She sat there feeling defeated, sipping her coffee whilst listening to Massimo Viazzo’s ‘River Flows in you’. The irony of the title of that piece, she thought, her mind filled with visions of a life that flowed like a river: weightless, spontaneous, vibrant, free. Her spirit, however, laid so arid, almost inert gasping for droplets of hope that would then merge and cause her existence to effortlessly flow into a vast sea of yet unopened doors and passageways she felt inexplicably drawn to. By the age of 20, Esperanza had already travelled to USA, UK, Australia, and most of Europe. What happened to me? she thought. At what point in my life did I begin to regress; did I allow my hopes to be rudely replaced by all my fears?
Tears running down her face, sobbing, unable to hold it all in any longer. Maybe ‘Cry me a river’ would have been more apt, she laughed begrudgingly, maybe the purpose of all these tears is to empty out til there is nothing left. Maybe then and only then, she consoled herself, I will experience an epiphany provoked by the avalanche of the mountain of all my tears drowning out my sorrows, and the impact will be of such magnitude that it will force me to finally metamorphose into the butterfly that laid dormant all these years. Hope by name, Hope by nature. Hope was undeniably all she had left.
The problem was that when hope visited, it never came into Esperanza’s consciousness alone. She always arrived holding a mixed bag of responsibilities, a good conscience, a sense of loyalty and all the other laudable attributes we admire on others but know fully well stop us from living the life we really feel we were born to live. What an impossible mix of emotions she had been dealt. How does one live knowing they are sacrificing their dream for a peaceful conscience, when it is that very dream that helps us push on, take another step, breathe life and positivity into those under our care? How does one ingest a poisoned chalice being fully aware that the very act of salvation is irrevocably and simultaneously mired in condemnation?
The conundrum of whether life is an act of selflessness or selfishness kept her awake at night and riddled with anxiety in the day. Her mind told her one thing but oh how her robust beating heart told her quite another. She knew complete peace and stillness would only come when she breathed her final breath. And yet there was far too much joie de vivre in her to surrender into her fate just yet. This agonising battle of what’s right and what is meant was ironically the fuel that fired her soul; a quest for the hidden treasure she was determined to fulfill til she found an answer; even if it turned out it wasn’t the answer she had hoped for all along. Taking on that unthinkable gamble is what gave meaning and purpose to her life but it was also what was killing her restless spirit one bellicose day at a time.
It always throws me out of kilter how we live life with such breathless intensity, with such a sense of self-importance. We strain and strive to seek purpose and we convince ourselves that we are the movers and the shakers, that the entire world will cease to be, should we stop to actually take a deep breath and savour the act of simply being alive. And yet, at a moment’s notice all that relevance, meaning and feeling that we are right where we are meant to be, comes crumbling down, is pulverised when we learn about the passing of another or their terminally ill diagnosis.
I had such news about an old friend this morning, and quite frankly, I am shocked to the core. I mean, I am a fairly positive, driven person who is industrious and eager to make life better for those around me, those dependant on me, and at various stages of my life also for strangers in need. My life makes complete sense. I am on a journey, and I am increasingly aware that to every beginning there is an inherently tragic end, but nothing prepares you for the sense of weightlessness, irrelevance even, that the news of someone’s sudden, unexpected death inundates us with.
Humans are desperately born into an existential dilemma; and unsolvable equation: in order for our lives to be maximised, to garner the utmost sense and purpose, common sense forces us to become selfish, self-absorbed, limited in our sight. We choose a lane in our journey, and we stick with it, because we know a race is only truly won if we focus primarily on what is around us, if we persevere to the end. And yet, living that way equates to applying a tight blindfold on ourselves. We enter a period of denial about our rightful place in the universe, about our irrelevance when confronted with the bigger picture. Is it safe or even ethical to live any other way, though? Can we truly live if we are permanently aware and reminded of our own finiteness? Wouldn’t that be the same nonsensical behaviour as barricading our own exceedingly small window of opportunity to live in the moment, to savour every breath, every experience enjoyed or hoped for? When I heard the news of our friend who has had a severe brain bleed and whose prognosis, if he comes round, is to live the rest of his life in a vegetative state, my sense of self just went up in smoke. What is this absurd game called life that we put every fibre of our being into taking part in and winning, if that elusive higher power can just arbitrarily and abruptly throw us out of the game? What is the point of even playing if our odds overwhelmingly point to losing before we get to the end that we strived and hoped for? Numb in my kitchen in my family’s presence, time stopped, and I felt as if I were standing in front of a mirror, but I could see nothing. No before, no now, no tomorrow. Nothing, just a fleeting shadow embodying a gradually intangible lifetime. What is the point of it all if after all the striving, the worry, the suffering, the fear, we can just seamlessly go from being the masters of our universe to the dust in someone else’s journey?
