It was just last year that I wrote a piece about my grandfather who liked to read atlases. You may recall the one. It was about a simple man who missed the land of his childhood, the burial ground of his forefathers. He often thought of his family, sitting silently and blindly staring at the cartographic pictures without seeing land and lake. He never spoke of the brothers and sisters he’d left behind – being a man of very few words. Instead he would put his feet up and get a far away look in his eye, reaching out, once again, for a worn volume.
He was too afraid to have an adventure, too encircled by the chains of fear to move from his comfortable place – apple in one hand, atlas in the other. And yet, he desperately wanted one. And I came to the realization that I too, was very afraid. My chains were not made up of binding fear, but of intense obligation. I could not leave my family and I could not forgive myself if I did leave and something terrible came to pass. I always had this deep seeded fear that if I did go away, to selfishly live out my own life, it would be the last time I would ever see them. But, I the dream of running off with my hat was always there, like Stevie Smith wrote:
Mother said if I wore this hat
I should be certain to get off with the right sort of chap
Well, look where I am now, on a desert island
With so far as I can see no one at hand
I know what has happened though I suppose Mother wouldn't see
This hat being so strong has completely run away with me
I had a feeling it was beginning to happen the moment I put it on
What a moment that was as I rose up, rose up like a flying swan
As strong as a swan too, why see how far my hat has flown me away
It took us a night to come and then a night and a day
And all the time the swan wing in my hat waved beautifully
Ah, I thought, How this hat becomes me.
First the sea was dark but then it was pale blue
And still the wing beat and we flew and we flew
A night and a day and a night, and by the old right way
Between the sun and the moon we flew until morning day.
It is always early morning here on this peculiar island
The green grass grows into the sea on the dipping land
Am I glad here? yes, well, I am,
It's nice to be rid of Father, Mother and the young man
There's just one thing causes me a twinge of pain,
If I take my hat off, shall I find myself home again?
So in this early morning land I always wear my hat
Go home, you see, well I wouldn't run a risk like that.
I took comfort in the fact that I could always take off the hat and be, once again, with the people who need me. I thought I could have my adventure and live in safety too. I thought I could have my cake and eat it too, but all I was doing was hiding it away where it spoils and rots. So I have to go on an adventure, not with my words or my mind, but with my whole body. I have to jump into the unknown and let its discovery become my reality. And if you’re very lucky and very good, I’ll bring you all along with me. See you in Scotland on July 29th.