What is the secrete, of life? I mean what is the meaning of life. Money, possessions, relationships, accomplishments, a job, a career, love? What’s the purpose of it all? I have been asking myself this question for as long as I can remember, remembering anything. In my search for the answers I have looked into so many eyes, brown, blue, and grey, green, black. I’ve listened intently to people in all forms of languages, English, Afrikaans, Chinese, Portuguese, French, Danish, Swedish, Gujarati, Japanese, Spanish, German, Zulu, Swahili, Wolof, SeSwati, Sepedi, Setswana, Arabic, Amharic, I’m telling you yani even a whole host of other languages I couldn’t recognise. I have listened to countless heartbeats. I have watched how people smile, laugh, hug, cry, go mad, how they lie, how their worlds fall apart into a million pieces one evening and then they walk as if nothing ever happened at the break of dawn. In the dead of night. I myself have hurt, lied, screamed and shouted. Hoping that somehow I will find the answer that will appease this burning desire to know, just what it is that drives us all mad, because I want to know what the point of it all is. There reason I am here.
Or the reason I don’t belong here.
You see since I was a little child I was told stories about who I am. How I was conceived. About those who came before me to announce my arrival. About being monitored. I found these stories fascinating. I was not only interested in the words themselves I was fascinated with their meaning. I hoped that by listening intently to the incantation of voices, the tones, the pauses, the hesitations when people spoke that somehow between the words that were being said, the words that stumbled out of their mouths so easily like liquid, that somewhere between them I could find somehow a sliver of meaning. The meaning of my life. As with most children, I was interested in things, people and how they worked. And at school I used to hear this often. “You don’t belong here” my peers would say. I would wonder why. They never said it with menace. For them it was a kind of compliment. “You don’t belong here” they would say. What do you mean I would ask eagerly hoping that at least one of them could reveal some truth about me, something that I wasn’t quite seeing? Where should I be? I would ask as a follow up question, somewhere else, they would say shrugging.
They Had No Idea
One day I met a medical student from Ethiopia. He looked deep into my eyes when I asked out of nowhere if he believed in God. I was desperate. I had had a day full of a the most unnerving case of Déjà vu, when things I’d don’t remember seeing before were happening again with such lighting speed I couldn’t stop them. I had no control. When he greeted me. I said hello and just told him exactly where he lived. As if I’d been there before. His neighbourhood, his street name and house number. He was shocked. I told him not to be scared. I was not psychic, ordinarily. I was seeing things something was happening to me which I had no control over. I hoped he’d tell me what was going on. “You don’t belong here’ he said. That’s why you get bored easily. I looked as his golden face with a mixture of disbelief and wonder. I could not say I was bored. “But what do you mean?” I asked him in earnest. His presence calmed me. My world was not spinning out of control when I looked into his eyes. “People like you get bored easily” He said, handing me a cup of coffee. “People like me? What do you mean?” I asked, swallowing hard. “How am I?” He looked at me with a slight annoyance as if I was asking the obvious. “You’re intelligent. And people like you get bored easily” he said. I laughed. “You’re the medical student, not me” I said thinking if this was being intelligent then I didn’t want to be. I could not enjoy anything, every experience became an unending question. He had no time.
I Must Study, he said.
I have long forgotten about this time. What is the meaning of intelligent anyway? By any official academic standards I am average. Perhaps I am even slightly below average, barely making it. A failure on the grandest scale. So what makes me intelligent? “You don’t belong here” I heard a chorus from my student-teachers. “Oh” I said, taking the words in, remembering that this was not deja vu, this experience was completely new, but the words the students were saying were not. “I am here now, with you” I said “How can I not belong here?”
I said thinking back to the words which a colleague of mine from the Central African Republic said to me as if answering a question I had long stopped asking “ You belong” he said.
“I don’t know” one student-teacher offered “I think you should be somewhere else”. Here we go again I thought. It’s been six years since I met the medical student from Ethiopia. Where all my journeys converged, and he offered me something I never associated with myself. Intelligence. Me? I’ve been trying to be intelligent, act like the truly intelligent people I admire in books and in life, but I was not. I pretend, I try. I wish that one day I will wake up and think, wow, I’m so intelligent. But that day has never come. Each day I wake up thinking, wow there’s so much I don’t know! Each day feels like I have to start again. Trust. That maybe there is a bit of knowledge I have retained. That all this reading, writing and research will be useful to me or someone, somewhere. When I close my eyes sometimes and let go of control, I hear someone else speak. And that person is intelligent. But I have never considered myself to be intelligent, at least not in the way we understand it. I’ve always thought of myself as average. I’m curious, sometimes nosey, often timid, bold in the face of injustice. Otherwise, normal. “You’re aware” another offered in clarification “ you’re too aware and that give us the feeling that you should be somewhere else, far, writing books maybe” he said smiling. I smiled back and concluded our discussion on the single stories we have about ourselves and each other.
Six Years Ago.
I stopped my search for the meaning of my life. Consciously. I decided that after 29 years in this earth asking the same question every day, I could give myself a break. And just be whatever came to mind – but nothing seemed to fit, me. No place, no person, no relationship. Each encounter brought up more questions. And this is not without a lack of trying, over and over and over and over again. A million times I’ve tried. But I could not stop myself from asking. I could not stay – I cry often, because I wish I could, stay here. To be like you. Content. Happy with not knowing.See, I have to know. Even when I don’t say it out loud. Even in my silences I am always asking. I have to know, who I am and why I am here.
How can you live without knowing?