I cannot believe it has been six months since I last wrote on my blog. It is funny, a couple of weeks ago I found myself having an etymological discussion with my four siblings about the origins and meaning of the word ‘procrastinate’. If only I had explained to them my absolute inability to summon my elusive writing muses to my desk, they would have understood the procrastinate notion perfectly well. No, we are not a family of nerds who choose lexical dilemmas as our favourite ‘catch up’ subject. We simply like to keep our WhatsApp group-chat fresh, jovial, and didactic. Otherwise, we all end up yoked by the all-consuming worry of a father battling and losing to Alzheimer’s and a mother whose precious last years are being devoured by the sense of sacred loyalty vowed to a man whom she no longer recognises and inevitably resents.
I suppose writing is like running. The more you challenge yourself, the better you get at it. Ironically too, the better you get at it, the bigger the pressure you feel to regularly oil the engines so as not to lose momentum, productivity, and quality of work. Sometimes that pressure to keep up with your own self can be so asphyxiating; it can create such a sense of dread of failure, that it is easier to just stop so as to avoid any disappointment.
Who am I trying to kid, right? We all know the real reason any writer worth his/her salt puts off writing, is because we are painfully aware that with every word, every admission, every nuance, another secret door opens onto our complex and wretched soul, and who voluntarily stands naked in public up close and personal for all to stare, scrutinise, judge or worse still, be indifferent to? You would have to be mad, wouldn’t you? Specially in this day and age where humanity takes much more pleasure in destroying, savaging, and breaking apart rather than building up, encouraging, and edifying others.
Writing when done properly, authentically, unreservedly is indeed a tremendous act of courage. And who willingly chooses to tread where the brave dare not go?
Here I am on the luminous island of Menorca about to enter into the final straight of my fifty first year, and what a year it has been. Despite the Covid pandemic starting halfway through it and turning all our worlds upside down, shaking all our priorities to the core, and bringing so many of us down to our knees, this past twelve months have been for me one of the best years of my life in so many respects.
Professionally, I have not gained more knowledge or experience, but our business has had its best year yet, which is rather miraculous in itself, bearing in mind there have been months during which businesses we work with were practically closed; work on various building sites slowed right down; huge delays and insufferable uncertainty were the norm rather than the exception, and due to the widespread lock-down measures and fear of contagion and possible death, we all took stock of what was truly important and suddenly empathy and philanthropy took the place of sales figures, competitiveness and profit. Perhaps there is a lesson of cosmic justice and karma in there somewhere. I would like to think so.
Perhaps the lesson to be learnt was for some learnt too late though. My husband is an addict. He is addicted to his work. He gets high on it; cannot live without it and finds his self-worth and identity mainly within it. And yet, as with any drug, there is a lurking, permanent, pounding hooded claw that slowly but surely gets hold of you and will not let go until the very thing we sacrifice so much for quietly leads us to a certain death. Last Christmas we came to our house in Menorca for what we thought would be 10 days. Covid had a very different idea and soon after our arrival, the situation changed and our flight back to UK got cancelled. At that point we decided that seeing as the number of cases in Menorca was miniscule compared to the UK where pandemonium was ensuing, it would be utterly senseless to not ease into what was initially an adverse circumstance and turn it into a blessing. And so, we decided to stay on a few weeks longer. Unfortunately, by the end of January my husband who continued to have his daily fix of insatiably getting new orders and sniffing out potential future ones, suffered a minor stroke that left him completely numb on the right-hand side of his body.
