One of the best last lines I’ve read is from Alan Paton’s novel, Cry the Beloved Country. I read it as a schoolgirl and have never forgotten it.
And when that dawn will come, the dawn of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why that is a secret.
That day did come, the day when apartheid became history. It was worth the wait. I’ve realized, after thinking about this for some months, that a certain kind of waiting has to do with love.
When there is longing for something or someone that is truly and deeply loved, there is also a willingness to wait for as long as it takes. Whether it is freedom, or a loved one, or an idea – if you love it enough, you can wait a lifetime. The old Bard realized it in one of his sonnets:
Love’s not Time’s fool, tho’ rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come
Love knows not his brief weeks or hours
But bears it out even to the edge of doom..
This waiting is not passive, however. It doesn’t mean that life can go on as usual, because in order to bring about that meeting, between person and person, or country and freedom, or idea and mind – in order to enable it to happen, you have to transform. Sometimes painfully. When I realized that, I had been writing myself a monograph on the subject of life’s apparent paradoxes. One paradox was this: you wait best when you are not focused on that end result. Even though all you are doing might be oriented toward it. Like in so many things, process is important; the end result, however fervently desired, is only a possible positive side effect of right process.
The ancient Indians said that more poetically in the Bhagavad Gita:
Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshu kada chana,
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani
Easy to say – if you have the slightest familiarity with Sanskrit, the syllables roll gorgeously off the tongue. Incredibly difficult to practice. Very roughly (as far as I can recall) it means: “you have the right/ authority to perform your action, but you do not have a right to the result. Do not consider yourself the cause of the result, and do not be attached to inaction.”
It is hard to buy this notion in a goal-oriented culture. For instance not long ago a matter came up at work that was disturbing to me — I took a certain public stance and followed it up with an event. I had hoped for a certain result, but not expected it, given the forces at play. And in fact that result did not come to be. But my stance, and the action I’d taken, came from what I thought was right, and it was done for its own sake. Yet there were so many people who didn’t get it. I heard, again and again: “Why are you doing this? It’s not going to change anything.” I had to explain in words of two syllables or less that sometimes it is appropriate to take action, independent of whether it helps advance a certain goal or not. Because that action is the right action, because it is your dharma. (Here I interpret the word dharma in its broadest way, non-religiously as ‘sacred duty,’ i.e. what you think you must do in compliance with your moral compass). The pervasive, apparently common-sensical goal-oriented approach to life, while often useful, can sometimes be harmful if it is exclusively our way of thinking and being. But it is a part of corporate culture that is deeply ingrained in us.
There will be times when the waiting doesn’t bring what one desires, as Faiz says so well:
Yeh daag daag ujala, yeh shab gazeeda sahar
Wo intezaar tha jiska, yeh wo sahar to nahin
najaat-e-deed-o-dil ki ghadi nahin aaee
chale chalo ki vo manzil abhi nahin aaee
This blemished light, this night-stung dawn
Surely this is not the dawn we waited for
It is not yet time for the liberation of eye and heart
Let us keep going, our destination is yet to come…
How neatly and eloquently these lines of Faiz speak across time, culture and language to the quote from Paton with which I started!
(Note Added Later: I made a correction to the quote, which was from memory (ah middle age!). The quote says ‘dawn,’ not ‘day.’ )