Friday, June 05, 2020

A Moment Of Clarity - An Autobiographical Reflection About Race



Those times don’t happen often. Actually those moments don’t happen often. You know – where you remember some incident, some happening, some past life event that seems to hold the key to understanding your present predicament. 

Some people are constantly searching for these moments. For me – I feel as if they come after me. Perhaps having been a psychology student is the explanation, or maybe an unhealthy interest in the philosophy of Star Wars. Whatever it is – I think those moments happen to me (or maybe I’m making them happen to me) fairly regularly. 

The interesting thing though, is the extent to which those moments are life altering. I read somewhere that there are ‘no ordinary moments’ – each one is unique, extraordinary and represents my life ending as each one passes by (to paraphrase something I heard in a film once). Seriously though I think it’s possible for something to be revealed in a moment of clarity the seeing of which changes everything. I’ve heard that somewhere before too…Yoda? Or Buddha? 

Anyway, this particular realisation occurred in my mid- to late- twenties. I think it was something that was creeping up on me. It was something I always knew and was deeply aware of – I just never quite joined the dots. 

Now some people would have you believe these insights come only when one’s mind is calm and in a space of deep awareness and meditation; when one is seeking enlightenment and presents one’s question to the Source; when one is open and ready; when one is in solitude and at peace; when one is contemplating the oneness of everything – only then do moments of clarity happen. 

What a load of fucking balls. 

I think they’re happening all the time – we’re just too fucking dumb to realise. Not that I’m saying I’m the person who knows everything or has the answer. Don’t shoot the messenger now – there are enough people who’ve said the same thing as me. 

I just feel that I’ve learned to appreciate things for what they are – and then make connections in interesting ways. 

So anyway – I was in my mid- to late- twenties: a time of the quarter-life crisis perhaps (just ask Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Jones and Morrison). I’d finished uni; I’d done some soul-searching; I’d awakened my sexual self and lost my virginity somewhere (finally); I’d read lots of very cool literature covering new-age spirituality, self-help, traditional literary greats; I’d even got drunk and done drugs for fuck’s sake! 

Yet amongst all that, hidden within the really cool things I’d achieved and experienced I still felt something was unexplained. A nagging doubt that chewed and nibbled at the back of my mind like a tiny stone stuck in my shoe. I likened it to the feeling I had of not being able to sleep after eating something in bed because of all the crumbs: individually small enough to go unnoticed but collectively big enough to prevent me from falling asleep. 

Taking this metaphor further, I think a lot of my experiences until that point were crumbs in the bed. Only when they reached a critical mass was I compelled to take action and sweep out the bed. 

Actually, the depth of the insight was more like stripping the bedsheets and getting a new bed – such was its revelatory nature. 

So yeah – this nagging, gnawing sense of I-don’t-know-what was my constant companion. I mean I knew it was there – I just didn’t know what it was, where it started or why it existed. I think I just learned to live with it. I buried it. It was only at a certain age that I noticed it. I think what started the search was leaving uni and starting to work. I was in the space of just beginning to earn money. I had finished ‘being a student’ I was in a job I enjoyed and I was newly single. Part of me not only felt as if the world was my oyster, I also felt as if the world had better watch out. 

Ah the arrogance of youth. 

My friends would sometimes ask me where I got my energy. I would say I didn’t know and go on to explain that one of my nicknames at uni was ‘Duracell Bunny’. Friends who had known me a bit longer would ask if I ever got tired. I would ask them: tired of what? They would reply tired of being a rebel. I would just shrug, smile and find something else to wind them up about. 

My family too worried about me. My dad was convinced I was suffering from manic-depression. (It does happen to be quite prevalent amongst men. Symptoms often reveal themselves in the individual’s mid-twenties; that and a high incidence of schizophrenia). Again I shrugged it off. Looking back I suppose my behaviour was a little erratic and puerile. I would vacillate from being at home lots, to being out and coming back late. I would spend a lot of my time in my room and treat my parents’ house like a hotel. I mean, I paid rent and did my own washing and ironing but I think my parents (perhaps my mum more) missed the experience of me actually being there. 

