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Finding the courage to step into the unknown

The stamina to persevere. The strength to quit. And the wisdom to know which one of the two to choose

Sometimes leaving places that are like home is an act of survival. Photo: Natasha Badhwar
Sometimes leaving places that are like home is an act of survival. Photo: Natasha Badhwar

Every now and then we need to throw ourselves to the wolves, so to speak. Get up from our comfort zones and leave. Sometimes nothing is wrong enough, but we are still compelled to let go of that very balance that gives us solace and a sense of continuity. We call deep on our courage and take the plunge.

Just like I cannot articulate why life exists in this beautiful, flawed form in the first place, I cannot really explain why we are often compelled to take decisions that are embedded with loss and uncertainty. I just know that you are familiar with this experience.

Starting from scratch after having peaked is part of the circle of life. The physical body does it, often more than once in its lifetime. We are broken by accidents, disease, complications in childbirth and by age. People are uprooted by natural disasters, war, violence and political catastrophes. Sometimes our relationships are calamitous and it takes years to learn to breathe, trust, love and accept ourselves again.

Last year, both our older children shifted out of the school that they had first entered as pre-schoolers to join a new school further away from our home. We took the decision to leave the space that had nurtured and protected them in their most vulnerable years.

The children were doubtful and confused. They alternated between anger, fear and grief. They didn’t know what they might gain by going along with our plans and they were unable to express the loss they were feeling. We spent months talking to them about our point of view and waiting for them to come around.

It had been a very difficult choice to make and for a while even I had buckled and declared that I would not be able to execute this plan. Every time I tried to speak about it, tears would choke my voice. I was grateful for what we had received and yet I was convinced that we had to move on.

On the first day in the new school, our 11-year-old middle child returned home and collapsed in my arms. She felt devastated by the shock of the unfamiliar.

“Can I never go back to my old school now, Mamma?" she wailed in my lap, repeating herself many times over. I held her tight, afraid of the depth of her grief. What had we done? How could we recover from here?

Quitting the familiar forces us to huddle closer to ourselves. We are forced to unravel our motives, often having long, overdue conversations. We find answers and connections that had eluded us.

“Mamma, don’t ever go anywhere else from this home," my youngest child had once said to me, startling me enough to pay attention to her words. She was speaking to me from the pot in the bathroom, as I waited on the wooden staircase outside, with the door ajar between us.

“Why, babu?" I asked her. I had been only too eager to get out of home as soon as she was old enough.

“When I grow up and come back home, I want everything to be here like it is now," the child said to me. She was asking me to forever be a part of home as she knew it.

It made me see that sometimes one’s role is to be present. To be permanent. “Perhaps she sees me as a tree," I thought to myself. “I can keep growing towards the everchanging sky, so long as I remain rooted where she needs me."

Although I am quite a tenacious person, I am also strangely good at leaving places I am attached to. I find it easy to convince myself to step out into the unknown, knowing that my fall will be cushioned by the safety net of the universe. The unfamiliar has always made a place for me and I am not entirely afraid to embrace it when I do.

In her famous poem, One Art, the poet Elizabeth Bishop writes:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Sometimes leaving places that are like home for us is an act of survival. We choose to leave because we are ready to grow beyond the protective boundaries that have limited us. Safety can be claustrophobic. We brave risks we can name to unearth parts of ourselves that we have never known before.

“It’s not you, it is me," we say sheepishly as we leave people and organizations we perceive to be more powerful than us. We insist that we are not good enough. We are timid or inept and we just cannot cope. We know we are lying.

Leaving makes us vulnerable, but it is also an opportunity to reclaim power and dignity. We retreat into the cocoon from where we also draw on our untapped strengths. We discover that we are intuitive and prescient.

Prescience needs practice. Intuition gets rusty from disuse.

Life demands from us both the stamina to persevere and the strength to quit. It is for us to hone our wisdom and clarity to know which of the two to choose at the crossroads we find ourselves in. Others can advise us, but only we have access to the map that can guide us, one small step at a time.

It is truly the miracle of life that so many of us discover that in our quest to find the home where we might belong, we realize that we have ourselves become the home we seek.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.

The writer tweets at @natashabadhwar

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