I have been a graphic designer. I have been the author of a travel guide. I have been a jewellery designer, an entrepreneur, a receptionist, a waitress, a published poet, a switchboard operator, a promoter, a cashier, and I have taught computer skills. I have been a photographic assistant, a book keeper, a data capturer, and an events co-ordinator. I have been a paramedic, an outdoor education instructor, a life skills teacher and a pregnancy crisis counsellor. I have been an au pair, a television producer and a student.
Since I finished school nine years ago I have begun four different degrees, completed two different certificates and commenced another. I have lived in 6 different cities, in South Africa and Germany, for periods from one month to 2 years. In one town, I moved home 6 times in 14 months. I have travelled twelve countries in nine years. I have friends in twenty five different countries. I own property in none.
Who am I? I am a wanderer, a gypsy, a nomad. But let me formally introduce myself. My name is Wendy. I have breathed for 851 472 400 seconds and counting. My occupation is my life. In five years time I will probably be doing something I never dreamed I could. I would rather read a book then watch TV and I do not like tea or coffee. My favourite place is a waterfall surrounded on three sides by tall granite rock; a waterfall that most people will never find.
I love long solitary walks in beautiful places but thrive off quality time and conversation with my friends. I only like rules if I make them, and rebelliously follow rules made by other people. I break off split ends instead of biting my nails. I find it hard to persevere through tedium but I am learning. When I grow up I would like to be: a travel writer or a mom or a project manager for an NGO or a Sherpa in the Himalayas.
A few years ago I stopped at a tiny cemetery in a nondescript town. The graveyard was small and most of the tombstones are dated before my 95 year old grandfather’s parents were born. It is rarely visited and no fresh flowers are scattered among the two dozen or so tombs. I cannot recall what was inscribed on most of the tombstones. My memories do not recollect anyone famous or anybody I am related to resting in the soil. I do remember one inscription silenced the groaning gravel. I ran to fetch a pen and paper and recorded what it said:
1845 – 1873
I do not know who Mary Fisher was. I have no knowledge of her life. For me her entire life is contained in the dash between those two numbers: fleeting, fragile, empty. I am not aware of the circumstances of her death. I only knew in that moment that I did not want that epitaph on my grave. I did not want my name and then the words “deeply regretted” tagged onto the end.
Since then, I have often speculated whether Mary Fisher deeply regretted not doing something in her life, or whether her family grieved deeply over her death at 28. I can shed no light on the matter, but imagine having your entire life summed up by the words: “deeply regretted”. Not intensely loved. Not dearly beloved or greatly missed. Not enthusiastically lived. Not a whisper of a life embraced with vivacity and animation and love. Instead of life, regret is engraved, and remembered, as the final word on an intriguing woman’s life.
I walked away, questions agitating my pace. How to breathe life in and shout it out? How to keep a soul fertile to changes, places, people and God? How to laugh often and much, yet weep with strangers? How to face decisions that could change everything? How to stand beneath the weight of familiarity and truth; love and tragedy; birth and the ache of beauty, and not shrink back but stand, as beneath a thunderous waterfall and enjoy the feeling of water awakening each skin cell? How to live with courage and pursue the dreams that scare me? How to live and not regret?
I am not really brave so I need to remind myself that I am capable of doing the things that I fear. My cowardice requires a tap on the shoulder and a reminder that I do not want to live my life alone in a dark corner reading a book; that I want to live with abandon and deeply. I want to be present and alive; able to let things go when they are dead and provide space for the living things to grow. I do not want to regret the things I have not done nor look with remorse on things I have done. And I do not want fear to rule my heart.
It takes courage to pursue dreams in life; to be who you are. It requires guts to choose a career that suits and challenges you; that pushes you to reach your potential. It is much easier to stagnate, to stay where you are when the time has come to do a new thing; maybe the thing you fear. For some this might be moving to a new place, a new job, a new relationship. For me the new thing is finding the courage to stay, to put down roots, to not push people away when they try to love me, to lose my nomad status and remain actively pursuing life.
I guess life has always been this way for nomads and wanderers: the constant tension between pegging a tent down against the wind and moving onto the next spot. The steady question of whether to bore a well for water, weighed against the nomad’s desire to fill up the camel skins and depart for the next oasis. The nomad’s choice is between knowing where one will sleep for the next ten years and not knowing where one will wake up tomorrow. It is a decision for life in the midst of existence. The resolution to always choose to do what will allow the nomad to feel most alive, while doing what is best for other desert travellers.
I have not always been a wandering nomad. When I was five I knew - like I knew that my mom would kiss me better when I scraped my knee -that I wanted to be a missionary doctor. I also knew that to be a good missionary doctor in Africa would require a horse and two Dalmatians. I became a wanderer as I grew up and discovered picture books of Scandinavia, and journalism, and different breeds of dogs. At 16, I decided I wanted to be a paramedic and work in war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq. Ever since I have swayed back and forth, like a nomad. I have studied paramedics, journalism, then paramedics again, and I am presently studying a postgraduate degree in Applied Linguistics. You see, I have this whole finding direction in life thing sorted!
Actually, strangely enough I think that I do. It may not seem like it: I do not have a 5 year plan, or a degree or a clue what I am doing next year. I think that finding direction in life has more to do with momentum then with finding a career or vocation. Momentum requires movement; it is an energy, a drive, a force that a person possesses. People who stagnate do not need directions because they are not going anywhere, they are not changing. It is only people, who constantly seek change and to be changed, that need directions.
I do not want to be the same person in ten years that I am today. I do not want to stop learning, living and laughing. I need to move, to change to grow, to try things and fail, in order to live deeply without regretting a second. If I had to do my life over; I would make it look exactly like the life I have lived: I would still have Plan B, C and Y as part of plan A. I would take the same friends along on road trips, scream my heart out to the same music and write off the same vehicles. I would still watch the sun set in a storm. I would still be a wanderer, a gypsy, a nomad. And I might still be a Sherpa in the Himalayas.