [or email me at email@example.com] to uncover your own story and to get writing now.