I Am An African

I am an African;
An ivory- keys- melody sending Nkosi Sikeleli from my heart to the galaxy
And the galaxy smiles when I play. It says,
I love the sound of home in your chest, dear Africa.
Under the stars I am stripped of pigment.
I am whatever colours they shine onto me and they shine them all.
Awed,
We fall in-love.
I with those gaseous fireballs and they with
White, african me.
Dear humanity:
Being white does not make me un-african.
I was born on the furthest tip of Africa’s tongue and I rolled from her lips
A secret.
Like so many baby-tooth-truths before me,
My arrival was whispered.
Because laced with this undertone of pink
Is the justification behind
The eviction that you have assigned to my race.
Tell me, dear sister, robed
In ebony:
When you ask for my name and say
That the letters taste foreign
What reaction do you expect from me?
You’ve asked me to rehearse
to rehearse
to rehearse and caress
The letters that outline you
Because they are sacred,
Because they carry your identity like a precious commodity
Because they are the first
Syl-la-bles
In this anthem of camaraderie
-the same anthem that lulls our children to peaceful sleep-,
But you seem to have forgotten your side of that lullaby.
Lullaby
Leaves my lips,
Aiming straight for your ears,
But something in the historically gun-smoked air between us
Distorts the rhythm of my words and
War-cry
Crash-lands
Into
Your ear-
Drums.
No wonder they beat so furiously.
I know that you are angry
You have a right to be, but me telling you that
Is like holding a book and telling the pages:
you have a right to be bound.
I hear your story.
Do you hear mine?
My pages have a right to be bound too.

I am an African.
My veins are laced with animal spoor,
Backed by this drumbeat-heart beating in time
With the elephant serenade of yet another marula-framed sunset.
Tell me that my skin is too pale to capture such brilliance
And I will ask you,
What artist has not started with a still paler canvas?
Artwork me is pleased with the palette that I was painted in,
Is in-love with the way that the sun tints my skin,
Is no less awed by artwork you,
Is soothed by the feel of  wind dancing in strands of my hair.
In fact, my hair is an african masterpiece;
Not quite the colour of chocolate or gold,
But some less idealised in-between.
Like the freshly unearthed riches that birthed the streets of Egoli,
I belong here.
I can feel it in the way my toes find home
In the same stones that once littered the dragon-backed Burg.
I can smell it every time my airways flood with childhood memories
From taking a breath in the veld.
I can taste it in Black Boy’s poetic rendition of mama’s cooking,
Like the way to liberation has only ever been through a heart-warming meal.
Black Boy Be onto something.
I can see it in the shades of feet that greet the stage,
Like poetry is the lung through which honesty breathes
And honesty breathes heavily
-Airways choked with ink-
Because there was never meant to be enough ink for what Africa has to say,
But we write for her anyway
And hope that the poetry, more than the pain,
Sticks.

I am an African
And I love my Africa.
Africa is a big place,
You say and you’re right, it is.
But I am a wordsmith too, so you’ll find
My Africa is a place where there are 11 official ways to say,
Welcome to Africa, white girl.

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WELCOME

Dear reader,

Welcome to the interior of my mind. It’s an odd place, but the designer was feeling somewhat experimental when He put it all together so, for your own safety throughout the tour, please attentively read through the following guidelines:

The tour will feel a bit like walking down a corridor with rooms on either side, each with its own uniquely designed door. Some doors will be open and waiting for you, others will be closed, but unlocked for you to open (or not to open) yourself. Others (these are the disclaimed ones) will be a bit stuck.

> The open doors:
These are what most people come here to see. They are easy to navigate because, as you will find once you enter these rooms, they are usually singularly focused. Poetry dominates in terms of furnishing, but the individual items can be just about anything. When you enter these rooms, please make yourself at home! As an example of rooms in this category, look out for Sonnet 01; The city and the stars and A beautiful reaction.

