Finding your own destiny

 

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Category: Reflections Date: 18 Jun 00


There is an old man in my neighbourhood who is so perpetually hunched over pavements he can no longer stand up straight. He resembles a thin, brittle, bent, twig. When I first spotted him seven years ago, with his pointy beard on his gaunt angular face in his tattered clothes pulling grass out of the edges of pavements I thought he was a crazed vagrant.

 

Once I saw a resident in this area rough him up. The hunched old man didn’t see or hear a car and continued his work of pulling grass from the pavement blocking the entrance to the resident’s house.

 

He was shoved aside. He protested a little bit, then moved down a little bit and carried on pulling out grass. The pattern that emerged over the next few years, as this twiggy man circled this area, pulling out every bit of grass on every bit of pavement in his circumference, was a man with a mission: a man battling against disorder and chaos, against nature herself - grass and weeds that would, after a few weeks of being pulled out, spring up again.

 

One humid afternoon, before I could stop myself, I found myself crossing the road to where he was bent with his tools (a cardboard box and a chisel) and said “Excuse me, can I ask you something?” I had invaded his space but he hadn’t run me yet, so I continued. “Its real hot today. Yesterday it rained all day. Why do you do this?”

 

Perfection

 

Now he looked at me as if I wasn’t all there, and answered with his toothless smile. “Because I like to see everything perfek”.

Here was this old man with his hair scrunched up in balls on top of his head because he couldn’t be bothered to cut it, wearing bright blue rubber slippers, and filthy tattered clothes, and he was talking about perfection with the happiest look I’ve seen on any worker.

 

You may laugh. He has done what every person who has ever achieved excellence has had to do. He has found his voice. It does not necessarily belong to mainstream society. It does not conform to conservative yardsticks. It is not the voice of TV, or trade union, nor is it the voice of government, religious leader; nor parent, husband, wife, or neighbour, nor child or teacher although they might have all influenced him in some way. It is HIS voice.

He is focused on detail, yet sees the wider picture: To pull out every possible blade of grass on every pavement. He knows what he wants from life: To see clean pavements. He is driven: Not rain, nor heat will stop him.

 

For years, ever since I began thinking someday I would like to be a serious writer, I’ve been pouring over books on writing by writers. Infuriatingly all these “great” writers never seemed to know the formula by which they wrote and inevitably came up with something like “the book wrote itself”, or, “the characters refused to do what I had planned for them and developed the plot themselves.” Sculptors say, “the perfect form lay inside the stone,” and they simply had to “chisel” to find it. Painters say the painting “took on a life of its own.”

In other words, their voice led them to their destiny.

 

Sometimes, (not always) in order to achieve that voice people have to get off the track. The wide spaces on either side of the track are often lonely and isolated because those who are still on it, are afraid of it, because it is so vast and it is easy to get lost and forgotten here.

 

There are more people off the track than you think. They are travellers, painters, musicians, writers, accountants, scientists, sailors, spectators, solitary dwellers, nature lovers, people absorbed in mundane, odd, interesting activities but always driven by their inner voice. They have peeled off layer after layer of societies’ coats, and confront themselves honestly, until they find their core.

 

Free Spirits

 

They are the free spirits of the world. By that I do not mean that they don’t support themselves, or take their responsibilities seriously. By that I mean they have not allowed others to dictate their destiny. They have found their own. These are the people who’ve done what we always say we want to do someday. These are the people who haven’t waited for crisis, tragedy, illness to decide to do what they’ve always wanted to do. These are the people without regret. They will tell you that they had the same fears like you and me, of the need for money and lack of time, but plunged anyway, survived and thrived.

 

These are people who understand instinctively, that once we are on the track, we will be perpetually foiled, frustrated because there is always someone in front of us. If that’s our challenge and destiny, wonderful. But what if we haven’t taken the time to get off the dizzyingly fast roller coaster so that we don’t know who we are? What if it’s too late when we do find our voice?

 

The older I get the more I aware I am of how quickly time passes. I think of some lines from my favourite poet, I hope accurately to quote:

“Quick. Here. Now. Always. Ridiculous the sad waste of time before and after” - TS Eliot.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur