Lives are an overwhelming gift. A gift so large with so many options and such potential that the joy can be so much so that it results in becoming a depressant.
As a middle-class, educated, Westerner, I spend much of my time musing over my purpose, my talents, my dreams, trying to understand my place in it all. Should I be in Africa fighting for language rights following in the inspirational footsteps of my thesis supervisor? Should I be travelling the world writing anthropological field notes and aiming to submit world-changing papers? Should I be focussing on my current job and develop it into a real career? Worries, I am of course very lucky to consider as worries.
Some people in life order the chicken. They’ll generally get the soup or, in the case that they don’t like the flavor they’ll have another go-to reliably delicious dish. Others try to order the most obscure thing on the menu which may sometime result in sheer disappointment.
Some travel to the same cottage every year, it’s by the beach, the locals are friendly, they get to know their way round. Others hate to return to their previous destinations, combining a fear of losing the magic of their memories of the place accompanied by the frustrated wonder of the new.
Some people know what they want to be, maybe it’s in school, maybe later, but by D-day, they’ve achieved their appropriate formation, they’ve worked on their entrance route and their path is clear. Then there’s the others, I included, who aren’t sure of which path to choose at all. The sign is pointed in an ambiguous direction, we have to pick one, it’s a little dark and we’re not even sure if we can come back to the fork safely to choose the alternative route if things go bad.
This was me in the middle of a forest in Slovenia, alone, with no signal on my phone. So what happened? I sat on a tree stump for a while, fairly panicked. I tried to walk in one direction and came back, I went in another and stayed there for a while, I could here people in the distance in groups going somewhere but I couldn’t see where they were. In the end, when I was pretty sure I was going to become a forest-person, two Polish travellers, approached my path. They spoke English and we walked towards the road together as we laughed at my inability to orientate. We went for pizza and shared travel stories and I was back in my element.
Some of us weren’t given maps, some of us don’t want to order the chicken, or return to the cottage by the beach. The journey may not provide a steady contentment. Along the way, people will come and share pizza and will disappear. Sometimes you’ll be all alone sitting on a tree stump but you’ll have a lot of stories. You’ll have a lot of lines from stress and smiles and sun. Life can be a cannonade of powerful short stories or a great prodigious novel.
It’s not for everyone, to plan their lives, to like what they know and to know what they like. Often, the best things come as a complete surprise, however. So with that in mind, I’ll be leaving mine mostly to luck.