Life is a metaphor

Going on holiday was always a combination of sheer adrenaline and trepidation. On the one hand the freedom to leave behind the tedium of normality; on the other, three children squashed into the back seat of a dependable, if slow, VW beetle for up to sixteen hours was daunting. To this day the smell of well boiled eggs with a tinfoil wrapped salt and pepper and cold, congealed fatty boerwors evokes elements of childhood. I am not one to get excited by the prospect of going anywhere – never will be. My pragmatic mind waits until the car is packed. As in many families, seating was an issue. The tallest of the children (me) sat on the left, the littlest sister next and the middle sister on the right side. The journey would start with “I Spy with My Little Eye” for about 15 minutes, then silence until the sun crested the horizon. By then we were two hours into the trip.

At one of the rest stops breakfast would be served with either condensed milk tea or coffee out of a tartan thermos. All good and well, but we were now awake. For the next two hours we spoke and played car cricket. Car cricket was a game based on the cars driving in the opposite direction each car was worth one run, except if it were a Mercedes, which was worth four, and a bus which was worth six. When a Volkswagen came it was the end of your innings.

This carried on until a dry spell or boredom ended it. At that moment, niggles in our temperament started to surface. As if we were playing a game of world domination like RISK™, we started to encroach one another’s territory. One millimeter at a time until it became full blown war, our voices got louder, we were more fractious until the dreaded “Shall we go home or shall I give all a hiding” words were bellowed from the front seats. At that time, I was ready to go home!

Of course we never turned back, we sweltered, we contorted in a failed attempt to feel comfortable, but when the sliver of blue was on the horizon we forgot all. We filled our lives with ice cream, the inevitable sunburn and hours of swimming in the sea. All the travails we had been through forgotten. With nary a thought of the return journey we frolicked and lazed grasshopper style.

Thinking back on both the highs and lows of every trip is a metaphor for our lives. That is what makes our lives such a richly coloured and textured piece of embroidery. The obvious and somewhat lame association would be to compare this to the journey of one’s life. I think life is not really a journey, more like a stream of bubbles – similar to the ones we bought as children. Can you remember those in the red and yellow bottles with the bubble ring where we use to dip and blow into? Normal daily life comes with chores that need to be met (eating and sleeping); sometimes we manage to enjoy them. The long soak after work and the romantic candlelit bath are but two of them. Other times a rushed shower or a meal eaten on the run is all you can do. What is important is not the string between things, rather, the intent with which we allow ourselves to live them chunks in between, and that we must live accordingly.

Even doing something less enjoyable is either bad or good. Taking that as a concept has changed my life. When I am faced with a less happy part of my day, week or circumstance I try not to hope as the Persian Sufi poet Attar of Nishapur is attributed to have said, “This too shall pass.” Instead I sit in the moment and remind myself how in short order it will interlace into my memory. This changes how I view it. Trying to remember it as a story worth regaling in a winter’s night or maybe around a summer braai, it causes us to step into our own narrative simultaneously as a participant and an observer. I have found this to diminish the bad experiences but strangely enhance the good. This, contrasts the mundane in our lives, but at the same time elevates the peaks in a positive manner.

Thinking back from the trips now; they were some of my favourites, imagine if I was living them that way since the beginning of my life…


Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards was a practicing plastic surgeon, co-founder of the Netcare Milpark Hospital - Breast Care Centre of Excellence and the Breast Health Foundation. He then refocused his life and qualified as a minister. He writes from both a scientific and humanities view.