I am out with lanterns looking for myself

“I took at the time, a memorandum of my several senses, and also of my hat and coat, and my best shoes – but it was lost in a melee, and I’m out with lanterns looking for myself.”

Emily Dickinson

I want to find myself, my 5 year old self said. Why don’t you go outside and play they said. So I did. I went outside. I played with the 5 year old girl who lived next door. We laughed. We cried. We made believe. It was a blistering hot summer. We sat in the flowerbed under the eaves making mud pap discussing the weather. We knew there was no rain coming. The weatherman said so everyday at 6pm. All the adults said so every time they exchanged hellos. It was dusty and hot. “Can’t God make it rain?” That’s how it started. A simple conversation in a flowerbed. “I’m sure He can.” “So, why don’t we just ask Him.” Nothing is as simple as seen through 5 year old eyes. We knelt right there in the dusty flowerbed and prayed for rain. Tomorrow. This was urgent. I listened excitedly to the weatherman. There would be no rain, he said. I heard the pitter patter of rain on the windowpanes before my eyes opened the next day. It was raining.

I didn’t find myself. I found an unshakeable and simple faith.

I want to find myself, my 10 year old self said. They taught me to read. I loved it. I read voraciously. I read everything I laid my hands on. I waited impatiently for Mhamha’s monthly copy of Reader’s Digest. As soon as it arrived, I ran, with the envelope in hand, to the rotary phone to dial Mhamha’s office. “May I open it please.” Sometimes, she said yes and I did. Other times, she said no and I had to wait so I did. My favourite section was the “Life’s like that” column with its spirit captured perfectly in the picture of a bride holding up her wedding dress while she changed a flat tyre on her wedding car. The stories were beautiful, sad, funny and memorable.

I didn’t find myself. I found an understanding that life’s like that.

I want to find myself, my 15 year old self said. I was too painfully shy to. Instead, I quietly excelled at sport and academics. Quietly.

I didn’t find myself. I found the ability to hide in plain sight.

I want to find myself, my 20 year old self said. I had just been placed on the LLB fast-track after doing well in first year. I tasted alcohol. It was disgusting. I went clubbing and drank water. I was a radio DJ. I tried this. I tried that. The semester ended. For the first time in my life, I was worried I had failed. I didn’t. It still felt like I did. My mother looked at my results. She looked at my face. She looked back at the screen. I was ready for her to rain terror on my head. “Passing with 50s. Very unlike you.” That was it. That was all she said. The next year I was on the Dean’s List for academic merit and there I stayed every year until I graduated.

I didn’t find myself. I found who I am not.

I want to find myself, my 25 year old self said. My mother died. Adulting came for me with a ferocity that left no room to fall apart. None at all. I dated. I dated poorly. I worked. I worked hard. I was broke. It didn’t kill me. It hurt like I never knew anything could hurt. But I didn’t die. Perhaps, it even made me stronger. Rock bottom was a pretty solid foundation.

I didn’t find myself. I found cliches aren’t untrue.

I want to find myself, my 30 year old self said. It all clicks into place after 30, they said. Some of it did. I found fulfilment in my career. I connected my skills with my purpose. Something there was working just right. I got married. That piece refused to click.

I didn’t find myself. I found why I was made.

I want to find myself, my 35 year old self said. By now, I knew enough to know that “they” had no idea where I was. It was up to me. It had always been. But I asked them and so they answered. I needed to ask myself. Like Emily Dickinson, I finally took matters into my own hands. “I took at the time, a memorandum of my several senses, and also of my hat and coat, and my best shoes – but it was lost in a melee, and [I went] out with lanterns looking for myself.

At 37, I’m deep in the woods. I have my little bag of pieces of me I have recovered, revealed and discovered in my search held snug against my soul. Sometimes, I sit down to rest from my search and I unpack my pieces and let them tell me about the me I have found. I let them whisper about how every part and every turn played a part. Everything I found all these years wasn’t me. It was a part of me. God’s cosmic puzzle. A piece of myself hidden in every life experience and quietly added to my bag of self waiting to be unpacked and known. The journey is to collect the dots and then connect the dots. I’m connecting them.

A little at a time.

From one now to the next.

I am deep in the woods of self. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t have a map. Sometimes I find massive pieces. Other times I try out pieces that don’t quite fit. It’s not exact or perfect. Sometimes, the bride has to change a flat tyre. In there, I learn what I’m not. That’s always a corner piece. I embrace the knowledge of others. I embrace the cliches. My only test is intention. Life will do what life does. I must choose who and how I will be. Then I must apply it to my purpose. I can’t predict what life will do at 40. I don’t know. And yet, I am not lost. I have never been so sure. It’s like I prayed for rain and I know I will hear the pitter patter before my eyes open tomorrow morning. The weatherman be damned. Yes. It feels just like that.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tumi Mohubu says:

    Wow Chio. Your writing is priceless…


    Tumi Mohubu

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chio says:

      Thank you so much Tumi ❤️


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