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?
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.
The morning after is always an interesting one. It feels like Christmas morning when I was child. You get up full of adrenaline and excitement at the prospect of finding something wonderful and unexpected to remind you that you are loved and understood; you jump off the bed with just one urgent thought in mind: What’s under the tree? Yes, I admit it. What others think about me is of vital importance to me; what others think about me as a writer, that is. As with any craft and its master, I live to discover how my writing is received and interpreted by others; how it makes them feel; what emotions stirs within and thought processes it triggers, and consequently what changes in attitude or behaviour it brings about, if any. Does my writing act as a mirror to others inciting identification and change, or as the mirror they run a mile from, because the honesty it echoes is too raw, too vivid to handle?
The only Christmas present I long to find under my tree is simply a parcel. It does not matter to me whether that parcel contains coal, the rejection or criticism of my thoughts, my writing style or gold dust and precious jewels in the form of adulation and praise. It is the symbolic act of placing a parcel under my tree that fills my soul with a sense of purpose and achievement. It confirms for me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and that, is like manna in the desert in a world where with every news piece, the sense of our sacred, untouchable habitats spiraling out of control is becoming more and more undeniable; and our souls subsequently dying by slow drought, the one and only verifiable experts’ prognosis.
A parcel under my tree tells me irrefutably that another human soul made the conscious effort, the choice, which today is no insignificant feat seeing as everyone has something to say, to visit my blog, click on the link and open the door to my life, to my soul, to the secrets hidden in the depths and the crevices of my innermost being, bubbling up incessantly at the epicentre of my soul.
That beautifully humble, empathetic, understated parcel under my tree whose gift within I am still unaware of, is for me the gift itself. I don’t need to know or care much for what’s inside. The parcel itself is the best of gifts a writer could ever hope for; it’s a moment of magical, supernatural ignition between, more often than not, two strangers whose souls have connected in an invisible dimension, even though they are ignorant of each other’s past, present and future. The fusion between the two minds is of such magnitude at that prolonged instant when the words were written by one and soon after read by the other, that it forces the two human beings like two stars thousands of miles apart in outer space, to make a meteoric journey in order to acknowledge, reach out to each other. They cannot see each other and yet at that very moment of contact, despite the emotional distance of two lives so apart, they clearly see, hear and understand what lies deep beneath their facades.
These rare moments of human love being unconditionally, freely exchanged are beautiful, extraordinary things, in a day and age of tribalism and so much hatred for anything that falls outside the perimeters of what makes up our own identity. It is bordering the supernatural in today’s existence to encounter those elusive moments of inexplicable connection, empathy and in essence exchanges of human love, where there is no need to establish who is right or wrong, who knows more than the other, who is better than the other. They are simply put instants of unconditional, divinely inspired love which act as the miraculous cure to the wounds of a very sick world.
Yesterday, I wrote an extract of what one day could turn into a novel. Every now and then I like to test the waters, feel the temperature, and see who is out there, if anyone. My comfort zone in terms of writing is philosophical reflections, personal ramblings. My writing does not get the exposure that I would like. I am not digitally competent, and so this humble blog is at present my only creative outlet competing with millions of voices out there which like mine, are desperate to be heard or at least seen.
I have attempted writing a brief chapter of an imaginary work of fiction before, but the response or lack of it is always equally devastating. Whilst my reflective posts get on occasion considerable notice within my small circle of influence, the fictional attempts painfully bounce back in my creative echo chamber. And what is most painful to the soul than finding a present under the tree that tells one that the giver put no thought or consideration when choosing it; that they gave us the gift out of a sense of obligation or in return for a gift we gave them? What’s more painful than a meaningless, thoughtless gift? Well, the most gut-wrenchingly aching moment, so much more than finding the wrong gift under the tree, is for me the total absence of parcels under that tree.
No parcels equates indifference and indifference is to the writer like the invisible virus that gains ground and devours the creative soul of joy and hope one ephemeral day at a time.
I am genuinely intrigued as to why so many identify me as a writer and give me such wonderful feedback with regards to what I write on my reflective posts, and yet even though it is that same soul and spirit that is behind the fictional pieces; even though it is that same human being with whom they had an extraordinary connection, a sense of oneness, no moment of magical fusion, of mutual recognition and acceptance takes place as a result of my fictional pieces. It baffles me.
I would gladly receive at this stage a parcel that contains a gift I don’t like. A bad gift is better than no gift. It shows at least that your creation caused some kind of reaction. The silence, however, I cannot process or comprehend. I am still the same writing voice. It is still the same spirit behind the reflective and the fictional posts, so if I am the same, everything points to the fact that at least some of those magical moments of connection that trigger a new parcel being left under my tree were disingenuous, forced, or simply given with ulterior motive. It is at that moment that I come face to face with the stark realisation that perhaps the absence of parcels under my tree is in the long run better for me as a writer.
I am all about authenticity. Anything and anyone that falls outside of that realm is like a thorn in my flesh, like a stone in my sandals that slows me down on the all important quest of getting to the place where I get to find out who I am and what I am here for. Like a prophet who has heard God’s voice and has been given a promise that will surely come to pass, I blindly and unwaveringly trust and believe that the day will come when the most cherished of gifts will be left under my tree, because it will be the one gift that has been exclusively designed to delight me, to encourage me, to let me know that the giver not only saw me through my writing but saw also the promise of everything I am destined to be and capable of becoming and overcoming.
Her ship had sailed once again. “Lord, why do I keep doing this to myself? When will you give me enough courage?”, she desperately asked out loud. The walls of her house so downcast, so worn with always hearing the same lament echoing through them. Verity stood on that achingly familiar imaginary dock as she sat round the kitchen table, gazing at the intensely alluring horizon with a choking lump on her throat at the crucifying realisation that for the hundredth time she had come in touching distance of embarking on the trip of a lifetime to her promised Shangri-La. Once again, however, she had also boycotted her own free pass to a new life; a new birth; a fresh journey of discovery through which there would be for the very first time in ages, no baggage, no plans or expectations, neither resentment nor unforgiveness, no limits, just a glimmer of hope with every sunset; a nugget of opportunity to soar with every breath taken in aided by the sea breeze. She had once again subconsciously but without fail, aligned every detail of her life in such a way that yes, she would allow herself to play the game of abiding by the fire of longing, like a moth round a flame, but always with the paralyzing certainty that this ‘Odyssey of Freedom’ game she had invented, would, as it always did, come to a sore end, and that she would lose and she would lose big.
She had already resigned herself years ago to be denied a life free of duty and expectation; a life that exponentially gains momentum when not lived just for others, owed to others, shaped by others. She had given up on that a long time ago. What really buried her soul like a ton of granite and wilted it one depth further at a time; what truly permanently anchored her feet, was the painful admission that there was nothing and no one really standing in her way to entering the God-inspired life she felt so inexplicably drawn to. The only thing stopping Verity from living her unique and undeniable truth was simply herself, her paralising fear and inexcusable lack of courage.
Like an addiction, she repeatedly enjoyed embarking on that imaginary trip of the what ifs and the maybes, pushing the boundaries of acceptable possibilities and controlled risks; reaching her ecstasy but always knowing that no matter how far she pushed, how far she ventured out, when the hybrid game of fusing day dreaming and reality came to its end, she would always find herself firmly stood on that dock, defeated, ashamed, frustrated, but at least loved and validated by those whose own illusory Shangri-La depended on Verity never truly taking that final step forward from the punishing dock toward the unequaled promised land of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. A land which she had convinced herself was only destined for the truly great.
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.