“I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul”
For years I worked as a clerk before taking a leap of faith into an unknown and unexplored world. It may surprise some that I was not always an efficient and prodigious reader. If they saw me in a coffee shop, my head was buried in the daily. If they saw me at the local, they knew that I had brought a book with me. It was usually a title which didn’t interest them much anyway. I have always been a little shy, but after the first signs of inebriation, the open-minded and sometimes idealistic alter ego would be exposed.
I discovered that to be open-minded and amenable to other people’s’ interests, culture and even religions does have consequences. My sense of being was always tested, and it was never easy to just be myself. It felt better to live in a dream world where everything seemed to be harmonious. John Lennon’s infamous anthem would often summarise my mood for the day, but as the artist’s lyrics were, I was also misunderstood. It was not the fault of the listener. My voice had no distinctive tone or timbre. I would end up telling them things that they wanted to hear.
Their day, it was thought, ended on a high. My day had only started. I discovered the twilight world of books long after it had passed them by. This world opened new doors for me, but not in the conventional and clichéd sense. Not only had I dIscovered things about people, culture and nations that I never knew about previously, but I had begun a process of learning about myself. And my heart is healthy for now, but is often interrupted by emotions which are still difficult to process. I was hungry, but became greedy. Watching other people go through the motions of progress and evolution, I would say to myself with a little sadness, oh, I want to do that too.
Courage followed. One or two people in my life had unintentionally pushed me to the point of turning the next page of my life. I went back to school and got a degree. I sat for courses for which I had acquired a passion. Never the best when it came to managing nerves and time, I only breathed easily when the fruits of my labours had ripened to a healthy and edible glow. I tested newly acquired skills over and above what I wanted to write about and discovered that, yes, I could do it. Not only could I read quietly in my corner, I could now share in writing my own impressions about and with the world.
Materially, I have not yet been rewarded. But while this stage of my life carries more risks, my day ends with a sense of fulfilment even when I am annoyed that my work has not yet been completed. Previously, my work and living environment was sheltered and sometimes coveted. But it also exposed me dangerously to complacency and a false sense of security. , It worries me still that days roll by so quickly. I have not yet mastered the art of patience and self-tolerance. There are some days when I just don’t want to get up, but then again, those days have travelled with me for most of my life.
Looking back I can laugh and cry. Shoulders would shrug and it would be alright if something could not be reached for. At school, I barely grasped my instructions which were dispensed by rote. At university this is never the case and your professor never leaves you with enough information to get through all the course material. You still need to find the answers on your own. Well, not always, but I think you know what I mean. In my first year of high school, I think it was, I finished second to last in most of the races I started. Our coach would smother me with his arms and smile. It was alright. Not everyone finishes first, let alone at all.
The solitude of pounding the cinder track and pavements was a sense of being that suited me. I taught myself to finish a race triumphantly. I ran and won a few. I entered events beyond me, but never finishing near the front, I had reached the point of feeling that I had accomplished something. Now I carry near my heart William Ernest Henley’s poem, famously reproduced in John Carlin’s book of events surrounding Nelson Mandela’s mission to heal and unify. President Mandela’s authorised biography also taught me that if he could stand for nights in his lonely, cold cell and advance his life and causes through learning and reading, then so could I.