Ten days to go till Christmas and the whole world is in a flapdoodle about something. Last minute gifts, the infuriation of a late delivery, an upcoming party in an outfit that is so last year or that old dread of what-on-earth-we’re-going-to-do-if-Granny-hits-the-sherry-bottle. I remember it well and it seems like a dream out here in the heat of Africa.
I have never left my Christmas post before, not once in 46 years. So, as I sit here on the stoep in the very early morning listening to lions roar on the other side of the Kruger fence (the best way I always think), I feel a bit disorientated. It’s such an important time, after all and who on earth said it was okay for me to stay out here with no responsibilities whatsoever? Well, I did.
When I first booked my ticket out, via Dubai and the biggest duty free I’ve ever walked through, I was nervous of one month away from the apron. Then as I began to move to the beat of the African drum and found my self coming back together in the right order, a second month felt like a reasonable choice. It meant not being home for Christmas, yes, but I would be back just afterwards, back into the cold and slush and high winds holding ferries tight to the quayside whilst my fellow islanders become stranded on the wrong shore without a toothbrush. I’ve been there too. It meant no gifts for my children or grandchildren, for everyone knows that, no matter how carefully a gift is wrapped nor how diligent the insured postal process, nothing ever arrives.
Abandoning a post is so much easier from a distance. Imagined duty loses its grip. The oughts and shoulds are just words, and neither of them is my friend anyway. Although I am a fan of duty, to a degree, because it keeps me inside its walls of safety, I do need to question it once it has grown too big for its boots, which it does eversoslowly over a period of time, like 46 years. If duty prevents me from making my own choices, then I am walking out of kilter with myself.
However, when asked ‘What do you want to do?’ my inner response is always this:-
What does that have to do with anything?
A conditioned response, but I caught it before it spilled out of my mouth. I want to stay, I said, even if the words felt needley sharp on my tongue.
I don’t think it’s just me who gets stuck in duty. Noticing that I have is opening up a new world in my head. I get that many dutiful women will never question their own degree of duty because it is scary, not least because it might lead to something dangerous such as buying a motorbike or joining a travelling circus. I felt like an Impala on the same side of the fence as those roaring lions. Until, that is, I worked it out. The only person shoving duty in my face is me. My husband is fine about it. My kids are fine about it. Time I got myself fine about it. So how do I do that? Lots of inner work, that’s how. Books, books and more books, my best friends, my guiding voices. And, above all, Noticing My Thoughts. I never bothered with such fanciful nonsense before, but practicing this is the walk to freedom for anyone. If I just trudge on through my life, doing what I oughta and wishing for things that (I decide) are for others, I am just a robot. My incredible brain yawns with boredom, grows wrinkles and a wide bottom and forgets how to really live. It doesn’t mean I run away, but exactly the opposite. Noticing my thoughts, my emotions, my own dreams and then writing them down, discussing them with myself intelligently, asking difficult questions, not spoken out to anyone else, but just to myself, frees me just where I am.
We should learn all this at school. It irks me that I have to be this old to ‘get it’, but, perhaps that is the point of life. Questioning duty, questioning any aspect of a ‘linear’ life requires a lot of letting go, of the past, of what-I-didn’t-do-right, of old choices that led me here and so on. Doing something differently demands courage, a step into the unknown, into the Maybe of infinite possibilities. I don’t see them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. That, in itself, is sort of weird, but a compelling one.
All I need to do is to question.