“Life had a different shape; it had new branches and some of the old branches were dead. It had followed the constant pattern of discard and growth that all lives follow. Things had passed, new things had come”. This quote comes from the excellent book by Beryl Markham, West with the Night, a ‘classic, engrossing memoir—a triumph of the pioneer spirit and an adventure-charged chronicle of a life lived to the fullest’.
West With The Night was brought to my attention years ago by our friend JoAnn. It had been on my Kindle for several months before I felt it was time to read. Written in 1936, it describes the life of this extraordinary woman, born and raised in Africa. In her younger years she trained horses, thoroughbreds, and later was struck with the passion to fly planes. She became a bush pilot in Africa and later took on aeronautic feats unrealized in the 1930’s, let alone by a woman. And on top of these accomplishments she was an outstanding author of beautiful prose, possessing a writing style that allows the reader not only to visualize her stories, but to feel her passion. In the movie Out of Africa (1985), Markham is represented as the outspoken, horse-riding tomboy named Felicity.
I find it appropriate to mention this book and author now, having just this week learned that one of my oldest childhood friends had passed away at the young age of 59. When we’re kids and young adults we experience death first with grandparents, lucky if we knew all four from both sides of the family (I only knew my grandmothers). Then we age into middle life and experience the passing of parents, at which time our own mortality awakens with greater clarity. And now this childhood friend has died and we’re the next generation on the chopping block. But I have always tried to live my life in the moment, to be present in the here and now, learning from the past but not projecting too much into the future (Be Here Now). Reading West With The Night I think about these life issues, question if I’m living a life fulfilled. I know I’m never going to fly a single engine airplane from Nairobi to London as Beryl Markham did, but am I challenging myself and living my life the way I want. No one ever does one hundred percent of the time.
A life fulfilled is an individual pursuit; some of us do it through our children, some through work, some through philanthropy, some giving ourselves to worthwhile causes. Sometimes it’s just living a good life, not taking advantage of others and being a giving person. Some of us find fulfillment in a game of golf, a bike ride or reading a good book; something to make us feel worthwhile, not for others but for ones self. My friend Victor died young, and from what I understand he had many unrealized dreams. Don’t wait for those dreams to happen, make them a your reality. I doubt many of us will say from our death bed “I did too much in life”.