He is now almost fully recovered. He still has some numbness and pins and needles on part of his right-hand side but again, all in all, it was a miraculous miss, for it could have been the end right there and then. I refuse to take away from that experience the pain, the shock and the after shock of such a dramatic episode and instead, I choose to marvel at the abounding providence that somehow saved him from the dark tunnel at the end of which so many claim to be blinded by the light.
On a more personal level, I am truly easing into my older years. I truly am. The nervous energy of my youth that filled me with so much fear and anxiety is turning into acceptance and a laissez-faire attitude. I do not fret so much. I am not consumed by negative thoughts so much. I am learning to accept that I am just another microscopic grain of sand the sun magnanimously shines on one day and the wind heartlessly blows away another. None of it is about me, none of it. Acknowledging that has given me so much spiritual and emotional freedom. I no longer walk with a massive rucksack filled with the whys, how’s and what ifs on my shoulders. If there is a plus to our doomed fate is the fact that each day that goes by and you see the end approaching that much closer, you learn to live with just the essentials and to discard the clutter, the things and people who selfishly fill another rucksack that may drag you down and prevent you from truly living.
Slowly but surely moving forward in the race against time has also thrown a kind of epiphany my way. Whilst the end is certain, we have a say, to a point, in how the journey evolves. Our bodies truly are our temples, and we can, again to a point, control how healthy or how efficiently they work and for how long. Although riddled with body image anxiety for most of my life, I have been extremely lucky to always be thin without any amount of effort. It is just the way I am wired. However, as we all know, being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy. My interactions on twitter have been on the whole a massive source of a confidence boost regarding my appearance, and that alone has motivated me to try and maintain that shape for a few more years yet. When you are young and your body is in its plenitude, we do not need to do much to remain healthy or strong, but once we are on the other side of 40, subtle signs of ageing begin to nudge and wake us up to the fact that although we may have felt invincible at one point, every meteor does eventually fall and burn. That tragic end is what makes the journey across the universe so incredibly meaningful and desperately urgent at the same time. And yet, the only way to draw meaning out of each passing day is to wind ourselves down to a speed that allows us to see it all, hear it all, feel it all, smell it all and taste it all with every fibre of our being. Sadly, not many get to find in their lifetime that elusive magic button that takes them from sixth to first gear or by the time they do, the chance to truly savour the journey has already passed.
I loved running when I was growing up. I was incredibly fast. The boys my age used to get frustrated that I could outrun them, and being so withdrawn because of my body and shyness complexes, that gave me a great advantage and a confidence boost that at least I had something I was better at than most. As the years passed, doing well academically became my number one priority and I put my all into my studies. Sport or any kind of fitness took a very back seat. Suddenly, at 51 all the emotional baggage is beginning to fall off and I feel so much freer and lighter. Freer enough to take up running again, even though I have not done any kind of running for the last 35 years. It is truly lamentable how we put so many limits on ourselves. We get to a point when we stop believing, dreaming, trying. It is incredibly invigorating not so much to be able to run and be in better shape than many women 20 years younger than myself, but to prove to oneself that the sky really is the limit when it comes to overcoming, and that the biggest factor that stops us shining and leaving a blazing trail as we journey through time is simply ourselves.
It is excruciatingly painful to try and feel inspired to write these days. People tell me I am a positive person, but most do not realise that although I am instinctively so, the negative voice in my head never lets up. For every positive thought that my brain labours to produce, the hooded claw bounces it back with a double whammy of negativity, smashing any hope of gaining ground; of turning a mediocre day into a day fully lived.
The truth is COVID-19 has revealed for many of us an uncomfortable truth: what are we without a purpose? Who are we if not clogs in the economy machine? What is the point of us if not to keep producing, to keep consuming insatiably? Nothing seems to make sense unless we are rushed off our feet working, striving, competing, gaining, comparing ourselves to the next person. On the one hand, COVID-19 is giving us enough time to ponder on the fact that many of us are not truly sure of who we are when you take away our social circles, our jobs, our sustenance, our communities, our freedoms. The hours go slowly and uncomfortably as we have too much time to think and realise that maybe half our life has already been wasted busying ourselves with busyness but not really living, not really being, not really participating in the miracle that our life and life all around us is. On the other hand, we agonize as news of thousands of deaths is hitting us daily; we struggle to comprehend the gargantuan effort it takes for so many to simply keep on living, prospering, growing and yet, the strife, the battle can be snatched out of our hands unexpectedly with one swift final breath, in one achingly solitary instant. What was it all for? Did we really live or was it life itself that went in and through us?
