Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I’m rather partial to a Grand Adventure. I think we all go on these at certain moments in our lives. Sometimes we plan and prepare, and then set off with great fanfare and flag-waving, and sometimes we don’t even realise that’s what we’re doing. Sometimes all the planning and preparation goes into the starting ceremony itself, without a thought for what may happen after.
Of course, all the preparation in the world can’t necessarily guarantee success in any Grand Adventure, and it can be rather difficult to define what success might look like, or when the Grand Adventure is supposed to finish. The truth is that stuff happens, no matter what you plan for, and sometimes that stuff just comes out or nowhere, and you just have to wing it. This particular stuff can often turn an otherwise ordinary time into a Grand Adventure, and there’s no earthly use in complaining about it, because there’s no Complaints Department or Rewind button.
A story, with you in the middle of it
Perhaps I’m taking my definition of a Grand Adventure for granted here. What I mean is that there are times in our lives when everything ticks along and nothing challenging or exciting happens, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes we can either plan for something special, or something special happens out of the blue, and that’s a Grand Adventure. It doesn’t even have to be good, or exciting, or safe. You could get caught up in a natural disaster or an accident or unpleasant events just as easily as winning the Lottery or getting picked for a television appearance. A Grand Adventure is something that lifts your life out of the ordinary for a while, and makes a story, with you in the middle of it.
Our first Grand Adventure starts the moment we’re born. Each and every one of us has been gifted a Life. We can do anything we want with this life, within reason. Some of us aspire to great things, and some of us feel that we’ve done well to survive this long. Things happen to us along the way, and sometimes we have the luxury of making choices. We’ll never know whether these choices were right or not, because we have no map for finding out what might have happened if we had chosen otherwise, but the one thing we can say is that the path we’re on right now is unique to each of us, and it has certainly been influenced by our own choices in life. Ahead is vague and indistinct, whatever we might have planned, and will contain many more blockages and barriers and forked paths to select blindly.
Some sort of process that I had to go through
I find this all rather exciting. I know people who fear it all, and I feel sad about that. My excitement isn’t because I feel confident that I’ll survive and make the right choices. Heaven knows, anyone could point out to me the stupid things I’ve done, and I would probably agree with them, with the proviso that this is hindsight, and the person I was at that time obviously wouldn’t have seen the situation in the way that the person who is me now would. I once had a particularly difficult thing to live through, and I found myself impelled to do things that were apparently stupid or pointless.
I couldn’t explain why I had to do those things, but I knew I had to do them, because there was some sort of process that I had to go through, even though I had no understanding of what it was all about. I ended up with a mantra I used to say to myself, and it has always held true, even if the grammar is terrible. I can’t make it better. It goes like this. “We all do what we feel we need to do at the time”. Eventually time passed and I began to rejoin whatever passes for Normal Service in this existence, and here I still am, laying out the contents of my addled mind for all to see. Thank you for looking. Do let me know if you see any sense in there. I’m not sure I can.
Grand Adventures always change you
That period was a Grand Adventure. I’m not sure what I learned from it, other than that it’s possible to survive very difficult times, and that sometimes you just need to go with the flow, wherever it’s taking you. The event that caused it all wasn’t a Grand Adventure, but recovering from it was. It’s important to make this distinction. Marriage is a Grand Adventure, obviously. But sometimes I get the feeling that people are so busy concentrating on the actual ceremony that they forget that it’s just the opening ceremony of a very long Grand Adventure, rather than the Grand Adventure itself. So a Grand Adventure is always something that takes up a portion of your time.
I think Grand Adventures, whether planned or not, always change you. Especially painful ones. You have a certain amount of choice here. You can choose to block out everything and never think or talk about it afterwards, or you can react to the emotional impact, or you can work out what you have learned, or should have learned, from it. I’ve always been of the opinion that if there’s any reason for us being here, it’s to learn and become wiser, and the only way to do that is to ask questions and try to make sense of what is happening. I don’t expect to learn the answer to any of it, but I do expect to make myself wiser by thinking up the best questions I can. I also believe that you can’t block out experiences, because they’ll always come back until you process them properly and get a sense of proportion.
Never underestimate the power of Denial
One of my favourite film quotes is from American Beauty. “Never underestimate the power of Denial”. I’ve seen too many lives blighted by this refusal or inability to deal with difficult things properly. It can cause people to dampen their emotional lives, it ruins relationships, it can make family life difficult, and it affects those around the person living with the chained-off areas in their minds. Sometimes people with bad reactions to Grand Adventures they have lived through can go to extraordinary lengths to avoid those things, and they can cause great damage. I know they can’t help it, and I feel sorry that they haven’t been able to get over it or round it. And sometimes it’s not their fault.
I feel sorry for those whose very natures are denied them by the place or circumstances in which they live, preventing them ever being able to be themselves. Their Grand Adventures are filled with furtiveness and fear. Imagine being gay in England, any time before 1967. Imagine being a non-believing Muslim in Pakistan or Afghanistan, right now, or at most times in their history. Imagine being black in most of the USA before the 1960s. Imagine living in Occupied France during the Second World War. There’s a long list. Anyone who finds themselves in that position has a limited choice. They might be able to get out and find somewhere to live freely, or they might have to deny their true characters in their daily life, or they would risk being found out and exposed at any time, and losing their liberty and everything they have worked for. This even happens in our own country. Look up what happened to Alan Turing, for instance, whose code-breaking saved us from defeat in the Second World War.
The possible outcomes are more important
I still call these things Grand Adventures, because they make our lives more complicated than if we’re quite free. We need to think on our feet, and act deliberately in certain ways to improve our chances of survival, and everything we do caries more risk. Life can be heightened in a Grand Adventure, and the risks and rewards more meaningful and valuable. This is another indication of a Grand Adventure. Our lives, while the thing’s going on, are more vivid, our emotions are more involved, and we’re more aware of being alive, because the possible outcomes are more important.
Occasionally, a Grand Adventure can be so fully lived and played out that a further Grand Adventure is required afterwards. I’m thinking of soldiers, returning from their Grand Adventure participating in some war somewhere, living through all that danger and stress, and witnessing all that horror and fear. That’s bad enough in itself, and any soldier will talk about the highs and lows, and the extraordinary joys and depths of despair they go through. But coming home and adapting to the loss of all that, and the aftermath of processing all that is in itself a Grand Adventure, which is too often harder to cope with than the service and sacrifice that went before.
We need to process everything fearlessly
So the last thing I’m going to mention here is that Grand Adventures are challenging, whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not. Anything we do that changes our lives over a period of time is a Grand Adventure, and we should be aware of these things, and I think it would help us when times get hard to remind ourselves that we’re having a Grand Adventure. We need to live our lives as fully as we can, we need to think about everything that happens as hard as we can, and we need to process everything fearlessly. And we need to be open to every possibility there is, embark on every Grand Adventure with courage and a sense of excitement and discovery in our hearts and minds, and be prepared for it to become a rocky ride. And let’s face it, nobody gets to be immune from Life itself.
Above all, we need to understand that nobody fully processes the effects of any of our Grand Adventures, we’re all struggling, and nobody’s on top of anything. If you ever meet anyone who claims to be sure of anything at all, let alone everything, you can be sure they’re massively pretending to themselves, and should be avoided at all costs. It’s simply not possible. Asking for help is an admission of being a real person who wants to do better and be wiser. Aren’t we all in that position?
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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