A friend doused me with a cold bucket of water.

Yes, this is what good friends do when they can detect that one’s mind is going on errands in which the thought process slips in and out of self-doubt, inadequacy and uncertainty. When friends do this, it is not a callous and cold gesture to freeze the other into some kind of dull stupor. Instead, they provide an emphatic wake up call to allow self-analysis to recommence in earnest.

Some of us are a peculiarly lucky breed. The home-free, seemingly rootless, without a real sense of home-country, national identity or ego-driven pride to parade our actions, or at least so we think. We are the wanderers, because we can, that seem to end up in forsaken corners of the world, where we strut our stuff, under the cloak of passion and justice, in and among some of the most abject human suffering, thinking that we may be able to make a difference, whatever that may be.

Sometime, and rightly so, we stumble. We question, mostly ourselves, sometimes others. We refuse to see the bleeding obvious, and thus, skip from place to place like monkeys swinging from tree to tree, hoping that the nuts over there are tastier, bigger and fresher than those over here.

Why do we go from one place to the next, carrying inside the same questions, none the wiser on the answers? After all, we have seen it all before, we know what humans are capable of doing to each other. The skins, flags, languages or borders may be different, but the issues are often similar, and poignantly repetitive with the regularity of a Swiss watch.

So, when a ‘new’ situation arises, we research, study, question, discuss and … trip up. The footing is temporarily lost when questions such as why, when, who, what and how try to sneak in, creating a mental act, or [s]wank, according to preference, wedged in some kind of discourse, only to reveal that the ‘new’ is mutton dressed up as lamb. It is the ghost of the situation we just left behind at the expiry of the last visa. Why do we subject ourselves and others to spectacles of hardship, knowing that we always have a way out? What is the thrill, the gain, the intention, the motivation or the reward that compels us to keep doing what we do?

The rhetoric spews out reasons such as compassion, commitment, belief in a better world, hope, etc. Well, there are some good arguments to support all of those motives. But it is also fair to wonder whether in focusing on others’ pain, we elude our own, creating a massive theme park of distractions and oblique entertainment to disguise our running into busy-ness. For, if not engaged in something, we could well end up falling on the darker side of… ourselves.

Of course, it is also possible that behind it all the motivation to act is the flat refusal of esoteric world views that place humans at the centre of suffering as a just desert because a better place awaits us on the other side of life. From their pulpits they elicit from the punters a code of conduct that must be unblemished by any foolish wavering of the mind, and god forbid, desires for gratification of the senses.

It would be far too easy if our friends would gratuitously give us all the answers. Instead, courageously, they reach for the bucket of cold water of reason and the emphatic, if not rhetorical question: ‘ So, what’s new?’

So, while I try to apply the breaks on the action to reflect on the crippling doubts, I remind myself of the good fortune bestowed on me for having friends who know exactly what temperature the water needs to be to wake me up and cause me to ask the right questions, if at all, or perhaps unlace my running shoes.

And don’t we all need these kind of friends?

Foto: “Somewhere in London”  by BC