Pebbles of Life

Originally wrote this piece in 2013 for a mindful living portal but I’m reposting it here again as I recently had the chance to scratch off one item from my bucket list which I had postponed for 2 and half years. I’m becoming more aware of these pebbles and would like to share with AWiB readers their story. *

Have you ever thought of your life in terms of the summers you have experienced and the summers you have left ahead of you? If you were to travel the journey of your life according to the number of summers you have left, how would you live it? Would it give you the perspective and courage to begin living out your dreams?

During a past work trip abroad I met a man who shared with me an inspirational story of Kingsley Holgate, which left me quite moved in terms of how I wanted to lead the rest of my life. Now the story of Kingsley Holgate is quite fascinating. He is a South African explorer who is considered the most travelled man in Africa and author of many books on his expeditions. To many who dream of the freedom that travel and exploration provide, he is an icon of such adventurous possibilities. Holgate and his family have travelled from one tip of Africa to another – the Cape to Cairo route – navigating Africa’s waterways. They have left their marks circling the Tropic of Capricorn through African and Australian deserts, the Andes and South American jungles and many more breathtaking explorations that have been captured on National Geographic.

The journey that many put off until retirement, until the children go to school, until a job is secured, until…The truth is the stories we keep spinning and telling ourselves about why we cannot realize the dreams we have will continue being justified by a vicious cycle of story building, unless we take ownership of our lives and do it despite our circumstances.

The story that moved me is that of Kingsley Holgate giving advice to one of his close friends. His friend, a 57 year old man, was one who had done well in setting up a business yet went through life unfulfilled of that accomplishment. The story goes that Holgate took seven pebbles as they sat on a beach, and placed them in a row. The seven pebbles, Holgate told his friend, represented his life. He then took the first four pebbles and threw them away, as the four presented each decade of his friend’s life that have already been lived right up to his late forties. He then picked up the fifth pebble and threw it away as well, as the fifth symbolized his fifties that were quickly coming to an end as well and nothing could be done about that. Holgate then threw the sixth stone away, saying “your seventies, too unpredictable and maybe too old to do anything meaningful”. With one pebble left, Holgate handed it to his friend and shared “this is the life you have left: ten years.” He advised his friend to keep that last pebble in his pocket, put it next to his bed at night, and constantly remind him of the few good summers he had left.

When Holgate was later asked what happened to his friend, he declared that the 57-year-old businessman had sold his business a year later and began living the life he was putting off “until things were just right”.

The morale of this true story is that life is not waiting for anyone. As a journey waiting to be explored, time will not stand still waiting for us to figure out when the “right” time is to become our full selves. When you calculate the number of summers you may have left to lead your life with purpose and impact, does it not want to make you get up right now and begin watering the seeds you have planted in dreams?

Billene Seyoum also blogs at www.africanfeminism.com.