> The unlocked doors:
This is where the corridor starts winding a bit. These rooms are less about the comfort of the guests and more about sharing the personal journey of the mind you find yourself walking through. Less standardised than the previous set of rooms, when you enter, you will find that each room has it’s own character: One may be an exhibition of  how to tame water, while another might be in a constant state of refurbishing. In short, these rooms are all themed, but that is where their shared characteristics end. If you came to see these, please look for the doors labeled, Breathe, girl, breathe; Gros bisous and China: The initial experience.

> The stuck doors:
This is interesting, because it comes two-fold: Though visitors are often timid in trying to shoulder-nudge-open these doors, they hold the foundation of this entire mental abode. Each of these rooms is a sort of factory-of thought. Here is where heavy introspection lurks, the kind of introspection needed to fuel the building of planks and blocks that line these walls and carry your feet. A lot of what you see inside, may be a developing thought, or a thought no-longer relevant, but kept with all the respect of a relic. If you came here for deep, we will direct you towards such rooms as Soldier on; Beasts I’ve known; What I wish she had said instead and Shiver.

DISCLAIMER: If you feel dizzy or confused, let me know by leaving your comments at the door of whichever room is responsible as you leave. Note: some rooms may feel like they do not actually have any solid floor or walls, but rather have the feel of a mist drifting in and out of focus. Don’t panic, I said this was an odd place after all.

Enjoy the tour!

 

-Motsplash

China: The initial experience.

I’ve been in China for two months now and the months are mixed in the lessons that they have brought, the reactions they prompted and the reasons I remember them, but they are all bricks on this path I’m walking to the other side of being able to say “hey, I lived in China when I was 22!” Because I have a lot to say, I’ve set-up the structure here, so you can skip to what you’re actually interested in reading about:

-Part 1: The 4 phases of culture shock.
-Part 2: The people I’ve met and work with.
-Part 3: Learning to speak and eat Chinese.
-Part 4: Poetry things.
-Part 5: Is God in China?

This post is more focused on my personal experiences here, but I’m aiming for the next posts to be more focused on China as a place. I hope you enjoy!

 

The four phases of culture shock:

1] The honeymoon phase. To be honest, I think I may have skipped this phase completely. I never came to China with stars in my eyes, but rather with a mission; to learn Chinese and do my career a favour. While those are wise choices, I have had to actively look for things to love about this place – they’re here, just not so easy to find- and for a while the feeling of leaving my heart behind was close to overwhelming.

2] The negotiation phase. Ahh, yes. I know this place well. This is home to that part inside of me that just loves to be angry and moan and get frustrated at everyone and everything. That little monster had a field day with me, everyday, for as long as I was willing to feed it. It’s really difficult being somebody who talks as much as I do and having people look at me blankly and say shi ma?- what? When I’m just trying to order a bottle of water.. or coffee (don’t get me started on how difficult that can be). In short, I stepped off the plane and was almost instantly annoyed with the people, the culture, the language, the place. For a while I kept asking myself “what possessed you to come here?”.

3] The acceptance phase. This happened gradually and with the help of my bible (more on that later). I started counting my blessings. For instance, my apartment; it’s so, so nice. I still can’t believe how blessed I am to call that place home. I prayed that I wouldn’t be stuck living in some cement block surrounded by cement everything. I live in one of the nicest parts of Linping- there is a small lake across the street, attached to a magnificent park which has a newly opened tea garden nesting in its heart -where I happened to stumble just at the right time to meet the right lady to invite me to try some of China’s more traditional teas and styles of drinking them. Suddenly I saw the light; China is filled with kind, patient, caring people. Slowly I started to look around and (occasionally) I liked what I saw.

4] The mastery phase. Aaaand here I am (most of the time). These last two months have been a ride and a half, but this place is so beautiful in many ways and I’m excited for this adventure that I have embarked on! I don’t know what’s coming or where I’ll have been in a week from now, But I’ve shifted my goals somewhat: I am here to learn the language and explore the country. I know where the pandas are, I know where the tigers are, I even know about the stone gardens in Kunming and the mountain range that inspired the director of Avatar to design that world as he did. All that’s left is to grab a bag and go!

