A year seemed like a good chunk of time. A chunky chunk. One not to be looked over like six months. Skinny, wishful ‘six months,’ who talked a lot, but who nobody really took seriously.
Well it was only 11 months really. But it was a faraway place and that was the most important part of it all.
In a world where everything seemed to me it had been done before. You could barely conjure an idea without some smug pair of lips babbling how they spent a year doing that very ludicrous thing when they were 22 and had left a long-term relationship.
“While I was living in Nicaragua I was taken in by a one legged healer and his wife. We ate nothing but tomalis and I didn’t check my Facebook for months, that’s right months, at a time. It was a really hard time in my life, and it’s changed me for the better.”
Oh shut it.
It seemed to me at times I had been born too late. We knew it all, we’d tried it all. We had investigated the magic of everything so thoroughly that we had scientifically gotten to the bottom of it. And that is the indisputable best way to kill magic.
Burke and Wills had had the life. Underprepared, unguided; setting into the great unknown to die with urine in their bellies and lips blistered into bubbles like the fine, lifting skin of a dead lizard, swollen under the Australian sun.
Enshrined forever in the glorious doom of the true adventurer.
Now you had to go to more and more extremes to touch foot on virgin trails. You had to buy a motorbike and drive backwards through continents on one wheel, or sell your house on Ebay and move to places nobody had heard of.
Once I read somewhere, “you don’t have to move to India to find yourself.”
I tried to live by this for a little while. Tried to look inside myself, straight through the freckled skin of my chest, past the throbbing little veins that shot blood throughout me, deeper than the clockwork physical, to focus my eyes to persistent green slits and stare into the existential soul of myself.
But in the end it didn’t work, and I decided that maybe I did have to move to India. Only the rapes in India made me cry, and instead of the spiritual heart of that country and stunning landscapes, I thought only of hurt women holding their knees. And my childhood longing to visit evaporated. Poof. Into the Queensland sky.
I decided on Colombia instead, the second friendliest country I had visited.
But I was not a fool. I knew this move alone wouldn’t quiet the mind that whirred at night, a million miles an hour like a plastic windmill stuck in a chain-mail fence. Spinning in glinting pinks and silvers, all that energy expended, yet going nowhere.
I had to do something, I had to challenge myself. With a language, with a culture, with new work and foods and people. But I also had to allow for internal mechanics to loosen, to reform, to rust and take on a new beauty.
I had figured out, finally, a small truth. And it had only taken me 27 years.
It was helped along, as always, by the words of Mary Oliver.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
I had only to let my energy unfold. Slow as a green fern unfurling. Gentle and fresh and probing. Or bold as a buffalo calf kicking its way free of the birth sack, and into the arid, dangerous world of the African plains.
I had only to let it be. My will was strong, but my harmony needed the room to move, the chance to stretch out, test itself and perch, balanced, at its rightful equilibrium.
Part letting it be. Part letting conscious decisions guide your trajectory.
Existentialism: “A philosophical theory or approach that emphasises the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.”
I recall many summers, gazing out my classroom window, stuck to the little brown chair with sweat, watching magpies pull grubs from their safe places on the lawn.
It was so hot the air seemed to buzz, a languid drawl against my 12-year-old ear drums. I tried to focus through the audio-haze on my teacher’s voice.
“Who can tell me why the Aborigines didn’t want the new settlers to build houses in Australia?”
Ha. What a can of worms that one was.
The clearest thought I remember, however – because it has never truly gone away – is: “There’s got to be more to life than this.”
Even at that young age I was not wholly satisfied with the options being served before me.
That thought roars loud as as a Harley through the channels of my brain. I think of it as I brush my teeth, run on the road, check my emails, dive deep under water, wash the dishes.
We get up, live our lives for a day and then sleep, only to do it all over again.
When we are young we have wild and wonderful variations of this, but ultimately for most people, it is too difficult to maintain a life against the grain. All that swimming upstream is exhausting. And we eventually succumb to a doldrum existence.
This is not the case for everybody. And finding those sorts of people is the inspiration that can change your own life. Through inspiring you to change it yourself.
Today I finally watched the second Australian Story (ABC – excellent program) on Aussie Tara Winkler. Do yourself a favour and view the link.
This woman, aged just 22 at the time, pulled 14 kids from an abusive and corrupt orphanage and set up a better one for them. She then realised orphanages weren’t the answer and embarked on an over-abitious project to turn her efforts into an NGO instead, that places kids with families and puts on programs from karate to schooling.
And she pulled it off.
She didn’t just complete a token ‘kid rescue’ to save 14 children and stop there. She looked at the systemic failings of childcare in the country and tackled the problem with vision.
As I watched her story I cried and laughed at several points. I have always had a big heart and in recent years grown increasingly frustrated by not knowing what to do with my pent up will to help, desire to use my brain, do work I love and find something ‘more to life than this.’
Over the last year I’ve felt a pull towards the NGO sector. I love journalism, but I want my years on this spinning ball of rock to mean something at the end of it all. For me journalism is fulfilling, vitally important for a fair and open society and hard, brain stimulating work.
But there is a part of me that hasn’t been allowed to stretch its legs.
As I sat at my computer in Mooloolaba, on one of the Sunshine Coast’s lifeless, overcast days, I was struck like a gong by a long-overdue realisation of what I wanted to do with my life. Mostly epiphanies sneak up on you and hit you full in the face to announce their presence.
Tara’s story made me proud of a stranger, meditate on the beauty of romance in whatever form it comes, remember that we all have strength and should blaze ahead with our plans regardless of the doubters, who will never risk or achieve anything grand.
I took a photo of my puffy, red face to use as motivation in years to come if my mission got tough.
I made a list of the skills I possessed at that exact point in time.
1) Good at talking to people and engaging them to share their story with me.
2) Resourceful. Can enter most places with or without consent of security. Possibility to apply this in professional/legal capacity.
3) Good with kids.
4) Horses trust me.
5) Fast, efficient writer.
6) Good creative writer.
7) Good at having ideas. Not so good on follow through. Working on it.
8) Handy with a camera and video camera.
9) Excellent at finding hidden corners of cities.
10) Good networker. Good at deciphering jargon. Good at rewriting jargon to normal speak.
11) Good at cheering people up. Highly empathetic.
12) Good at climbing.
It was a mixed bag. I felt with these as my specialties I could live a fulfilling life, without crusting over.
Spurned on by a desire to make up for lost time, I applied for two positions with NGOs. One in Cambodia, one in Colombia.
I felt this life clarity was a little late, but better late than never.
The miserable day looked down on me miserably. So much for my planned swim today.
While I was thinking of all the exciting options that lay before me, and the mountain of work it would take to get to where I wanted to be, I was aware of one thing.
I would have to look at this not as some phase, but as a way of life. A way of looking at life. If I had a bambino in Colombia while helping set up a domestic violence education program it would be no big deal. My kid would grow up speaking Spanish and English and we’d swim in the water together and watch whales play during their breeding season.
If I didn’t achieve the lofty journalism heights I had planned by 30 I would just have to relax and accept that life works out, partially through your actions as the liver and partially through circumstances out of your control.
I felt I had gained something and let go of something all in one morning. It was mentally refreshing and spiritually uplifting. It reminded me life was good.
I felt like I’d just taken the mental component of who I was through the car wash, to emerge a little better, and ready to wear another ten thousand bugs to the windscreen.
I returned to my Spanish study, frequently pausing the CD to decipher the curly and confusing language that the tutor demanded from me.
The horizon looked challenging, but it looked really good too.