Somewhere along the way in late 2016, I (apparently) uttered the words “I desperately need a vacation from my family!”
Now, I don’t recall ever saying this aloud – but as the old Negro proverb goes, “From your lips to God’s ears!!!” That is how I ended up being banished to Tsitsikamma National Park for seven days and seven nights. It was my husband’s birthday gift to me: Solitude. Ostensibly, solitude to write, as I have also professed aloud that I want to go on a writer’s retreat at some point in 2017. (That I DO remember saying.)
It was a sweet gesture from a man who dotes on me, so I have tried my best to make it work to my advantage. Unfortunately, that attempt was in vain. I have discovered in these past seven days that though I often crave silence, I am terrified of it when bestowed to me over long periods of time. There is a silver lining, as luck would have it. My solitude forced me to pay attention to everything around me, as I had little to no access to the Internet (a cumulative one hour over the course of seven days) and only one DVD to keep me company in all that while. That DVD was Graffiti Bridge, starring Prince. I’ve owned Graffiti Bridge since 2006 at least, but have never watched it until this week. I watched it for four consecutive nights until my family came to see me on Sunday with more movies. As he always does, the Purple One taught me something special about this thing we call life.
Lesson 1: Divine Providence
“What God has for you is for you.” That is a saying I used to repeat in worship because it was cute, but after watching Graffiti Bridge, I firmly believe it. Did you see how many times Morris Day & The Time blew up the Glam Slam, or set a fire, or destroyed Prince’s equipment? The answer is LOTS. And STILL, no matter what, new instruments always appeared in time for the next battle or the Glam Slam was restored to its industrial splendor just in time opening hours; as though it had gone through a modest renovation rather than a demolition attempt. If something is meant for you, all the pieces will eventually line up for you to have it.
Lesson 2: Effort
I opened my hut window to let some air in, which always runs the risk of letting other things in. On this particular occasion, a fat horsefly buzzed its way into my room. I was content not to bother it as long as it didn’t bother my food or me and as fortune would have it, it eventually got bored and decided it would leave. It buzzed its way back toward the window. Instead of following the breeze and flying out, it flew toward the pane of the adjacent window, desperately trying to fly through it.
I watched this dumb fly climb up the pane, ram its head into it, fly to the base, climb up it again, and ram its head into the glass – repeatedly – for 15 minutes. It did this until it DIED from exhaustion. The fly entered my room full of loud, buzzy piss and vinegar but would have died in silence if not for the undignified “thunk” of its corps hitting varnished wood.
This taught me two things: a) If you’re dumb to get yourself into an unfamiliar situation, be smart enough to plan your way out. b) Effort without strategy can have fatal consequences. Sure, the fly could see its goal – the woods outside – from the clear glass, but that barrier was there for reasons. Just because something takes on the appearance of your success doesn’t mean it’s true to form. If you keep running into the same clear glass wall, maybe it’s time to shift course just a bit.
Or else you gon’ die.
Lesson 3: Vanity
Vanity is often regarded as a negative characteristic, but I believe it can be put to good and positive use. Embodying vanity can be healing. An albatross showed me this.
With miles and miles of beach available at its disposal, this particular winged sea rat chose to waddle in the one rock pool formations that was closest to me. It bathed itself with thoroughness and surprising attention to detail. The albatross made a big fuss about making rings and waves in the water that was still and peaceful before its aggressive arrival. After its ablution, it then chose to preen itself on the singular rock that was directly in my line of sight. Every once in a while it would stop fussing with its feathers to check if I was checking it out. After we made intermittent (and sufficient) eye contact, it continued its grooming.
To the world, the albatross is an unattractive nuisance with an irritating bird shriek. But in its own eyes, it is a siren of the sea, the peacock of the waves. How else can a seagull gain the effrontery to assume its presence is a desirable one? In this way, I learned that we must all shine and glory in our own light; Yes, even we who qualify as winged rodents.
Lesson 4: Perfection
Have you ever spent the day in a perfect environment, where someone else has thought of EVERYTHING? Well in this case, that someone happens to have been God. As I said, I went to Tsitsikamma to write, but most of my time was spent in reflection and contemplation. Why? Because perfection does not inspire creativity. There’s nothing of value you can add to perfection. It’s as futile an act as gilding the lily.
Can you imagine throwing extra muscles on Indris Elba? No. No you can’t. Because what’s the point? See how perfection robs of you the very desire to take a creative risk?
Lesson 5: Honesty
Piggybacking off of perfection is a lesson in honesty. And if I’m truthful, sitting out in the woods alone was not the course to successful, productive writing…at least for me. This is because the woods, the darkness, the perpetual crashing of the waves and the very pine planks that housed and protected me from the elements invoked sheer terror within me. That leads me to…
Lesson 6: Courage
Most of our greatest fears begin in the mind. A lot of us don’t even get a chance to fail, because we won’t take the shot(s) needed to experience failure nor success. And even though I did not succeed in writing the Great African Novel during my sabbatical in the forest, I did at least walk away with a new understanding and appreciation for the part our cognitive framework plays in overcoming doubt and fear. In my case, I overcame my fear of being overridden by cockroaches.
Look at these walls. Tell me these walls don’t look like cockroaches! Every night, I kept vigil with the light of my cell phone to make sure that the knobs in the walls did not come to life with beetle like pestilence with the sole aim of crawling into my ears and inhabiting my brain. *Shudder!!! *
I could’ve let courage fail me and insist that my husband pick me up long before the seven days had come to a close, but instead, now I get to boast to you all about how brave I was in my insulated cottage with plumbing.
Lesson 7: Trust…with Caution
A doe and her fawn came to nibble on the tender shoots that sprang up all around the campsite at the park. Although I was in striking distance of either on two occasions at least, I made it a point to keep a respectful and wide berth. Although the animals were somewhat comfortable in the presence of their human neighbors, I believe everything NatGeo tells us about animals and wildness. I can hardly think of a dumber way to die than a head-butt to the gut from Bambi’s mom.
This analogy works in the human world as well. It works for virtually any situation. From credit card sharks to the lady offering “free” samples to bonbons at the mall, it always pays to sprinkle your trust with a little bit of caution. Because one minute, you’ve lost yourself in the blissful delight of gourmet chocolate and the next, you’re $5,000 in chocolate branded credit card debt.
And there you have it! I turned my mess into Muesli. Have you had any impacting lessons come your way this early in the year yet? Do share!