When I was was 35 years old, I had a chilling revelation that changed my life.
I was reminded of it the other day as I chatted with my very kind and wise friend. Here’s the story (names have been changed to protect the innocent):
When I was 9 years old, I used to spend time with a friend who lived down the road. Let’s call her Jane for the sake of this story.
The hippy culture was in full swing, and Jane and I would spend hours collecting psychedelic and “meaningful” pictures. We cut pithy sayings out of magazines and glued them in our books, along with cute cartoons and the sayings of the gurus of the time.
My parents traded a subscription to “South African Panorama” for “Arizona Highways” with a family who had moved to the U.S. So my notebook was the recipient of many of Arizona Highways’ wild desert poems and pictures of lone cacti and gnarled old withered trees that spoke to me of the spirit of survival and the will to life.
I still have my orange spiral notebook. It is covered in doodles and the precious (or is that precocious?) thoughts of two tender young souls. It has some delightful things – a 9-year old’s captions for the stark and lonely trees and poetry. Yes, inspired by the mighty magazine from far away, I even tried my hand at writing some poetry.
I would come across the book now and then and read through to the last entry. There are still some blank pages at the back.
That last entry always gripped me. It was a magnificent poem Jane had written. Simply magnificent.
It went like this:
A tiny moon as small and white as a single jasmine flower
Leans all alone above my window, on night’s wintry bower,
Liquid as lime-tree blossom, soft as brilliant water or rain
She shines, the first white love of my youth, passionless and in vain.
We were in in Jane’s bedroom when I first read it in her notebook. I could smell the jasmine outside her window. Admittedly, she was a year older than me, but when I read it, I knew she was in a different class altogether.
I copied it carefully into my book and she copied whatever I had written the night before. It was nowhere near that good! I stopped using the notebook after that. There didn’t seem to be much point. I could not write anything that wonderful!
Jump to a Saturday afternoon settling down to feast on a stack of second-hand books I had just bought at a local Church Bazaar. It was in the first one that I came across hauntingly familiar words, “A tiny moon as small and white as a single jasmine flower…”
As I write this, I can still taste the metallic taste of shock. My tongue tingled and seemed to swell to twice its size. Slowly, still holding the book, I went to the closet and pulled out the ratty old box which I had wisely labeled “My Papers.”
The orange spiral was near the top, and when I opened it to the last entry and compared the words of D.H. Lawrence’s poem, “A White Blossom” to Jane’s magnificent piece. They were identical.
I was so angry, I started to cry. She had betrayed me! She had plagiarized the work of one of the greatest poets of all time, claiming his genius as her own.
More than that, much, much more than that, I had judged my 9-year old self against this giant of literary brilliance – and had given up.
Now, whenever someone talks about how your beliefs shape your achievements, I understand exactly what that means. Change a belief and you change your entire future… Just like that!
Or you can be a Wheni... Read more about being a Wheni here