80 Stories (selected) – 2. The Colouring Book

Updated

In the 60’s my three sisters and I were children growing up in a small New Zealand town by the sea. My father liked the simple ways and always walked or bicycled to work, shunning the enchantments promised by an emerging new age of television and motorcars. Our home became a fortress sandcastle, defiant against the rising tide of technology – eventually the ramparts crumbled and my father capitulated to the incoming tides of change. Years later though he would remind us with great pride that we had been the last house in our suburb to get television.

In this new world, evening scrabble, cards and colouring books were replaced with television and the old bicycle eventually surrendered to a gleaming Ford Prefect motorcar. Scrabble was a huge loss to me – I excelled at concealing essential letters in my clothing, at outrageous inventions with the English language and endless intrigue. And our picture books – with pursed lips, brows furrowed with a child’s concentration, how devotedly we would colour in the black and white sketches with our crayons and pens. Later I came to see how much of a metaphor this pastime was – how much the distinct, theme qualities of our nature would colour in and determine the flavours and experiences of our lives.

I was last to leave our happy childhood home. The bus that would take me out of my parents’ lives finally pulled out of the station, and I was peering out of the window, the first sorrows of adulthood filling my eyes. There they were, weeping inconsolably at the departure of their last child, holding each other helplessly by the arms. And years later we children would come together again, silent and weeping before the solemn and sad mystery of their deaths.

So began a long thirteen-year odyssey, the journey of discovery that we all make in one form or another as we colour in the storybooks of our lives. And discovering as we all sooner or later do that there is absolutely nothing out there, no place, no person, no possession, that can make us lastingly happy. In my own wanderings – that long fruitless detour across the parched deserts of worldliness that would lead to this understanding – I would often hear, whispering in my mind, the words of the Greek poet Cavafy, “No ship exists to take you from yourself,” and T. S. Elliot’s sombre words would echo in refrain: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time…”

Years later, I would come across an old box of childhood things, mementoes and treasures from a distant past – an old shawl, some favourite poems of my mother, a silver broach, the sepia brown photos of unknown grandparents – and there among the heirlooms and memories, one of our old colouring books, still with its’ bright colours and poignant innocence. Feeling now the beautiful and hidden perfection of life and marvelling at the long journey of the soul with its’ many selves and guises; peering intently at the colours I had used, trying to understand how far I might have come; how far I might have to go to reach journey’s end. Here, back at my own starting point I remembered once again the words from Elliot’s poem, and how the end of all our exploring will be “to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time… Through the unknown, remembered gate when the last of earth left to discover is that which was the beginning…”

How grateful I am to all the teachers of my life whose knowledge has encouraged me along my way. How grateful to my own teacher, Sri Chinmoy, the brightest polestar in my life sky, who colours in my journey with the bright things of the soul and continues to lead me through that doorway of spirit – the ‘unknown, remembered gate’ – on the great quest for God.