 

The people I’ve met and work with:

In general, my experience of Chinese people has been that they are very kind as a nation. One of my first experiences here involved sitting in the park during my first week in China, ambitiously trying to count to 10 in Mandarin, when an elderly man walked up to me, smiled and helped me with my pronunciation for each word. Eventually he said a phrase to me in Mandarin which I repeated. He sad it a second time, more slowly and, assuming I had not pronounced it correctly the first time, I repeated it a second time, just as slowly. After a few more back and forths with this one phrase, he decided to write it in my book. I smiled and nodded at him in thanks. He smiled, and went on his way. Interested to find out what my new sentence meant, I asked a colleague at work, who laughed and then wrote out the translation. The sentence that I’d kept repeating was this: Ni shi na li de? which translates to “where are you from?” ahhhh the embarrassment! In my mind’s eye I went back to some of the expressions that had touched that old man’s face and now I see that a lot of it was patience gently folded between some lines of confusion. However, it was just one of the many ways I’ve become accustomed to as being “the way” to learn language; try, fail, get up, laugh, try again and (usually) fail again, but this time a little wiser in doing so.
I’ve met all sorts of people, especially in the context of poetry: I’ve become involved in a group here called the Hangzhou Writers Association International. This has been a ball of light for me on the days where China feels like a dark and lonely place. There are 4 South Africans (myself included) at the school where I work – It seems that while China spreads across the globe, South Africa is slowly infiltrating China- The people I work with here are pretty cool and as much as I’m not the office-job type, I enjoy the dynamic in our staff room. I’ve especially grown to love a small handful of fellow teachers and I’ll share one experience with them that I think I’ll always look back on with a smile:
Summer course was finally over. 6 weeks of non-stop work. 1 day off a week for six weeks of up to 13 hour working days had drained us all, but we held our cool with swagger. The achievement ceremony (AC) was over, we had presented our classes to the parents and done our ridiculous dance for their entertainment (as if taking all our sleep for the purpose of readying their children’s performances was not enough to appease their desire for a show. Nay, we too had to don a hula outfit and pretend to enjoy swaying our exhausted selves from side- to- side). Now came the time for a celebratory nap- or so I thought. Sneakily, a few eager souls decided to book a room for one of the most popular Chinese past-time activities; KTV. I found myself swept up by the conspirators and an hour later, six of us were in a smallish room furnished with a couch, two tables, 3 suspicious-looking microphones and two television screens. In-case you haven’t already guessed: KTV stands for Karaoke Television. Yup, I found myself enjoying a cool cider in a Karaoke suite and it didn’t take much before we were all singing our hearts out and dancing to the likes of Despacito, Thriller, and random Chinese hits. One of my favourite moments of the evening was when one of the possy, a Chinese colleague who speaks almost perfectly accentuated English and looks a bit like Elvis, belted out every word to Billy Joel’s Piano man. If our lives had depended on his passion for the lyrics, we would all have been saved.
We go on team building events with the other EF schools in Hangzhou (there are 8 of us in total) and my first one was heaps of fun! We were told that we were going rafting in a valley two hours away, but in typical Chinese fashion; this was only a fraction of the truth (the click-bait). I didn’t mind, because although rafting only took an hour of our day, I thoroughly enjoyed the hiking and zip-lining that preceded it. First, we did the hike, which took us past a small temple where people pay to bow down with a couple sticks of incense. The temple was “guarded” by a huge tortoise on the one side, and a giant bell on the other. Moving past the temple we found ourselves at a waterfall, where we were told not to swim, but the more we pushed that boundary, the more we were cheered on by the same people who had prohibited it! By we I’m referring to myself and two other lads who struggled with the idea of not going for a mid-hike swim in the heat that seems to permanently blanket China. Next we took a convenient slide down the part of the mountain we’d just hiked up (China is all about convenience), and climbed a good few steps to the top of the zip-lining hills. Something that my rafting-partner pointed out was how angular Chinese mountains are and how they stand out from mountain ranges around the globe. The zip-lining viewpoint was a great place to observe this phenomenon; It was beautiful. The zip-line was over quickly and then we headed to the rafting, which was a tonne of fun (and slightly painful), but also full of natural beauty (I should point out that this trip was the first time I saw clean natural water in China).
These have just been some of the highlights which keep me going and wanting to explore this very interesting country.

