I knew Terry had only been referring to my physical stature, but still I recoiled at the diminutive adjective – and you can’t say I didn’t have a leg to stand on because I have two, albeit short, independent legs, which carry around a lot of big ideas: I’m not “little.”
I’m 25; this was the year people were supposed to start taking me seriously and quit referring to me as a “little girl.” A quarter of a century: doesn’t that merit some credibility?
At least three people on the flight to Johannesburg asked me how my parents felt about my travelling alone. I suppose if I’d bothered to ask my parents, I thought, I’d have a clearer idea of what they thought about it: I imagine that if they knew I’d rented a car to drive clear across a foreign country, they’d be concerned about my ability to drive a standard through the mountains on the opposite side of the road. If they knew the highways were better maintained and more well-lit than those in Saskatchewan, then they might be less concerned. On the other hand, if they knew I’d taken a detour through Swaziland where cows and goats frequently cut in front of the road, they’d probably have advised against it.
If I was under my parents’ supervision until the day I got married, they might not be thrilled I’d gone traveling at all. But if I was a free agent, who earned her own money and could make her own decisions at will, I hope they’d miss me while I was gone.
“I’m sure they’re used to it by now,” I tried to answer as politely as possible.
The fact a grown woman is asked at all whether her parents agree with her decision to travel and no one thinks it’s paternalistic bothers me. I’m going to South Africa because it’s one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. I’m going to meet a friend. I’m going because I need a break from work.
I’m going because I’ve developed an unhealthy chronic heartbreak and I need to heal. I’m going because Africa, in general, runs at a slower pace than Canada and I think it might have something to teach me about living in the moment.
Being in the present is a little like being suspended in air, on a flight between Washington and Jo’berg, or driving through the Swazi mountain ranges, always gazing in your rearview mirror. It’s being able to see behind you at the same time you’re looking forward.
It’s not a simple task. It takes practice. It takes discipline. It takes a certain insight I’ve never allowed myself: although you can see the horizon, you’re not there yet, but you’re also not all the things that lead you up to this moment. In this exact moment you are a clean start, a fresh slate, a free agent. All the things that attach themselves to you – or you to them, fall away:
“As a burning stick taken from the fire looks like a golden wire when you swirl it in the air, so we see duration as a string of sparks.”
Living in the moment is living with the realization you can’t isolate moments apart from the ones they precede and the ones they follow. Moments do not stay still because like us, they are constantly in motion.
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