Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Chronicle 8: The Pain in Growth

They come in their waves, the lessons and the tears, in currents that seem overwhelming.

I remember standing at Marina few years ago, staring at the water, noticing how restless it was, just moving up and down and thinking how much it was trying to teach me about life — you throw something in the water and you’ll see it float, get tossed around for a while and then taken to someplace no one can predict. You see, life is just like some big sea, you get thrown in it and you never know the waves that’ll come at you. The winds may blow right or left, and maybe pressures come from above and beneath, rains, thunderstorms, hurricanes and cyclones may come, the tides may change, and some icebergs may lie on your path, you just never know. That day, I thought to myself how good it’ll be to have an anchor that holds you firm and keeps you from drifting, and I felt that convictions and the lessons I’d been taught were just right for this, you know the song about Jesus being the anchor that keeps the soul and all…well, now, I think that may not have been the best view of, or lesson from the water, while I’m still not exactly settled on some definite view, I started to think differently…I’ll get back to my conclusion on this…

You see, I have learnt that learning and personality can be likened to changes in the human body through different life stages:

Babies have very soft tissues, their bones, joints and muscles are very malleable. It’s the same as the mind, a child’s mind gives a true definition to the tabula rasa- blank, easy to change, flexible and shapeable, pliable, ductile, tensile…name it. The young mind is open to new views, ideas and perspectives. A child’s inquisitive nature may expose her to several things- right, wrong, hurtful results of naivety and pleasures that can only be enjoyed in innocence…and then it happens-the desire to ‘be’, to have your own personality, that’s when you accept certain views and take them as your own, when you decide to be tough, to have convictions, that time when you choose which way to follow.

So youth comes along- taut, firm, solid muscles and strong, supple bones, a sure body posture and walk style, quicker reflexes and firm bodies, spontaneity meets rigidity, the drive and passion of ambition, the super absolute stand for chosen convictions, the unending will and the thirst for freedom…all in one person, all in one body, all in one mind. With this comes the many falls from actions, the big decisions that we make in the face of our many fears, the militant protests and the foolish deaths, the pain of failures and the thrills of success, the foolish mistakes, the broken hearts, the many tears, the wet pillows, the long nights…and then the big lessons…and then gradually, the reality of age crawls on you, and with it, tough lessons and wisdom.

Age, graceful or regret-full, maybe mixed, steals on you. Weak bones, tired eyes, loose teeth, a shaky voice, failing organs, wrinkled skin, grey hairs…and plenty of sense, people call it the wisdom of the aged. You have made decisions and seen the results, you have cried through nights and woken up the morning after, worlds that you thought had crashed continued to exist like nothing happened, and you have seen the blindness and foolishness in some of your decisions. Gradually, the lessons come to you, for each day, each experience, from every relationship and all of your life’s journeys, your bones go back to being supple and you learn to accept your shortcomings, you learn to let people help you cross the same street you could easily race across before, you let someone lead you around patiently when your eyes start to fail you, you notice the wrinkles and the sagging parts in the mirror, you see them clean up after you because your kidney refused to register an action with your brain, you shamelessly accept all falls, the stumbles, the polished walking stick, the correction and help offered and take in the lessons with deep sighs.

Now your memory may fail you sometimes but the lessons do not leave you- you know the story they tell about when you bend down to pick something and half way through to the ground you can’t remember why you bent over, the pain in your waist still registers in the present. Your eyes may have lost their sight but your perception is way stronger, your legs may not carry you but the wisdom you have gathered will take your children and grandchildren through several journeys, your skin may be wrinkled and your gums bare, yet your knowing smile will be graceful and comforting.

You learn to be more accepting, you see your weakness for what it is and learn to learn from others, you see yourself sprawled on the ground after a fall and then you get up and learn how to be more careful with your steps. You start to see the sense in being flexible in your opinions, the maturity in listening to other people’s opinions and somehow, you get the strength to unlearn some of your strongly-held youthful opinions and accept new views. Truth, much more than your own opinion, matters to you at this stage.

That’s growth- the reversion to a childlike stance with the flexibility and readiness to learn. It’s a painful process, the same process that forces you to bend over in old age, it comes with the weight that sags those shoulders you carry. You see, the wisdom comes with the price of a bent back, a new strand of greying hair, and a lot more.

Sometimes, with the different cards dealt to us in life, some people get to take certain falls before old age and learn certain lessons in life before others. You will feel the pain (and it will hurt really bad), ’cause you took the fall early, but you’ll get up the wiser, and hopefully, the decisions you’ll make after an early fall will save you from an early death or a tiresome and regret-full old age. You know, there’s a lot that can be said about the several kind of lessons and hurts in life, but I’ll just move on to my current position on the lessons from the water…

I have learnt not to choose to have an anchor stayed in one place. The torrents and the winds may just break the ship some day, but worse still, you never get to see anything new and better. I have learnt that rather than have Jesus only as an anchor, I should have him as Captain, I doubt that I was placed in this life to be stayed on one spot, just the same way I doubt that the water has been made so big and deep, or the ship made so strong, that the anchor becomes more important than the steering wheel/helm. A seasoned Captain who has seen all sorts of weather, steered all sorts of vessels and faced all kinds of perils will do better for me, better still, a Captain who’s got the option of walking on the water or stopping the storm as He sees fit.

So don’t judge that I try new paths, that I fall; don’t look too hard at my bruises, or my reddened eyes; don’t mind the weather station too much, I’m just fine with all kinds of weather, the storms will come whether I stay here or go out to sea; and don’t worry that I hit an iceberg, I’ll be just fine in a life jacket, on a raft, or a local boat as I will be on the sturdiest ship. I have chosen to take the untried path, to accept the lessons about myself and work on being better, to pick the broken pieces and make them into a relic, to hold my tongue and listen with a mind as clear as crystal, to question ‘truths’ without fear, to search for myself with a heart ready to do and to hold on to the timeless truths I find as written, not as someone told me.