But the tide of change is sweeping fast
You gotta hold on to the lifeline
Let’s hold on together
You and me
Have no fear.
River Come Down, Andre Tanker
Life is a practice. A wise hermit type fellar called Fingers told me that once many years ago in the bush.
It sounds cheesy, I know.
Life is a practice that so many of us don’t even get a chance to make a mess of.
Fingers the hermit type fellar’s fingers had been chopped off by some irate husband. He spoke expressively and in spurts between pointed silences during which the sea roared a North Coast roar at us.
The stumps on his hands were as disturbing to me as seeing finally the precipices that I had walked past in the darkest of nights, surrounded by friends I trusted to lead me and my untrained city feet through the bush.
Fingers, I came to learn, had made every possible mistake in his own life, and I can’t remember the details but I remember the dreadness and the silence of his eyes.
I guess you get wise after you’ve spent many years in isolation with only your thoughts and nature’s rhythm section to keep you company.
Fingers’ words have followed me for a long time, haunting me to find a meaning for that.
It’s not the wisest thing I’ve ever heard or the most poetic. But it makes sense in a way that only an old Rasta man with a nickname reminding of his loss can.
I remember Fingers’ words again standing in a river, my ankles being nibbled on by fish I learn are called cichlids.
Life is a practice and some of us don’t have a chance to put the lessons we have learned to anything good.
You try to find the reason for young couple to get washed away by a river. Or a seventeen year old mother to be mowed down by a truck. You try to make sense of these things and nothing is forthcoming.
But life is a practice and if we didn’t keep trying well, we better all just lie down one time.
A more poetic man called Martin Carter once put the same thought like this: death must not find us thinking that we die.
We might as well give up now, stop wasting our time to be better people, to be loved and happy and productive.
We might as well stop complaining about the country going nowhere if we are not prepared to do the work to take it forward.
I am still practicing to find my bush feet. I am still practicing to climb rocks and keep patient and believe I can do it.
I am still practicing to feel anything else but anger and powerlessness watching the news.
I am still practicing to not doubt my words even when I think they sound like some cheesy self-help corn soup for the early thirties soul book.
There is that moment of panic when you’re in the river and the water is rushing in your ears and your foot is stuck in a rock and you don’t trust that your brain can work it out for you to get your foot to the other side. And you slide down and buss your toe and bruise up your boomsie and your elbows and your pride because you can’t believe how ungraceful you are.
There is a moment when nothing makes sense, when the vagrants don’t make sense and the tall buildings and the quarry scarring your view. Nothing makes sense and you know you’re not the crazy one.
But life is a practice and at some point you learn that the answer is not to try to avoid the problem. Wheel to come again perhaps, but don’t turn your back totally.
Life is a practice like learning the exact amount of starch mangoes you can eat before you make yourself sick.
Life is a practice and I learn more and more every day that the best way to protect the thing you love most is to know it as well as you know yourself.
From the colour of ripe cocoa pods to the temperament of rivers in a gorge in rainy season. From changing your traffic laws to knowing the names of fish that nibble on your ankles. You have to know the name of every tree you want to save and the colour of the grief of every child you don’t want to end up a killer. Life is a practice rushing at you, overwhelming you, tumbling you to your core. Who is throwing you your lifeline?