 

Learning to speak and eat Chinese:

I’ve hired a tutor that I go to see every two weeks in a café on the Yuquan campus of Zhejiang University. This has been a healthy something for me to spend time on in-between working and being stuck at home (because moving to China is very expensive and it takes some time to catch up with the cash you’ve lost). I think the Chinese language is fascinating! I especially love the characters and am able to have (and write) a basic conversation. This phase of learning a language can go two ways (and it usually tries out both): You’re either in a state of constant frustration and lack-of confidence, especially when it comes to speaking, because you’re so aware of how foreign you sound when trying to community and even when you’re sure you used the right combination of words to order coffee this time people still look at you like you’ve said something ludicrous. The truth is people are usually just shocked that a foreigner is speaking Chinese, or they have picked up on your accent and are trying to filter through your odd way of pronouncing their words. Push through. Tell yourself that daily and progress in your linguistic prowess is soon to follow. I am enjoying the linguistic journey. Some points of interest: In China, people don’t use the commonly known ni hao ma? Like we use how are you? They usually just ask if you’ve had anything to eat!
The food here is good, though I’ve struggled when it comes to cooking for myself. The problem is walking into the shops and not knowing what anything on the shelf is, especially since most things on the shelf in China are not on the shelf back home, so they aren’t visually identifiable either. That being said, food is very cheap here, so it’s not unwise to just buy a meal from a small restaurant every day. Chopsticks are great, I’ve even bought my own set! One of my favourite foodie things here is Jiaozi – dumplings, though they are quite difficult to make (I’ve had a few failed attempts already). Another is flower tea. I love, love, love flower tea! It’s just so delicately balanced in flavour. Mmmmm.

 

Poetry things:

I already mentioned that I’ve gotten involved in a poetry group that’s based in Hangzhou. I’ve also had one of my own poems recorded, I Am an African. It’s cool to be able to carry on with what I love, even if it’s in fulfilling a different role to what I’m used to. http://www.hzwa.wordpress.com is the site you can go to if you’d like to check out what’s happening with all the poetry projects I’m working on. I’ve just become the new web master for their blog and I’m excited for all the potential that it holds! I cannot post my own poem online yet, as it is being entered into a competition that’s based in Minnesota (Button Poetry)and one of the pre-requisites is that it’s an un-published entry, but once it’s out there I’ll make it known to the masses!

 

Is God in China?

This is a question that weighed on me quite heavily before I left South Africa. The answer, of course, is yes, but I think there is more required by the question than just an off-hand yes or no. God has certainly been with me in China and I’m grateful for the peace that knowledge has brought me when I’ve felt on the edge of a deep sadness or panic. I do my bible readings, listen to Christian podcasts and journal my spiritual walk, but when I leave my apartment, my Christian safe-bubble (in a sense), I’m affronted by the intensity of sin around me. There is a trend of drug-taking, casual sex and complacency in the rhythm of life here. How do you walk through a room cramped with dirt and come out clean? Sometimes that’s how it feels and it’s a difficult thing to navigate- especially when that same navigation brings me to a mirror where I can see some of the dirt starting to dust my skin. Then it’s back to my safety bubble where I scrub and pray and it all starts over again. I met another Christian two days ago, but we were parted before having the chance to exchange contact details and there it was again: loneliness. A different kind of loneliness that echoes the verse: “where two or more are gathered in my name…” so I look at the mirror again and wonder if my reflection counts.
Before this gets too depressing I’ll get to the point: I was wrong. Sin may be all over, but that is the nature of people: We are a sinful race, that’s why Jesus came, that’s why He died and that’s where thoughts should turn when the sin in the world feels overwhelming. Frankly one needn’t look at the world, only at the story of his/ her own life to see a tidal-wave of sin, but that’s the thing: Sin is everywhere and God is everywhere too. He is with us in the darkest and lightest places (and all the medium-lit ones). There is a deep hope stirred in with that truth.
So, maybe a more inclusive answer to my headline-question is this: God is far more everywhere than sin and sin is in just about everything. Maybe you don’t like that answer, maybe I won’t like that answer in a month from now, but as it stands that is my full attempt at honesty.
To conclude: I am thankful that my China adventure is becoming a God adventure too. My faith here has grown and deepened, and I am more aware of the importance of my spiritual welfare than I have ever been.

