When I was in my early twenties I had to re-invent my whole life. At the time I was living in a religious community. My life revolved around the people and activities within this community apart from my work as an engineer which brought in a useful income. Tithing was practised by all working members of the community to help support those whose service was full time but otherwise unpaid.
Volunteering was expected and I gladly played my part in helping at the local school for kids with both cerebral palsy and behavioural problems, taught at the Sunday school, was a youth leader/counsellor, using my holidays to take underprivileged kids away to the seaside, and various other things. Life was full and busy. I was mostly happy in this time.
Living in a community involves an unusually high level of external awareness. You have to anticipate likely problems and deal with them before they become big, otherwise disharmony takes root and small issues become huge bones of contention. Sometimes this causes you to loose focus on yourself. This was always encouraged as self absorption was seen as an entirely negative thing. Questioning the basis of the ideology/theology practised was also largely discouraged. It was this aspect of group living that I struggled with the most.
Oh I wanted to believe what I was being told. Really I did. But the lack of evidence and logic gradually whittled away my confidence/faith until I was no longer sure that there was a good foundation for anything I was being told. Even so since I was mostly happy there I quelled my pedantic and inquisitive nature as best I could for the sake of harmony. I liked living there and feeling so accepted in this group. I've never felt that in my life since that time.
I was engaged to a lovely man who had felt the call to work alongside those distributing bibles in eastern block communist led countries. He was to be away for 2 - 3 years and we had planned to marry on his return. Whilst away he met his true soul mate and wrote to tell me of this change in his circumstances. I was not heartbroken. We had already been apart for nearly a year by this time and I'd grown used to his absense. It's funny really that I knew then what I struggle to know now ... that two people must be fully committed for a relationship to flourish.
When my now ex-fiance next wrote it was to ask me to provide accommodation for his girlfriend. She was on the run from an abusive husband who had been physically violent towards her. She needed a safe place to stay whilst she filed for divorce ... away from friends and family. He trusted me and I honoured that trust.
Being part of a community means you have to conform to the conventions of behaviour within the group. On becoming aware that I was housing a fugitive, and more ... a married woman on the run from her husband, I was told in no uncertain terms that I must desist immediately and force this woman to return to her husband. On the face of it this might sound heartless but the aim was that they might be able to work out their problems with the help of a christian minister/counsellor. I refused to send her back to that man. Instead I gave her the option of staying as long as she needed to. Things escalated from there until one afternoon when I was called before the elders. I was given the stark choice of complying or leaving. I was condoning sin and that was not to be tolerated.
So I left. I arranged for my new friend to stay with my ex-fiances family. They welcomed her and kept her safe. All told she's only stayed with me for about 4 months or so.
And from there my life changed forever.
Only two people from the community would be brave enough to defy convention and stay in touch with me. Ultimately both left some time later of their own accord. In a matter of hours I lost my home, my friends, my already teetering faith. At the time it felt like the end of the world. In reality it forced me to live in the world in a way I'd never have had the chance to if I'd carried on living in the community. Until you spread your wings you've no idea whether you have the strength to fly or not.
When I think about radically changing my life now I look at the woman I was back then with a kind of awe. She was so determined to do what she thought was right regardless of the consequences or personal cost. Where has that woman gone? I can't seem to find any trace of her in this faded facsimile.
When I gave my heart to you
I never thought I'd take it back
I always assumed in my usual way
that this was the very nature
of the promise we made together
and it was, and I don't regret it
My heart has been in safe hands
but never in perfect hands
where in the world do we find
what we never knew we needed
because we thought we needed safety
and we did, and I don't regret it
Time, why do we always end up different
with the passage of time
and yet assume that nothing changes
having built a place of such safety
we've been able to flourish and grow
so we have, and I don't regret it
Except I do, I do regret a lot of things
the distance that's grown between us
the distance my heart has wandered
making me wonder it's got to that time
when I should hand your heart back to you
and if I do, will I regret it
I feel that your heart is no longer safe
as it always used to be in my keeping
and whilst I still honour the gift of it
I have not done all I could have
to honour the spirit in which it was given
I could have, and I do regret this
From here the way forward is unclear
the temptation to tarry is so strong
this fear of putting another foot wrong
and most of all that one more step
might take me beyond the point of no return
from there there'll be no point in regrets
The courage it takes to look into your heart
is of little use if you lack the wherewithal
to accept what it is telling you
in turn what point is there in knowledge
if not that it calls out to be acted upon
and if not, what sorry tales of regret await the teller
If a leopard does not notice her own spots
then is it not possible that she might
take herself for another creature entirely
she might for example think herself to be
an exceptionally short necked giraffe
with perhaps unusually short legs as well
whose tastebuds have gone a little wonky
so that she doesn't really like eating leaves
the youngest tenderest twigs hold little appeal
but still she doesn't think it in the least bit odd
as she looks with a more than passing interest
at some passing herd of antelope or zebra
Our leopard can see some differences though
she is not altogether as dull witted as it seems
she notices that the other giraffes like to hang out
whereas she is more of the solitary kind
the stay up all night on the prowl kind
not inclined to gather round tall trees for a chat
nor walk in stately fashion under the midday sun
instead our short-necked short-legged giraffe
likes to loll about in the half light of shade
surveying the savanna in what one might say
was not in the least in a giraffe-like way
How does one arrive at self awareness
what sort of event must befall our non-giraffe
before she awakens to the facts of her hitherto
unsuspected but undeniably true inherent nature
and supposing our non-giraffe doesn't want
to be a spotted non-herbivore one, what then?
to have to re-invent yourself is not any easier
just because you are what you have been all along
especially if you didn't know you are what you are
and always thought you were what you weren't
leopards might shrug it off but can a would-have-been giraffe?