So yeah – friends, family all just got a bit weary. That’s the best word. I mean I guess I was tiring to be around: ‘intense all the time’ as my sibling and first girlfriend use to say – much to my annoyance. 

But as my twenties moved on I’d begun to have enough of everyone giving me their opinions – solicited and unsolicited – so much so that I started to wonder and question myself. Was I a manic-depressive? Should I go to the doctor, psychiatrist or whatever and be assessed? Why am I so over the top? Am I always going to be like that? Why do I feel the constant urge to make fun of others around me and monopolise the attention? Why do I have to be at the centre of the crowd all the time? Was I just coming across as desperate, vacuous and just a drama-queen? 

None of these thoughts were new to me at this point. I’d always known I was an ‘attention-seeking, loudmouth big-head’ as someone in sixth form had characterised me. By that time I’d become adept at manipulating myself to get people to like me. Essentially that was it: I was desperate for people to love me. I was basically screaming to all and sundry: ‘please love me’. 

I took to not drinking at university and found it to be an incredibly effective way of getting and keeping people’s attention and ensuring I was memorable. I concocted a story about me getting drunk and committing acts of vandalism as a reason for me being tee-total. I told it so often in sixth form and at uni I began to believe the incidents happened. 

On balance it wasn’t that surprising I was pissing people off. This I knew. 

But all this wonderful self-awareness means fuck all if it changes nothing. I’d read and heard that enough times. And in fact through my early-twenties I went a long way to clearing up the bullshit I’d created. It had given me some sense of calm. 

Yes the breadcrumbs were being seen for what they were. Yes they were being cleaned up. Yes moments of clarity had happened along the way. 

But after all this soul-searching-and-finding I was still left with: why? Why had all this happened? Where and when did it all start? 

It felt like the ball of wool was finally becoming unravelled. It was as if the photographer of my life had been adjusting his lens closer to the point where every facet of reality would be brought in to startling sharpness. 

And I remembered. 

I remembered something from nursery, something simultaneously innocuous and profound. 

There we are sitting around a table on our little chairs. The table was that hardwearing, cheap plastic. They type you see in nurseries and schools all over suburbia. I remember it was light blue. We were having the time of our lives playing a very simple game, one that we played all the time. I don’t even know if it had a name – we were so young that our linguistic prowess probably didn’t stretch to more than the scream of delight a child has when engaged in almost anything novel. 

So the game went like this. Someone would put one of their hands in the middle of the table. The person next to them would put one of their hands on top of the first person’s. The third person would put their hand on top of the hands on the table, and so on until everyone had one hand in the middle. 

The first person would then put their other hand on top of the growing pile of hands. Everyone else would follow. By this time there were a pile of hands in the middle of the table. The person who had initiated the hand-placing would now have to pull their hand out from the bottom of the pile and put it at the top. The next person would follow, as would the next. From there it would descend into a wonderful cacophony of childish screams, smiles, hand-on-table-slapping and general noise. 

Once we’d calmed down  - we’d do it again. And again. And again. This is just a simple, harmless game that represents the innocence of children growing up in the late-seventies early-eighties right? 

Of course it is! I’m not going to say it’s anything more than that, except to say that we human beings are wonderful. Our minds work in very simple yet very profound (and complicated) ways. 

There’s a reason I remembered this game: my moment of clarity. I remember putting my hand down on the cold blue plastic of the table. I remember my hand standing out in sharp relief against the table. The way the branches of a tree stand out in fierce contrast against the sky on a warm, clear sunny winter’s morning. I not only noticed how cold the table was and how someone else’s hand felt on mine. I noticed something else that day. 

My hand was not like the others. 

I was not like the others. 

Uh-oh. 

My moment of clarity that crept up on me; that chased after me in my quiet moments; that remained with me like so many crumbs in the bed – it was remembering the first time I realised I was brown. 

And so life began.

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Photo by Maddy Baker on Unsplash