 

That brings me to the end of my first China update. I’ll be back with another in a month or so.
Until then, zàijiàn!

 

Beasts I’ve known

One day, when you are brave enough to dive so deep that darkness becomes part of the landscape, that’s when you will find my fears. They drift about in hopes of colliding into someone or something they are strong enough to digest. Friends, they are almost always strong enough. Love is a catapult shooting soldiers into the darkness, soldiers equipped to hand-grenade fears, but they rarely know where to aim. Aim at me I plead. So few take the challenge, but preciously I guard them, like a heart trying  to protect its sentiments from the mind.

Hate is not the opposite of Love, Fear  is. Hate and Love tend to co-exist like a tree tolerating a vine, but Fear suffocates, it makes Love feel like the enemy, it psychologically dismembers and reassembles a disturbingly low reality of self-worth. Hate explodes, Fear cripples from the inside. Hate is a broken limb, Fear is cancer. Hate is slapping a friend, Fear is never daring to have one. Hate is a relationship, Fear is loneliness. Hate lives, because Love was there first. Fear stops Love from taking its first breath.

It takes courage to overcome Fear, real adrenaline-filling, heart-stopping, breath-hinging courage. I’ve learned to talk them down, but eventually every feeling needs acknowledgement. At some point, I find myself looking at those hungry beasts drifting in the dark.

We know each other well,  I say and throw a Love-grenade.

What I wish she had said instead

 

Baby girl, mama loves you. You are so beautiful. You are so beautiful that sometimes people won’t be able to resist the way that looking at you just makes them feel alive because you remind them of what God can do; You look like hope to the downtrodden, but, baby girl, sometimes people dream in their prison-cell minds of how this world would better suite their death-in-life if there were no better dressed in hope, or beauty, or God. So watch who you let in. There are armies all around you, armed with the kind of smile that strips skin from skin so subtly that it takes a tidal wave of acidic grins before the gravity of what they have taken from you sinks in. That’s why we’re called to arm ourselves in Him. Some days, this world will pull your gaze to something more tangibly lovely, more welcoming than that age-old dance between Grace and Sin. Don’t forget, my love, even then. Don’t forget that the day you were born, Time could be heard as he breathed his last sigh, and then collapsed, satisfied, into you have arrived! That’s why hearts amass in beat-skipping eulogies each time you smile; you have an hourglass laugh filled with every grain shaped since Calvary. Don’t forget how, at the moment of your birth, shorelines across the earth were simultaneously filled with the sounds of rock defying ocean-tides that night, like the waters knew that they were holding to the foot of a miracle. That miracle was you. The first time you cried, your song set the darkness ablaze. The first time I held you, I could feel a heat emanating from the hearth that God set in place of your heart. I knew then that you would be a flame, but flames can sometimes be too fierce for loved ones to linger in so, when they are burnt by you, when your tears induced by what you have done threaten to douse your spirit, I will pray for you. Though I have never seen an angel, I’ll pray that they swarm to you like bees to a bottle-brush tree and when they do, I’ll pray that they make a sanctified honey of you. That way, when you go back to sooth the hearts you have singed, they’ll find themselves stuck on you. And when you completely envelope them, they will know what it means to live in the spirit.