This last year has also acted as a filtering process which has set apart those who like to swim with the current and those who have enough discernment and courage to think for themselves and act accordingly. As a result, so has increased the number of people who appoint themselves as judge and jury; often individuals who lack the initiative, the bravery, and the curiosity to stand up and challenge the status quo. Instead, they sit in judgement of those who do, because it is easier to detract the attention from their own ignorance, cowardice and fear and focus it instead on those who break from the herd and follow their own path at all cost. Much has been discussed about ‘Herd Immunity’. Perhaps the real point of contention here should be ‘Herd Emancipation’.
A few years back my family and I were holidaying in St. Vincent, the Caribbean. A huge storm hit our beach resort which was located in a valley by a river leading to the sea. As the sea surged, the riverbanks overflowed and within a short period of time our resort was almost completely flooded. The resort management instructed everyone to head to the emergency meeting point which happened to be one of the restaurants on the edge of the resort right by the beach, not that much higher up than the rest of the resort. At that point, I suggested to my husband that the sensible thing to do was to go higher up. We discussed it as a family and in that instant, we knew our lives were at risk and keeping with the ‘herd’, obeying instruction was not an option for us.
We sought higher ground and managed to climb various floors within the concrete block of flats where the resort staff lived. From the balcony of the flat where one of the members of staff lived who kindly let us in, we watched in shock and horror as rain continued to pour, the river began to burst its banks, and the beach was rapidly being taken over by the sea. Hours later, a member of the management team came looking for us as we were the only residents of the resort unaccounted for. They took us down to the restaurant and we had a very mixed welcome. Some showed joy and relief when they saw us. They were kind and found us chairs and a blanket to sleep on. Not surprisingly, in stark contrast there were those who frowned and gave us hateful looks for daring to challenge authority and act based on our own judgement. We were being punished for having the audacity to think for ourselves. And so goes the human race.
Whilst we regret enormously having caused concern and worry to those who came looking for us, we will never regret having made that decision in such extreme life-threatening circumstances. As morning came, we saw the devastation caused by the storm and learnt that people had died that night right there in our resort. The restaurant where everyone was gathered was ok, but it could have been very different. They were just incredibly lucky. They could have all been swept away so easily, had the surge been any greater or the storm lasted longer.
That night I went to sleep with a clear conscience. As a parent I took the decision to challenge authority and follow my own judgement and gut instinct to protect myself and my family. If anyone wants to judge us for doing that, it is on them, not me. I would do exactly the same now with hindsight, if a similar situation ever presents itself again. I will do what I have to do to protect myself and those entrusted to me as best as I know how, even if that means breaking from the herd, going against ‘the rules’.
This global pandemic is also pushing people to their limits in more ways than one and it is revealing people’s true character or lack of. Will you be the person that sits in judgement of others’ choices and right to choose or will you be the individual who extends a blanket and tells you they are so glad that you are still alive? I know whom I would rather be and whom I would rather have by my side.
Listening to the velvety tones of Diana Krall’s suggestive voice is most certainly the tonic I need today to rescue me from the mundanity of family life.
Covid seems to be gathering strength for round two of contagion and devastation, at least in Europe, and because of it, we are all battening down the hatches, regrouping and stocking up for what is promising to be a very interesting or rather challenging Autumn and Winter.
Despite governments trying their best efforts to reassure the population about the measures in place to prevent the chaos that ensued the first time round, there is a real sense in the air of the despair that comes when you realise you are about to fall into a deep hole. No one really knows what is coming, but everyone agrees that the next few months are going to be incredibly difficult.
