I am packing. My ticket is bought, my boots are polished. From time to time, but much less frequently now, I hurtle around the world to where night is day and summer is winter, and visit my ancestral fields. Between those journeys I am a homey sort of mole and define my boundaries by the distances my hind legs are willing to venture.
The journey I am embarking on today is not an epic one. Not geographically, that is. But it is on several other fronts. Its prospect brings up a funny feeling in my chest, a bit like a choppy sea and for the last week or so I have been trying to disentangle the flotsam and jetsam it has churned up.
One of the reasons for my choppy state is the journey itself: things on wheels – especially on highways, give me the heebeejeebees.
The other is the destination. I am travelling to a place of my past, a place I was reluctant to move to, and eager to leave. At first I feel that I have no memory of my time there, just a sense of unease. Then I sense that the unease of that time is brought on because I allowed expectations of the outside world to shape me. The creature inside my pelt had been a numbed thing, not me. But from this I can see that it became a time of transformation with all the prickly discomforts and mistakes inherent in trying out new pelts. And as I remember those hapless but momentous times, I remember some of the joys. My purpose for today’s journey is joyful, too. I am heading off to the other end of the island to celebrate my Sprössling’s graduation.
This is a graduation hard won. An immense challenge to start out with, this endeavour incurred set-back piled on set-back. Each time she dusted herself off and started again and now, years later she has achieved what she set out to do.
It is only recently that we are learning that is the struggle that develops our abilities, not the binary measurements of success and failure that blighted schooling in the past. When I was a young mole we were lined up at the front of our classroom each week according to our academic achievement. I was near the bottom. In the gym class we were lined up by height and I was at the bottom. I failed even at growing. In the schooldays of Great Uncle Mole and Uncle Ratty I imagine there were even harsher methods of ignominious comparison. Although not for Uncle Ratty’s sister who was taught down river at a dame school. What a dame. An ancient otter with a wall eye, she would only teach the offspring of canal and riverfolk – and Romanies. Her charges were untethered by boundaries and somehow knew they would make their mark in the world. Now neuroscience can show us how the brain lights up like a Christmas tree when it is set a challenge: the greater the challenge, the struggle to work out the problem, the more neurons fire up, new pathways are forged. The brains of those who solve problems quickly are only dimly lit.
There is no room anymore for the concept of failure. It marks the soul with a thick line of finality. And I am thinking that if it is a bit of a struggle to venture on this journey to a place where I had a different life, then it, too, provides an opportunity to fire up neurons and forge new and stronger pathways.
This place, the other end of the island is where my graduand Sprössling is making her home. Who knows, there may be more Sprösslings to come. Would I allow the path to my molekin to atrophy by shying away from the challenge of a journey?
I shall still my turbulent chest, open my little moleheart.
Do I need a snack for the journey?