Baby girl, mama loves you, you are so strong. Sometimes, when I talk to God about who you might become about the mistakes you’ll make and if they’ll look like mine, I smile because baby girl, mama knows that he’s got you. Trust me, when I was my mama’s baby girl, when I watched life leave her like the way to heaven was through her eyes and the doors were slowly closing, when her despair was a photograph of the baby girl that should have been sitting beside me, when I watched her do the math; She made three of us, meant to watch three of us grow and throw ourselves at His feet, but He welcomed one of us home one lifetime too soon. Then there were two of us, desperately trying to untie the noose that baby sister baby girl’s absence offered to her neck, when mama left, He never did. And when I shook my arms, trying to sever myself from Him, He filled my arms with you. So, when I think of your life, and of how many mistakes you might make that look like mine, I smile because he’s got me too. Sometimes, He will speak to you in ways that take years to understand, but He will show you, in time, what the whisperings mean. So, though I know that you –like me- will stay up all night trying to dissect dreams, I’ll tell you anyway to let go. Live free, but don’t misconstrue what that means- baby I want you to know Jesus. He is the standard to live by. Guard your heart, like He tells us to, but take risks too. You will never know how far love can stretch if you don’t. Grace means that we get to try again and again so, when you make that mistake, the one that spells not good enough in cracked fragments of mirror, know that God doesn’t give up on us for anything. Darling, don’t you see? You are far more precious to Him than you are to me and to me you are everything. So pick yourself up when life knocks you down, when days taste like failed tests, like scraped knees and no friends, like burning closets and cobwebbed rooms like nobody understands and being all alone with nowhere to go- not even home, like no missed calls after 3 suicide tries, like what’s your name again? with more than a hint of spite, like overdosing on heartbreak and substituting air with numbness, love with fear, joy with pain. Baby girl, pick yourself up, lift those eyes to the hills and try again.

Baby girl, mama loves you, you are so precious. One day, you’ll fall inlove and you’ll get hurt. You’ll discover how heart break has a way of making it hard for you to breathe and all at once you’ll realise the mistake in wishing for someone to take your breath away, but you’ll be okay. Better if you learn to embrace how much heartbreak can re-focus heart things. See, heart strings can make a beautiful sound if only you find a musician who knows how to play. So keep tuning yourself to the Word and he’ll come along with all the right compositions to make that heart of yours sing. At last, baby girl, don’t ever give up on poetry. It’s the lung that kicks in when life knocks the wind from you. You will write about so many things, in some ways poetry will give you courage. In others it will take courage to write that poem. Keep writing. Pens will always be beautiful to you; use them as spades to dig up the ink stuck just beneath the surface of that next blank page. Ask your questions there. Find your answers there. Let poetry be your roadmap to constellations of dreams and let scripture be your compass. Together, they will navigate you away from black holes and solar-flares to a life hand-sculpted by the sculptor of you.

At last, baby girl, know that there isn’t anywhere I would rather be, than here, with you.

 

Singing in the shower is underrated

It’s a big bad world we live in kids, better get your shit together, or you’ll be left in the dust of those that have theirs already wrapped.

Savoury image. Thanks for that…

Baby girl, all you have in the world to depend on is you, so don’t you let anyone in. Build those walls high enough to give China a run for its money, but not so high that they become an attraction -you don’t want to be somebody’s challenge.

I love. I love so openly. I love so openly that even heartbreak feels more like home than never having had a reason to nurse the pain. I will love them all. I will take every beating of fists as a challenge and transpose them to beating of chests.

Don’t live so loud, you’ll draw attention to yourself. 

When I shower, I sing at the top of my lungs -unless a whisper would better suggest the lyrics. When there is music, man oh man, I can’t wait to dance! When the weather turns warm, I sing and dance and play under the sun. When it rains, I splash.

People might stare.

Let them.

They will ostracise you for being too vivacious! Too alive! Too young! Too bold!

I will be vivacious, alive, young and bold still.

They will judge you everywhere! School, home, social circles…

Still.

Even church.

Still.

Still?

Life is unforgiving regardless of whether or not we choose to sing in the shower.
Still.

