I have been struggling lately trying to find topics I could write about that I find engaging or inspiring. I have to feel passionate about the subject of my writing or else how can I possibly reach out to anyone reading my words? After all, whilst writing is for me primarily an escape valve for pain, frustrations and hopes, I also write because I have always felt this innate need to connect with other people on a much deeper level; to feel a ‘spiritual’ bond with like-minded individuals whose journey of discovery resonates with mine. Sharing how we truly feel and opening ourselves up to debate and being mighty challenged in our deeply rooted principles is the best way to avoid blind spots or prevent oneself from falling into tunnel vision. Truth and revelation is what I seek, not ego-stroking or adulation.
So this morning I was looking at some quotes and this quote by William Shakespeare really caught my attention. ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty’. A whole life could be summed up in those words. At a first glance, it would seem like a very tempting epitaph that looks impressive, but does not tell us much about a specific person, and yet on close inspection, the implications and consequences of a life lived with honesty with others and specially with ourselves, are infinite and forever transformative.
I often feel purposeless these days. Middle-aged woman whose two children have or are soon flying the nest. A job I fell into by life’s funny twists and turns, which far from fulfills me, but helps realize another person’s dream and in turn allows us to support other people’s dreams who are not as fortunate and privileged as we are. A love for writing that cannot be materialised because in order to do it justice and give it its best chance, I would have to drop everything and live solely for myself, neglecting the needs and hopes of those around me. Some people are able to do that, but as much as I would like to be that ruthless, I simply can’t do it. It is not how I am wired, and what is the point of pursuing the dream, if in doing so your dream becomes a nightmare because you are consumed with the guilt of having trampled upon all you have built up to that point; in doing so you trample upon the dreams and hopes of those who have been entrusted to you? I believe in the power of bringing life into this world, but I also firmly believe that with that miracle comes a huge responsibility that never goes away, should never go away. It blows my mind to think that a part of us lives on forever through those who come after us. If you are a parent, you will know what I am talking about; how there is so much of ourselves in our children that when we die, our soul truly goes on, our spirit lives on in the legacy we have left with every example, lesson, instruction, caution, warning, encouragement, wisdom, every single word we ever uttered to our children, but not just to them, to every other human being we ever came into contact with. Every single action we take or do not take, every word we say or don’t say, affects the outcome of a much bigger reality.
It does make me feel really down at times to think that I spent the first half of my life veering towards a goal, the exploration and perfecting of a passion, a gift, a calling, and the other half neglecting that innermost need and revelation of who I am supposed to be. And yet, a quote like this reminds me that we don’t live alone in this world. Life is not about me, myself and I as much as society, trends and culture today try to convince us that we are. We are inexplicably but undeniably connected to each other, generations past, present and yet to come. Humanity is a mind-boggling concept that can only be comprehended when we see it as an atomic force that only has meaning when seen as the sum of each and every single part, not when we consider each individual and their legacy in isolation. Each person’s legacy is achieved thanks to the example, knowledge and sacrifice of someone else. None of us act alone in this world, not really. We have a debt of gratitude to ‘what’ brought us into being, we have a duty I feel to honour that.
Perhaps my egotistic desire to realise my hopes and dreams was misplaced all along. Perhaps that constant feeling of frustration for hopes deferred is not due to my soul feeling incomplete because I have not reached my purpose, but rather friction in my life continues because I am not willing to accept that indeed the richest legacy I can leave behind is honesty: truly looking within and accepting that despite my dreams of a grandiose materialised potential, be it professionally, as a member of society, a lover, a friend, the simple but painful truth lies in accepting I am just another human being whose significance and value lies simply in passing on to my children the very heavy baton of understanding that we never travel alone, and we therefore, whether we like it or not, have a responsibility not just to ourselves but each other to fulfill our purpose, yes, but never forgetting that the choices we make exponentially condition the choices of others, and that we can afford such choices only because others before us were honest and humble enough to accept that a chain only has unbreakable, limitless power when every link remains deeply interlinked to another.
I can only make sense of humanity as a collective whose parts are of equal value, share equal dignity and potential. It is painful accepting that I am not the protagonist of my own story, but when were truth and honesty that palatable? People often talk about not wanting to have any regrets when they come to the end of their life. Well, I believe every single human being will have some regret at the end, because none of us have it all figured out when we start or even half way through this journey, so inevitably we will come to the end still doubting some of our choices, wishing we made others. Given that premise that we all die with some regrets, I don’t want to look back on my life and only see a Narcissus staring at its own reflection on the water, being so caught up in its own radiance that she misses out on the bigger picture, the bigger purpose and meaning of it all, whatever that is.