New rules of social distancing, new curfews in bars and pubs, new limits about who you can meet up with, where and when. The prospect of having to wait endlessly for medical appointments, the loneliness, the anxiety about businesses closing down for good, but above all, the fear and suspicion abounding wherever you go; the restlessness and gloominess that is depleting the air we breathe from oxygen, and turning it instead into a poisonous dread that will get to us even if Covid doesn’t.
It is so damn easy to get caught up in all this darkness. I am not perfect. God no. I am as wretched as the next person, but the Leo spirit definitely bursts out alive within me every time adversity swallows me up like sand does water. Like a lioness, I instinctively put on my invisible armour and I fight; I fight to the death whatever is coming against me. I sometimes surprise myself about some of the ways in which I have coped with some very challenging circumstances; how I have fought to give the best I can to those whom I love when they themselves have come under attack, scrutiny or discrimination of any kind.
I feel we are about to enter one of those big black clouds of adversity. I am all geared up for the fight. I am standing at the gate doing my watch night and day waiting for that enemy to approach. I remain fully aware however that the biggest enemy I will ever have to face and have already faced on many occasions is despair, fear, negativity. There are many ways one could define life but right now for me life is that overrated journey everyone keeps raving about but most forget to mention about the amount of unimaginable shit that you have to face along the way.
All that said, it is down to each of us how we navigate those turbulent waters, and turbulent they will become more often than we care to endure. So as for me and my house, we will sail through it with perspective, taking one day at a time, not focusing on the unknowns of the future or becoming bitter for the resentments of our past. We will live in the moment, glad that we are alive for as long as we are.
Well, that and for me personally, a big dose of soul-builders like Diana Krall and heart warmers like this delicious glass of Tempranillo Tinto I am having with my dinner tonight.
If you are reading this, I send you my warmest wishes for the part of the journey we are all about to embark on. From the greatest adversity births and flourishes the most beautiful refinement that makes us shine and stand out; that makes us be of good use and support to someone else. Here’s to us all embracing what is yet to come; here’s to us all looking out for that one person nobody sees who needs protecting, encouraging or helping along the way.
As a side note, my 19-year-old just stepped into the kitchen as I am writing this and asked what I was doing. I told him I am writing on my blog. He asked what about. So I told him the gist of it to which he replied: ‘God mum, you sound like Winston Churchill’. I’ll take it!
Spending all this time in the idyllic island of Menorca is really helping me to recognise things about myself which I choose to ignore when I am back at home in the UK, as I am constantly caught up in the frenzy of what is next to be ticked off on my ‘Must do’ list. It is undeniable that this little floating piece of land in the Mediterranean is a precious gem, with its turquoise secret coves, its magnificent sunsets and starry skies, its dramatic storms and fierce winds, its quietude and palpable spirituality; its glorious seafood and the laissez faire attitude of its amiable and accommodating people. I love coming here. I have travelled extensively to very beautiful, awe inspiring places over the years, but I do not feel the same sense of renewal and self-discovery anywhere else as I do whilst I am here.
It is that holiday feel, you may think, but the reality is that I am not really on holiday. We have an office in our house here and we work as hard as we do in the UK. There is no getting away from it when you have your own business. You never really switch off. What is different is that here my soul, my spirit is able to disconnect from the Self much more easily. What I mean by that is that I am one of those people who is constantly battling that negative voice in our head that makes us feel guilty and fearful about everything that is out of our control. It is exhausting; it depletes me of energy, and it robs me of joy every single day. And yet, the moment I set foot on this island, I literally feel like a heavy layer falls off me. When I am at home in England, I am dragging an invisible chain of self-doubt and fear. The very instant I land in Menorca the chains break loose and I get to feel and see not who I am but who I am meant to be. I guess one could call it a near religious experience. It’s addictive, life-affirming, healing and redemptive. It is the epiphany this world needs to experience on a daily basis to rid us from all the external agents we become dependent on to bring us relief from pain and anxiety; agents that like wolves in sheeps clothing bring temporary respite but drive us to a permanent whirlwind of misery and despair.