 

 

Gros bisous

Darling, we are worlds apart but I think you beautiful. My words after the years have allowed us to drift from memory and pain and longing. Still, I will love you. Ton prénom sera dans mon cœur d’aujourd’hui à toujours.  I will trace the ways we’ve watched the stars like late-night conversation constellations and dream of how I used to dream about you. That night I will dream of you again, and wake up to tears that touch my skin as gently as your breath once did. Oh, how I will miss you when I have had my full three-score and ten. knowing that God somehow gave me the strength to do that without you will still give me shivers and I will wonder what your years looked like; if you are glad of how they blossomed. I will wonder what our blossoms would have looked like together. Tell me, love, would our garden have been full as beautiful as you? 

When I am seventy years old, I will not wonder where the years went, or mourn the fast-approaching end of my story. Instead, I will have a library of sentiments to share, I will be a vessel of well-lived- a crumpled poem, worn at the edges. Mon cheri, I will think of you often, with tenderness, but I will be happy and hope that you are too.

I will have written an anthology of poems about you and not all of them will be sad, or tinged  with that bitter hue of what might have been, had you let it. Eventually I will stop trying to blame you for the story we never got to create, or for your leading me to believe that our story had already lived through its infancy. I will have forgiven you then, not in patches of I love you, I hate you, I miss you, don’t touch me, stay with me, leave, come to me, forget us, forget it, forget everything, but fully.

Yes, when I am old I will regard you with all the wisdom and understanding that such a feat as age bestows upon a person. But I am young still and continue to idealise our small handful of kisses as a tragic love-story, though it’s duration was scarcely longer than that of a lone candlestick. There is beauty there, somewhere, and I feel that If I could only dig a little deeper in this poem and a little farther in that, then I will surely find it and have peace. It is a noble task, I think.

Failures and learning to do better.

Today, I look around me. I see good and I see bad. I see friends and I see strangers. I see the fulfilled and I see the destitute. This world that we live in, the world I live in, is filled with bitter-sweet. I’ve been disappointed a lot by various things; missing parents, sibling rivalry, broken bones, broken trust, broken relationships, sweet nothings, failed attempts at charity, bruised ego, etc. The list has no end, really, but what all of these disappointments, in the many facets of my life, have in common is that cheated feeling with which each of them flavours my pain. The words, not good enough, are smeared across my failures and the failures of those around me.

We can do better than this.
Life is about more than just taking what you want, without giving a damn about the consequences. If the cost of your happiness is the loss of somebody else’s, then find a different avenue, because that one would be so badly done. Put yourself, for a moment, in the shoes of the person or people that you’re about to disappoint. Look at yourself the way he, or she, or they would look at you. What do you see? How ugly are you from this perspective? does selfishness become you? or are your features disfigured by the sinful veil obscuring this vision of you? Do better.

I’ve been reflecting over my most recently acquired scars and I keep asking myself, how did this happen? How did I get here?  The answer is obvious, I let this happen. A broken heart is a heavy burden to carry and I now understand, with all the new insight that a wounded spirit provides, why Proverbs 4 v 23 is so important:  Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life (Amplified Bible).

Guarding your heart is important. I would have far fewer scars had I taken heed of the wisdom in that verse more often in my life. So, this is who I am now; tainted, sinful, scarred, unworthy and alone. But God offers something greater; In place of all I have tainted and all that has tainted me, He offers a fresh start. In place of all the sins that I have committed and those that I have yet to commit, He offers redemption. In place of my scars, He offers healing. In place of my unworthiness, He offers Christ, in whom I find my identity, my worth. In place of my solitude, He says I am here, walk with me.

In place of not good enough, He gives us the courage to do better.

