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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

TESTING THE SENSE OF HUMOUR

I write this on Day 3 of my road-trip across South Africa.  I left Gariep Dam this morning under a dappled blue sky and quietly drove the two hundred and something kilometres to the turn-off for Nieu-Bethesda, the location of the Owl House and an important way-point on any trip through the Karoo. The Owl House has an intriguing if sad history and was made famous by Athol Fugard's play, "The Road to Mecca".  The drive to that point was simply breath-taking, with huge open spaces surrounded bowl-like by stark mountains and dotted with scrub, yellow flowering Karoo Acacia trees and a scattering of merino sheep.  With beautiful music playing in the car, I could not have felt happier or more content.

I turned off to Nieu-Bethesda onto a dirt road. A sign-post declared that the village was 31km away.  Cheerfully I set off up the road, bouncing around on the uneven surface. As I started climbing a pass about 5km up the road, I was rudely shaken out of my blissful state by an alert on my dashboard advising me that I had a puncture on my back wheel.  I'm never especially pleased by punctures, but least so on gravel roads in the back of beyond.

It also never ceases to amaze me how I can be cruising happily through Life in one moment and in the next my state of being is disrupted by one of Life’s deliveries which I neither wanted nor asked for.  But there it was:  the options were to sit on the side of the road, feel sorry for myself and hope someone would come along and help or else to unpack the car, locate the spare wheel and jack and get down to business in the 32 degrees heat. I supposed in that moment that a puncture was a necessary rite of passage on a 7 day road trip. 

In much the way that a road-trip wouldn’t be complete without a puncture, Life wouldn’t be complete without its attendant highs and lows.  The question is: how should we be in the turmoil of the lows?

Most times I would not particularly relish the idea of changing a heavy wheel covered in dust in the middle of a hot and sticky nowhere, particularly when losing time brings out the worst in me. As it is, I tell myself more and more frequently that I have become too old to keep getting my hands dirty.  Nonetheless, I unpacked the car and clinically and methodically set about changing the wheel.  Two cars stopped to offer assistance whilst I was busy and, grubby as the job was, I declined on each occasion, wanting just to stay engaged in my own thoughts and process. (And of course live out my "I don't need help" drama.)

Finally the job was done, I lowered the car back onto all fours, repacked, dusted myself off and then turned around to return to the main road.  I figured that the Owl House would have to wait as I didn’t fancy another 20km  plus the return trip on a gravel road with no spare tyre. 

I quietly and carefully drove the 5km back towards the main road, congratulating myself on my very reasonable, philosophical acceptance of Life’s offering. As I approached the main road, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t properly re-tightened the wheel nuts.  With the thought of having to re-unpack, find the wheel spanner, get my hands dirty again and so on, my great Buddhist-like philosophical acceptance flew out of the window to be replaced with a huge irritation towards myself for being careless, sloppy, thoughtless, and, and … all the good stuff which lies below the surface, ready to attack my self-esteem whenever I don’t get something quite right. Genial acceptance of Life's little set-backs had trans-mogrified into a monumental sense of humour failure by the time I again stopped the car to get down and dirty.

It’s a funny thing that I can generally forgive Life for the way it treats me when I don't think I had anything to do with the event, but my default is to be hard on myself when I personally goof.  I don't know how many times I have seen this movie, so none of it is news to me, but it is wonderful to see it play out so vividly in circumstances where I am completely alone with myself. We all have our patterns and the reality is that they are hard to change, try as we might.

In any event, I am grateful for one more opportunity to forgive myself and nurture the one person who is always present in my life.  Perhaps the calling is for all of us:  to keep on forgiving, being caring and nurturing of ourselves.  If we can do that for ourselves, how much easier might it become to do that for others?

And maybe some of that helped when I discovered later that my sunglasses had not been properly designed to be sat upon. Although I didn't exactly feel a leap of joy in my heart when I felt the crunch under my backside, somehow or other it just didn't seem like the end of the world. Besides, one-armed sun-glasses might yet become all the rage.

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