Lindiwe Mthembu-Salter

Saved by an albatross

It all began with a gift, and a girl called Happiness.

Happiness was taught young to learn to care, she learned that caring is a gift; giving care to others is a virtue and an honour. Oh, that was a nourishing message, a source of being as Happiness grew, as her eyes and ears connected with the strength of her spirit-soul.

In her normal day-to-day activities she would say Yebo. She would say Yes to others with a satisfied look on her face that proclaimed that all was just as it should be! Yebo. Yes. This sounds good, she thought. Happiness never learned how to say No.

One day the clouds turned grey. All was not well. Happiness’s friend was very ill. Her face was pale and she was bent and sore with pain. In great worry, Happiness asked her heart for help to look after her friend, whom we will call Patience. The healer was consulted to mediate on this ill-health situation. Happiness wanted her friend to get better, to be well and happy again. The healer gave advice and said Patience now needed to stir the healing from her insides.

This started Happiness wondering: Who cares for this healer’s wounds? Perhaps the answer to the mystery lies in how the healer goes about keeping the heart beating against pain and despite visible and invisible wounds. Is it the power of a loving caring heartbeat that keeps the living pumping?

Lost in these thoughts, seduced by them, Happiness decided to become a caregiver. She loved her job and soon became lost in the gift of giving. She kept going without looking after herself. Her heart, the supreme house of compassion, grew weary but she did not consult it. Messages from her heart filled her body with pain. The pain was directed to various internal organs, it shaped itself into a sore back, regular headaches. Happiness forgot to be concerned about what she ate and drank. She neglected her heart and her soul and her body; all she cared about was caring for others.

Happiness wandered in the corridors of giving without searching for the milk and honey she needed to keep her fit and well. She looked after Patience, she looked after others, but she forgot to look after herself. Happiness wandered in the midst of the dark grey cloud; she dived into the forest of demands on her. Happiness’s goal was to strive for the gift of life for others and put aside the sight and sound of her own need for care.

One day, one of her friends, Hope, arrived from a long journey across the river to say to Happiness, ‘Hey, You got the power! – more power – reclaim it from this over-giving wilderness, but only if you are ready to!’

‘Ready for what?’ asked Happiness.

Hope continued, ‘Learn to receive, learn how to check that your life is in balance and that you are not doing too much for others and too little for your self. That’s the gift of power, Girl!’

Oh well! Happiness thought. But what if someone needs me? She frowned.

As she had this thought, Happiness was swept up by a mighty albatross. It soared with her into the air and over the sea water. Hanging tight to the soft white feathers Happiness screamed with all her voice. Happiness’s voice faded as she panicked. And then, she paused. She felt the wind on her face. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on her body. She felt the thud of the albatross’s heart, she fell into the rhythm of its firm sure wingbeat. Slowly she relaxed her grip. Slowly she opened her eyes. She looked down, down, down and saw a tiny woman rushing here, rushing there, caring caring caring for others. She looked like someone who would say, ‘Others will always need me. I cannot stop. What I need is unimportant.” Happiness was worried when she saw this sad little woman. She wanted to call down to her, ‘Take care of yourself too!’

But even so, as the bird flew back to earth, as Happiness descended to the world of continuous needs, a voice inside her said, ‘It would be selfish to think that I matter.’

But the gift of the albatross had entered Happiness’s mind. As she prepared for sleep she wondered whether caring for the wounds of others was smearing their pain into her soul. Was excessive empathy masquerading as a virtue? Did all these virtues accumulate to a song with no melody? The wordless song was in her head. Then, slowly the tune changed and words began to form: `Never give up – you matter too.’ Happiness sang herself to sleep. A dream swept Happiness back onto the large bird’s back as the albatross provided shield for a peaceful sleep.

The next day Happiness woke up, encircled in the gift of self-love – she finally knew that she mattered too. Happiness shared her albatross dreams in great detail with her friend Patience. The healer was consulted. She confirmed the meaning of the albatross dream: hearing the heart takes time.