The wind is rising

“Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre!
L’air immense ouvre et referme mon livre,
La vague en poudre ose jaillir des rocs!
Envolez-vous, pages tout éblouies!
Rompez, vagues! Rompez d’eaux rejouies
Ce toit tranquille où picoraient des focs!”
– Paul Valéry, Le Cimetière marin

The above is an extract from an incredibly beautiful poem which, although it is extremely complicated and peppered with ambiguous imagery, resonates strongly with me. I feel that it speaks of choice; to live, or to die; to mourn, or to celebrate; to be blown by the wind, or to run with it. I love the story it tells, of a ‘climb to revelation’ and what it reveals to the narrator about himself. I found this poem when I endeavored to track down the line; “Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre!”  which features in the film The Wind Rises, by Hayao Miyazaki. it means the wind is rising! . . . we must try to live! This film resonates as profoundly with me as the poem does, but why? I’ve explained to most people, with whom I’ve had the conversation, that it has to do with simplicity, but now I think there might be more  to it than that. The film follows the life of an aeronautical engineer, as he pursues his passion in his career. There is not much about the story that excites awe, or fear, or the combining reverence, yet it is beautiful and inspiring to me.

Put that thought aside.

Throughout my life, I have been labelled a “day-dreamer”and justifiably so; my mind has wondered through as many worlds that exist, as worlds that do not, with a common goal for both: To make sense of my world, where sense is lacking, or to create nonsense where there is too little of it to properly get lost in. I recognised that without sense, my world would function in a way that rendered me almost entirely passive, as I would never know what to expect, or how to prepare for it, or what to do when it was upon me. I recognised too, that with only sense to govern my world, life would never hold a mystery to excite my passions. All would be expected and prepared for, so that wouldn’t do either. All my days of daydreaming served to develop a keen understanding of the importance of both sense and nonsense in the world.

Put that thought aside too.

Charlotte Brontë writes, in Jane Eyre, of a plain girl’s journey to womanhood. Throughout the novel, the reader enjoys the thrill of being directly addressed by the heroine of the story, as she recounts her journey from her own perspective. This style of narration results in so many social roles, that society feeds off, to be cast under the most scrutinising gaze of the young miss Eyre. Simultaneously, miss Eyre’s ability to be so reserved and courteous in her scrutiny, forces the reader to revisit his/her own ideas of the potential of plainness v beauty. In short, plainness wins and by the time it does, one finds oneself rooting for that very outcome.

Hold that thought.

So, a poem, a movie, a dream and a book; what does it all add up to? It’s a sort of life philosophy that explores what it means to fully live. The combination teaches of rising above the situation you find yourself in; pain is inevitable, but you have some say in what hurts you and the only say in how you choose to react to that pain. Life moves forward whether we want it to, or not so, will you be blown by the wind, or run with it? I’m choosing to run with it, but that requires a measure of belief in the nonsensical because I can’t see where I’m going and I have no idea what to expect when I get there- but I can prepare myself for it.

And now to put it all together…

What better kind of preparation for a life that runs with the wind than to wholeheartedly trust and commit all desires and fears to Jesus? That’s the sense in my world, where I’ve learned that even the most sturdy of friendships can change over night. Placing your hope in anything that relies on human beings- in all our imperfection- is a mistake and that’s what I see in every one of the fore-mentioned art forms (yes, day-dreaming is an art). I think what moves me in Valéry’s poem, is the recognition from the narrator that he is flawed. In Miyazaki’s film, I find a breath-holding thrill in watching a life pass, knowing that how it passes (only) is in the main character’s power, but he has no power over the fact that it does pass. In the case of Jane Eyre, It’s her ability to remain faithful to God that fascinates me. Too often, when happiness has offered to enter my life, at some small cost to my integrity or self-respect, I have thought myself blessed and gratefully welcomed it, but Jane does not. Instead, she runs from what she recognises as temptation in the guise of blessing (ie, a wolf in sheep’s clothing) and for her faith, she is rewarded with true blessings, ones that don’t hold a bitter after-taste. The beauty of Jane’s faith puts all other offered concepts of beauty to shame, because hers is the only kind of beauty (in the novel) that matters. I want to be like Jane.

I think it’s time that we recognise our potential to do great things. Imagine living a life where you know that where you are right now is exactly where you should be, that you couldn’t be worth more doing anything anywhere else, than doing what you’re doing now and here. That’s the kind of life that God calls us to- He calls us to run with the wind, so get up and go.

What are you waiting for?