On perseverance, with Ayi Kwei Armah

“Those who are blessed with the power,

And the soaring swiftness of the eagle

And have flown before,

Let them go.

I will travel slowly,

And I too will arrive.

And have climbed in haste.

Let them go,

I will journey softly,

And I too will arrive.”

There are times when my quixotic attempts at living life to the fullest fall flat. Usually my first instinct is to succumb to depression. Fortunately I have quite a short attention span, especially when it comes to boring things and so my next instinct is to encourage myself. I have generally given myself good reason to trust my judgement, and so I have to remind myself that just because it hasn’t worked this time, or just at this moment, that doesn’t mean that there will not be a great moment somewhere down the line when I will be vindicated.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah holds my go to mantra. Even though I have yet to finish reading the book, there is in this book a passage that I find particularly uplifting. Written as the lyrics of a song that the protagonist hears on his way somewhere, (I don’t know where, didn’t read the book) these words remind me that even when I feel that all is lost, it generally isn’t. They remind me that when things don’t seem to be moving they probably are. They remind me to keep breathing, and anyone who knows me knows that I am given to hyperbole, (sometimes just for fun) and so trying times do generally push me over to the overly dramatic, “No, I can’t leave me here, save yourself” type of nonsense that expends much energy without giving anything back. This passage is the message from ground control, saying hey, it’s okay. It’s the message I get in my ear when I feel lost at sea that reminds me that the wind and waves haven’t won before, so there is no need to start now. It reminds me to be myself, and to let that be enough.

Occasionally we need to hear that message- to be reminded to run our own race, at our own pace. Sometimes I just need to remember that even if I was an animal, I definitely wouldn’t be a cheetah, I find running pointless- as a cheetah, this attitude would see me starve to death. I like swimming and flying though, so perhaps if I was an animal I would be a goose, or on my best day, a swan, maybe.  However, no one sits around comparing star athletes to geese, it’s just not sexy, but maybe that’s me. A not sexy good swimmer who likes to migrate for the winter! I’ll take it, I can make it work, if I remember that there are those who are eagles, who have flown before, who have done more than I have, in a shorter space of time, in more elegant or impressive ways, because they are eagles, or cheetah’s or killer whales, and I am a goose. Instead of wishing to be an eagle, or a dolphin, or a cheetah, I really should focus on being the best goose that I can be.

I don’t think I am a goose either though, that’s still a few glamour levels above my station perhaps.

There is, you see, in the juxtaposition between my visionary ambition and the awareness of my limitations, a sort of humiliation, and a sort of pride. I am proud to still be going where some might have given up, I am glad that my vision is still grandiose, and most times beyond me, but on the other hand, I am brought low (original meaning of humiliate) by my own vision. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be by now. I am therefore at once a nothing and a something, a Schrödinger’s cat of potential.

In reality I am perhaps more like a dung beetle. This underestimated creature frequently does far more than its tiny little body would suggest. One type of dung beetle can drag 1,141 times its body weight, which is apparently the equivalent of me pulling six double decker buses. I like this beetle, more than the goose, even as I acknowledge that it is not a white tiger, the coolest animal out there. However, I would love to able to do 1, 141 times more than what the circumstances of my birth dictate for me. I would be very happy with that. If, as I suspect, I am not like those who have been blessed with the power, and the soaring swiftness of the eagle, and I will never fly, nevertheless, if I continue to travel slowly, I too will arrive.

I will arrive slowly, doing something incredible, yet perhaps, not something that anyone else has much use for, as much as the dung beetle feat is impressive, how many of us really care? If someone told us they had a pet cheetah and the other said they had a pet dung beetle, with which of the two would we be more impressed? I can hear all the puns denigrating the poor dung beetle now.

So perhaps my legacy will not mean as a much in the world out there, but I will have journeyed softly to accomplish it, (and accomplish it I will). I will have taken my time, been patient, headed straight for my goal, despite obstacles, used the milky way for navigation, like a pirate, and in the end, perhaps when everyone else doesn’t even remember the race, I’ll turn up. (I have actually done that before, one sports day when I was forced to represent my house and run the 800 metres. I arrived just as the next race was about to start).

Sometimes, it’s enough to remember that you are still moving, that the journey may be slow, but the feats that you accomplish along the way may well be mind-boggling. I am travelling slowly, but one day, I too will arrive.

In the meantime, I should probably head to the gym, those buses won’t tow themselves.