‘Comfortable being afraid’ is something I read this morning on https://after-the-rain.org/ and it truly struck a chord deep in my psyche. I can totally relate to that notion! Years ago, a bunch of women including myself who were members of the same church, went on a ‘Ladies Weekend Away’. It was ‘advertised’ as a team-building weekend full of physical and emotional challenges designed to push us beyond our own limitations; to overcome our deepest fears; to build courage and trust. Blinded by years of indoctrination, I swallowed the bait and marched on so proud of myself for putting myself in ‘the line of fire’. I have in my later years grown very afraid of heights, and one of the very first activities we were faced with that weekend was abseiling off a very high bridge above a river. This was it. This was the one: my demon. I let others go first in the hope of watching how they went about leaping over the side of the bridge and beginning their descend. My turn came and even before starting, I was already struggling to breathe; shaking beyond control. Everybody else who had completed the task cheered me on, as did those waiting to have a turn. I put one leg over the side of the bridge, then the other and held on for dear life not daring to look down. The instructor started giving me a pep talk to build me up so I would finally start my descend, but I already knew I was not going to do it.
With every second perched on that bridge ledge came a new wave of suffocating dread. I was utterly paralysed mentally and physically. Couldn’t bring myself to move either way, even though I was already trying to get back on the safe side of the bridge. I burst into tears. I guess it was the huge release I needed to bring me back to myself; I was totally inconsolable once I stepped back into safety. I don’t remember ever crying like that before. Afterwards, I felt dead inside, numb.
As I stood there beaten, ashamed, watching others march on without any fear towards what had been for me a horrific ordeal, I heard one of the ladies ask a question to the vicar’s wife, who happened to have organised this weekend away and had been to this same Activities Centre previously and was therefore well rehearsed in all the activities and confident in her ability to ‘conquer her fears ( didn’t have any)’. I heard this lady ask the vicar’s wife: What happened to Mercedes? Did she do it?, and the vicar’s wife replied with great pride and a shockingly disgusting lack of Christian spirit and empathy: ‘No she didn’t, she chickened out‘.
I don’t know what broke me more int that instant: the realisation that I was always going to have certain fears which I would never overcome, or knowing that so many in the ‘Evangelical Squad’ can be so profoundly clueless as to use an opportunity like this to exalt themselves (not the God they preach to others about), ridicule another person, and further beat them when they are already down.
It took me a while longer to abandon the church system for good, but I know it was in that very instant that I realised the God I believe in was not to be found around those who claim to have all the answers; those who claim to have been called to leadership of any kind; those who proclaim one thing but do quite another. I realised God’s Spirit (and I use that term loosely because I accept that it means very different things to different people) lives within me and it is that voice and that alone I need to heed to and trust.
I also learnt at that very moment a huge lesson about fear. I am not to be ashamed of being scared of doing the things that others can or want to do; ashamed of letting fear stop me from taking on certain new challenges. Who is to say the challenges that are right for you must also be right for me? I do hope, however, that I never lose the ability to be paralysed when tempted to trample down on another human being in their moment of greatest weakness in order to make myself look grandiose to everyone else; to validate my self-perceived greatness. I hope that for every person I encounter in my life who is struggling in any way, I don’t use their weakness as a chance for point-scoring, but rather as an opportunity to lift them up, offer them comfort and a shoulder to lean on; to cry on.
Our biggest fear shouldn’t be not being able to do certain things; to miss certain opportunities; to fail at certain things. Our biggest fear should be becoming so caught up in our own sense of advancement, righteousness and knowledge that we forget we are just human beings not Gods. Is it really courage that makes us overcome our greatest fears or is it pride that makes us think of ourselves higher than we ought to; pride that gives us the determination to beat our own limits, because we cannot bring ourselves to accept that we are after all limited beings?
There is a reason why we experience fear. We are imperfect beings without all the answers. We are lost creatures in the midst of a vast unknown. Being fearless means losing sight of that awareness and dangerously inflating, stroking our egos; it means we forget ourselves and set ourselves above others whom we no longer see as equals but as the rivals we need to beat in order to protect our own and others’ notion of our superiority.
I am very comfortable these days being afraid. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble. I take risks and chances like everybody else, and of course sometimes I make mistakes, but I remain rooted in the awareness of my many limitations, and when I do attempt new scary things, I always try not to trample on others in my pursuit for self development, self-fulfillment, self-discovery.