It was my first day of boarding school. I was the grand old age of seven, and this was the most exciting adventure I’d ever had.
Imagine it: four little girls the same age, from four corners of the world, nestled in bunk beds at night under mosquito nets, and stumbling through corridors in the dark with torches when the part-time generators went off.
It was like something out of a Famous Five novel, except there were only four of us. And instead of exploring the demure British countryside with a loyal dog, we found ourselves encircled by humid West African forest, with lizards, spiders, frogs, and snakes as our everyday companions.
But this was our first day. And we had heard whisperings that one of the teachers had a beautiful white cat called Matilda.
Mission Find Matilda quickly materialised. The only problem was that all the teachers lived in houses across the road. It was only the houseparents that lived with us in the dorms.
That’s how Mission Find Matilda morphed into Mission Cross the road. Actually, it wasn’t really a road. It was more like a wide dirt track on a steep hill, and on either side, carved out of the dense red earth, were two deep ditches that had been dug to accommodate the deluges of rainy season.
That day, the rain thundered from the heavens. But the downpour only intensified our determination to cross amid the steady stream of traffic made up of of squealing bicycles, squelching flip flops and roaring mopeds.
It was then that we noticed the ditches; trenches filled with a delectable mix of water and mud, swirling and whirling down the steep incline of the road.
What seven year old could resist? Before we knew it, we found ourselves jumping right in. Splashing, rolling, laughing, and shouting—all the while completely ignorant of the danger we were in.
I’ll never forget the moment ‘Auntie’ Janet (our new houseparent) found us. Her horror and relief provoked by our reckless thoughtlessness quickly mutated into a suitably stern reprimand.
We were grounded for a week, and we had to walk up to the dinner hall each night holding her hand.
Needless to say, operation Matilda would be a failed mission forever etched in our memories.
Thankfully, Auntie Janet hauled us out of those ditches before we drowned, or were run over, or worse.
But I wonder, how often do we find ourselves stuck in a ditch quite before we’ve even realized it?
It’s so easy to get swept into the tide of popular opinion, a new cause, a compelling narrative, or the ideals of a charismatic public personality.
But before we know it, we can get submerged in dangerous waters of divisive thinking, become entrenched in extremes, or fall too quickly into unhelpful ‘us and them’ categories.
So to avoid ending up in a ditch, let’s consider – where will the adventure lead me? What trouble may I cause? Who might my recklessness upset, and what consequences might I have to face? The danger and excitement might feel fun at first, but is a crusade worth our relationships? Is an opinion worth the offence I might incite?
In today’s climate, many ditches have been dug in response to social, political and economic storms of epic proportions. When we’re all drowning in a deluge of information, it can be easy to forget what and who matters most and be distracted from our true mission in life.
Don’t throw out the adventure, or your opinions! But don’t allow yourself to be swept into a ditch, or you might just end up needing someone to haul you out of it!