When I was about 13 years old I remember my legs hurting during the night. They would ache. Stretching and extending and pushing my muscles to the limit. Beginning their journey to rise (quite literally) to the 6 foot tall challenge. All unbeknownst to me of course. Growing Pains.
Don’t get me wrong, I was always a lanky little thing. Not always tall. Just gangly. Ask Ella. She has been lovingly teasing me about my ‘baby giraffe’ ways since before we could watch PG movies. From back when I wore tutus recreationally. (N.B Okay yes I still own 1x red adult tutu that comes out on special occasions. Like Wednesdays.)
Nevertheless when I went to Australia for boarding school not only did my body suffer the side-effects of growth at super-speed, my life did too. And both made me cry. A lot.
I missed my mum so much I was convinced homesickness could make your heart stop. I wrote letters about locking our family in a room and never leaving. I stormed into my school principal’s office and held onto the leg of his table, refusing to let go until he let me go. Home. Forever. I also ate quite a lot of the jelly beans on his desk on this particular occasion.
As it happens, I ended up staying at school. I became an educated woman. I studied and went to university and got a degree and jobs and made friends. I didn’t stay in a locked room with my family. Although at times I still wish that was an option.
As it also happens, I ended up a tall woman. My height and legs have carried me across the world. With portfolios and high heels in my suitcase. They have carried me over high jump bars. With QLD colours on my back and athletic spikes on feet. (My height has also meant I have hit my head a few times and have to make my own extra-long pants. But I would say all in all, I have had a win.)
Growth is scary. It sometimes has to break you down before it can build you up. Sometimes your ITB muscles on the side of your thighs have to snap before they get with the program. (True Story. Exaggerated. It wasn’t quite as medically dramatic. But true.)
Something like that is happening now I think. Not in my body this time (that is finally good to go) but in the fibre of my being, I am undergoing some sort of renovation. I am being pushed and tested again. Not just because I am out to sea. With people I don’t know and who don’t know me. Not even because I am away from home in a place that looks and feels so eerily similar. No. All of that simply contributes to the occasional pangs of growing into a new job.
But the real throbbing, comes from my existence stretching to interlace with the actuality of humanity, the earth, tragedies, history, the future, the fate of strangers, foreign beaches, other Pacific families as well as my own. And once again. It is not easy. I feel my ego occasionally niggling at me. Begging me to go back to where I know I can do a good job. To not test the limits. To not surf the right side of the reef. To sit in the passage and wait for the soft white-wash on the left, the wave I know, and know that I can handle. The good-enoughs.
Because it is scary out here. The waves are pounding and the line-up is full of veterans who will call you out on slipping.
Exactly the way it should be. If you ever want to learn.
I wish I could report on all the lessons I am learning. Like I do often on this blog. “Lessons learned the long way round.” But I can’t just yet. Right now I am collecting shells and looking at their individual colours. I can’t see the whole shape of the beach just yet.
One thing I can say for sure is that I am learning to really think before I speak. And more importantly, I am being forced to listen. I interviewed a woman named Hannah about an hour ago. We stood on the concrete base of where her house used to be. On Tongoa Island in Vanuatu. Surrounded by piles of broken corrugated iron. Hannah told us about the cyclone that took everything. I asked her to repeat a few sentences for the camera.
Hannah started crying. Tears were rolling down her face and she was looking at me and telling me that her heart was broken. That she had raised her family of 5 daughters in that house. And now she didn’t know what to do.
I started crying too. Not because I am sweet and was showing Hannah my immense love for her and her family. I really wish this was the case. In all honesty, it was mostly because all of a sudden I did not know what I was doing either. Standing in the middle of this broken home holding a fluffy microphone asking this shattered woman to relive the moments she lost everything. I had no more questions. I had no fabulous words of wisdom for Hannah. I had no way of making it better. I had no way of showing that this ‘palagi’ pair of documentary makers were going to help make her life easier. I had nothing to give Hannah. Except of course to listen to her.
Just as I have no tricky way of turning this into a happy-go-lucky, all neatly tied up, everything makes sense, ‘Piece By Matisse’ like I usually do.
I could loop back around and make reference to how Hannah’s home is like a growing girl’s body. “Growth is scary. It sometimes has to break you down before it can build you up.”
But that’s not true at all. We all know that.
That would just be convenient lyrics to a song I don’t even know the tune of yet.
Luckily, I am not the only one writing it. I have a chorus of mentors and mountains of momentum to help me hear the big drum beat. At the moment, it sounds a little like my heart tapping nervously inside my chest.
One of the greatest aches of this growth spurt is learning that I don’t have to know it all just yet. It doesn’t have to make sense or have a purpose today.
So now we wait. Duck the waves and be brave.
The beach is forming.