We are assured a crazy high in life when we learn to live beyond the grip! Beyond the grip of insecurity in Love; for those who love us are them that have searched for the good in us, seen it and helped us see it ourselves. Beyond the grip of fear; into new horizons of capturing our dreams and reaching into an unknown future, one in which joys and sorrows are guaranteed in equal measure. Beyond the grip of death; the monster that is never satisfied but continually leers it gluttonous head, for we know what lies beyond. To feeling the pain of losing someone you loved with all your heart, the pain of losing someone you always took for granted, because you thought that they would always be around. So here is to becoming artists at living, to our lives being our work of art.
In this life we are bound to make mistakes. Mistakes that will shame us and rob us off dignity and honour. The key is moving beyond them, accepting them for what they are; mere mistakes. Learning from them to no longer be held within their tight guilt-full grip.
During your ritual night strolls along the beaten village paths, you instinctively stop at the heart of the village. The dirt path leading up to the central house is overgrown with weeds and grass. The once neatly-trimmed fence is long gone and the wooden gate has lost many of its plunks over the years. You peer into the compound at the dilapidated house with its shattered windows. The walls are crumbling and the paint peeled off them.
In your mind’s eye, the home becomes the thriving place it once was. The father would now be seated under the huge mango tree at the entrance to his home, smoking his tobacco pipe and surveying his home like an army general after the spoils. The mother will be in the kitchen, the smoke curling up the chimney in dancing motions chocking her throat and wetting her eyes. She will call out to her eldest daughter in the main house to come bring her the mwiko which is barely an arm’s length away. But this is the norm of our African mothers, to ensure that we are constantly at their beck and call. Sucking her teeth, the daughter will come in and hand over the mwiko, only to realize that she has to pass an assortment of other items all within her mother’s reach. Resignedly, she will sit at the kitchen corner and the mother will smile with a ‘mission accomplished’ kind of manner. Then the advise will start coming her way; of men and motherhood, of education and empowerment, of the wiry wild ways of the world. An engaging time will pass for both with a lot left unsaid, but the African female ear has mastered the art of hearing the untold. The children will be playing in the house, fighting like cats and dogs as is the wont of siblings.
Now, all that is no more. No longer can you hear the hacking cough of the old man at the cattle shed. Neither can you see the mother bent over her small patch of crops in the heat of day. The boys no longer leave the cattle to graze in the neighbour’s shamba only to take a leak in the river. The girls no longer linger in the glow of enthusiastic giggles at a remark made by boys turning into men who can now see that girls are ripening into women. All this normality is buried under years of disagreements, under the pain of great losses, under the grip of unrelenting mistakes.
You then see her at the very foot of the tree under which the old man would now be sitting, illuminating the darkness around him with the lighted end of his smoke. You wander in to sit beside her only to realize how lost she is under the weight of her thoughts. Her face is turned up towards the stars. You see the tears trickling down her face, glittering under the glow of the moon. There is something that touches the soul in a woman seated alone under the blanket of night, star gazing as her tears slip from her beautiful eyes. It is a sign of strength in allowing the storm that wages war within your soul to let out; For holding it in turns it as into a serpent that devours you from the inside, inch by inch, only to leave one empty. To some extent, this emptiness is good. For we humans only begin to search for something greater than ourselves, something to satisfy the great thirst in each soul, when we experience this gnawing emptiness that never seems to let up, when we reach the end of ourselves.
You will put your arm around her thin frame. Life sometimes is an unrelenting monster, chewing us bit by bit and spitting us out in large chunks. She turns around with unseeing eyes, eyes that seem to see right through you. As a painful sob breaks the quietness of the night, her head leans back to rest on your shoulder. It is a primal basic human need, this proverbial shoulder to lean on, one that we need in the journey of life, time and again.
There is no experience as painful as looking back at your life in retrospect. The mistakes you wish you had never made; it is like a sequence that demands to be replayed again and again, one mistake leading to another until we lose the sense of good within ourselves. We wish that we could have loved harder, loved deeper and loved unconditionally those we claimed to so love. For we may lose them and blame ourselves because we never said the three simple words “I Love You”. Oh! And you will regret saying the same three words when you never really meant it. For love is a transformative force that brings out the best in us. We will regret losing our dignity at moments of weakness. We will regret letting down ourselves and others when we were in the grip of some vibrant force. But then again, that is life. It is unto humans to make mistakes, but our duty to look back in retrospect, committing ourselves to the pursuit of personal growth.
You will see the regret in her eyes, for she didn’t perfect her art at living. The dignity she has lost over the years, the love she failed to unconditionally give her children, the failed marriages that eventually made her give up and turn to ‘no-strings attached situationships’ that is the norm in this generation. You will see it in her eyes, that she knows death has made an appointment with her, and the hour draws nigh with every breath she takes. It may seem that it makes leering comments and sneering looks at her, mocking her choices in life. But we all have got a bitter pill to swallow; admitting that we chose to go down a certain path and paying for the consequences thereof to the bitter end.
She will get up and hobble into the dark dilapidated house with a hacking persistent dry cough, leaving you without a word. You will shed a tear at the chunks life has chewed out of her, taking her beauty and replacing it with ashes, leaving her a mere shell of her former self.
After a restless sleep, you arise with a cup of tea to visit your friend. Over the years, you developed the kind of attachment that would make you refer affectionately to her as ‘Auntie’. The room is hovering with a deep smell; the stench of death. I submit to you, that somehow death hovers near with a distinctive stench that grips everyone with a tight band of fear around their hearts. Her breathing is laboured as she struggles with each intake. She looks at the friends and relatives gathered around her deathbed, one at a time. And the band of fear tightens its grip. You recognize it for what it is; A silent goodbye. And life slips out of a broken and beaten body; death creeping in unnoticed and gripping her soul with impunity. That is when all turn around and scream incoherently, “One moment she was here, the next she was gone!” Everyone is lost in disbelief as they try to grapple with conflicting thoughts of life and death. Being a perceptive one, you walk out of the house in the melee of the ensuing pandemonium. It is a mystery; unexplainable, undisputable, uncaring and unbent by the suffering it leaves behind. You can almost hear the echo of its lustful laugh. You think randomly of her now bereft children, and tears slip down your eyes. You brush them away furiously with the back of your hand, staring at the stars only to recount the events of the previous night.
So, Excuses Begone Friends! Let us master the art of living; Such that at the end of life in the grip of death, when we shall look back in retrospect…. We shall say it was a life well lived. We shall have learned to live beyond the grip of the fears and inconsistencies of this world!