My mother used to send me to a nearby souk (convenience store) to grab culinary items for her. Partially angry for being interrupted by her call and partially reminded of her
anger if I failed to respond to her call in approximately three seconds, I always stopped whatever I was doing right away to attend to her requests. Although going to a souk to buy a kilo of potatoes or flour can be a very unpleasant experience in the unbearable heat, I always tried to make it as enjoyable of an activity as it could possibly be. And I did this by fantasizing
about being able to fly… like a bird.
“If I could fly,” I used to tell myself, “I would DIVE from this building and SWOOSH over that compound and WHOOSH through those carpets and finally reach the souk. And then… I would once again BLAST OFF and ASCEND to extreme heights, SOAR over the town, ZOOM. And at last, I would find myself at home… all of this in only five seconds.” I realize now that no bird can do all of these things in only five seconds… but that did not matter in the least to the ten year old me. Anything was possible, even becoming a superbird!
Today, the twice as old version of myself questions not only becoming a superbird but also any of the aspirations and dreams I have in life. There always seems to exist a creeping doubt whenever I imagine or fantasize about pushing my boundaries and becoming something that is… ambitious. “Are you sure you can ‘pull that off?’ What if you fail? You have no idea what is going to happen after that!” Such voices of doubt inhabit my mind, tempting me to give up and settle for less.
Usually, these voices are not easy to disregard. More often than not, they seem to be (and sometimes are) voices of reason and security. They present themselves as the “smart moves” and “intelligent strategies.” They appear to lead us to a secure career, and a secure life, and a secure… everything. What more could we ever wish for than a stable life? The only problem is that stability never seems to fulfill us. More often than not, we seem to want to gain and achieve more and are never satisfied by settling for less, however reasonable that seems.
Imagine what would have happened if an early caveman had said to his wife, “You know what, darling, we have a rock over our head, eat thrice in four days, live till our thirties… What more could we wish for? We are living the perfect life!” and his wife agreed with him! While ancient cave-dwellers did not perceive venturing outside to be a luxurious adventure, it is clear they were not content with their cave life. Nevertheless, even in contemporary times when conditions are far better than they used to be thousands of years ago, we still face the dilemma of the cave-person: to either stay inside our gilded cage of security and comfort or to shatter the cage and ascend to new heights.
The beauty of the cage is the certainty that it confers, a place where we could ensure a predictable life as much as possible. However, it is a cage all the same. It deprives us of the freedom that we innately crave. It asserts in our minds the illusion that it always has and always will be there, that it has protected us so far, and will do the same for us in the future. It leads us to even doubt that we can fly… but we can!
Abenezer Gebrehiwot is Deputy Copy Chief. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.