I took a random trip the National Gallery this week. I was staying with a friend I hadn’t seen for ten years and decided to hang out an extra day. As I stepped into the late morning the wind slapped my face like a cold fish. I checked for my trusty red umbrella that lived in the bottom of my pack and set off into the innocent looking morning.
In the Gallery I wandered in the luxury of time, bending in close to meet each artist’s immortal hand and eye. The curious intensity of Cossington Smith, I sat in the shadow of late afternoon sun, held by Streeton’s sharp honest lines along soft wonder with the small boy minding his sheep in a familiar paddock.
As I stood in front of Ian Fairweather I felt the presence of something wild and holy. I bowed my head and wanted to kneel as some raw beauty beyond my comprehension pierced my soul, leaving my senses naked and waiting.
I drifted randomly through the almost deserted rooms. Occasionally coming upon small clumps of students with lipstick-mouthed teachers standing before a painting speaking loudly to the upturned faces. I envied those kids their easy access to a world of culture and history.
My only canvas in kidhood was the wide earth, the silhouette of a tree against the late afternoon sun, the arc of rainbow as the world stood like a hymn after the storm, fingers of sun piercing through clouds in holy wonder. Yes I envied them but I still look for the horizon and the exquisite curve of a tree.
Not ‘til I had lunch in the glass walled café did I see that it had started to rain. More clumps of students appeared outside huddling under trees like mushrooms, popping up in crevices of the gallery trying to find shelter from the wind and waiting for the rain to leave.
Walking home I was whipped by the weather. I felt like one of those cartoon characters walking into a blizzard, bent over pushing against the wind. My red folding umbrella collapsed against the weight of the world coming at me.
Wind and rain made my face ache from the cold and I felt soggy and crumpled as I hugged the edge of the lake, alone in the cranky afternoon. I started leaking, my shoes squelched and rain stung any exposed skin like needles.
In a crackling flash saw that I had a choice. I could walk all the way home in misery, or change my orientation. (If you don’t know about orientation and reorientation it’s explained in detail in my book, i-brainmap, freeing your brain for happiness).
I could see this walk home as a shipwreck and wail against the wind and rain, beating my breast and punching the wind with my fist, or I could see it as a quest.
Yes of course a quest, the hero’s journey. As I stepped into the hero script and toughened my resolve, I leaned into the wind with renewed determination. I held the Holy Grail of home in my imagination and pictured myself sipping hot tea in dry socks in front of the heater.
Each time I got lost or had to turn back, or slipped into my misery about my aching face and soggy feet, I held to my quest and became the hero in her journey. I felt my resolve strengthen and sharpened my image of myself warm and cosy until it was true.
It is a kind of madness to rail against what we can’t change. And mostly what is outside us, the weather, other people, life, we can’t change. Sure we can influence some of it, but random events happen all the time and often we rail against them. Wishing it was like the story we have in our head, that perfect story where everyone lives happily ever after, but it ain’t.
Life is random, yes a bit like the weather.
That night I got a message that my niece was sick. She was home alone with a baby and her four year old son, her husband away working. Because I had changed my plans and spent another day in Canberra, in the storm, I was able to travel to her in the Hunter Valley.
I didn’t do much the two days I was there till her husband returned. I played footy with my great nephew, Levi, and nursed Willow who gave me gummy grins and then spewed on me through her grin. I read every book there is about garbage trucks. I love being a grand auntie.
Life is like a mad auntie, kind, but a bit random. You never really know what will happen next and sometimes a detour or delay makes other things possible. Sure, make your plans but know that life is always offering you other opportunities, a bird at the window, a stranger’s smile or random conversation, a meeting with an old friend, a loved one in need, or some wild weather that makes your skin tingle and reminds you to laugh into the wind.
These random events are often the ones that invite us to step in close to those we love, to experience the world and even ourselves differently as we meet and lean into the unexpected instead of railing against it.
Trust random but check the weather, and bring a map.