There is so much unspoilt beauty on this island, so much positive energy. Every sense is empowered, enhanced reminding us with every instant of our beating heart and the fluttering pulse of blood flowing through our veins, that life is not the dark mental labyrinth we get lost in, but every reality we have been gifted with to perceive with our senses when we shut our minds. The taste of the salty sea stinging my lips, the silky warm feel of the water on my skin, the deep colours of the flowers, the metallic glistening of the waters, the blessed miracle of such succulent food on my plate; the feel of the far away Saharan sand brought across with the storms which is a constant reminder that, despite vast distances and expanses, land, sea and life are all desperately connected and interdependent. The delightful scent of ripening fruits becomes a meal in itself; the overpowering presence of fresh rain evaporating no sooner it heats the ground, the incredible moisture in the air alerting us with every breath to how precious water truly is; to how we choose to forget at our own peril that we are the water that we breathe; the sensual perfume of tourists walking past enjoying those fleeting moments of lightness as if walking on endless clouds of freedom before they have to return to their golden cages. The commanding sounds of different sea birds telling us that this island belongs to them, contrasted by the sound of silence, makes me feel connected to whatever is out there, to the universe; to humankind; to what has been before and even what is yet to come. I feel anchored, safe, looked after, rooted and above all guided by forces that run far beyond anything we could ever hope or dare to imagine. As I gorge on all those wonders, Master Fear ebbs away until I feel blessedly weightless.
When I am here, I get to clearly see how truly fearful I am. Little me sat in our terrace on a starry night looking up to that infinitely populated firmament is the quick fix I need when that negative voice begins to whisper in my ear. One quick glance upwards and I forget myself as I see thousands of sparkly lights signalling back at me that it is going to be OK; that everything is already taken care of whether I fret or not; whether I do more or less; whether I beat myself up or not. Thousands of luminous otherworldly stares filling me with awe and the echoes of the supernatural, the beyond, the unknown, telling me to stop wrestling needlessly and to start enjoying the undecipherable and extraordinary gift that life is.
My heart is so full tonight! On the one hand it aches with guilt at the thought of so many exceptionally selfless, brave and committed individuals who are giving their all to keep us all alive, fed, and content. I am at home looking after the ones I have been entrusted with. Yes, I will be the first one to complain that it is no easy task to always think of other’s needs before one’s own, but my kindness is being extended to those closest to me whom I love and care so much about. It is quite a different challenge to give your all to complete strangers, specially when circumstances dictate that those close to you will in turn go without. Saving the lives of complete strangers; seeing to their every need whilst being torn away from those whose needs you feel compelled to meet even before they feel the need themselves. Such is a mother’s nurturing instinct and double-edged all-consuming gift.
Yet, even though the guilt tugs at my heart like a yoke round a cow’s neck, I feel my heart is bursting at the moment with the sheer joy of being alive one day at a time. They say we cannot see the light without the darkness; we cannot know good unless there is evil or joy unless there is sadness. Such is the ugliness, the horror, the chaos, the inferno that is burning in most hospitals and nursing homes around the country, I feel like as the fire intensifies, so have my senses been re-tuned and enhanced. The bigger the hooded claw reveals itself to the world, the more uplifted I feel by the supernatural around me. As the darkness around us has grown, so has the light within me.
The colours of the flowers in my garden are so much deeper and pure. Their hypnotic scent impregnates the whole of my being and lifts me into a kind of Eden where there is no pain or hurt, no death or loss, no fear, just hope and exhilaration at the thought of taking in another breath of treasured, infinitely sought-after air.
The birds are evermore present and synchronised, and I am treated to a new symphony of sheer acoustic delight and perfection every evening, as I catch the last rays of the incandescent zenith that proudly stares intently at me throughout the day, jealous, capricious, resenting its isolation; longing to be down here enjoying with me the myriad of inexplicable equations of nature that makes for a heaven and a hell simultaneously coexisting in perfect harmony.
Even the Poplars just the other side of my garden, which always stand so haughty and aloof, have thrown caution to the wind and dare to waltz in my presence, reminding me with their soothing sway that I will once again be at one with the ocean. The ocean, like me, toils tirelessly back and forth under the guise of freedom. And yet, its repetitive motion in the confines of habit reveals a soul that is enslaved and far too entrenched in its own familiar rhythm to ever brave the unknown.
‘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.