The Pantomime of Life

Often times our lives can feel like a pantomime; like a play put on for the benefit of others.  “Painted faces on parade” as the song goes.  However, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that it’s hardly ever clear who we think our audiences are, or who we believe we need to convince of the transcendence of our lives.  Nevertheless, the truth is we all do it.  Through the stories we tell, through our Facebook posts and twitter messages we are trying to make ourselves out to be something that we are not; but that for some reason we think others expect us to be.  And in doing this we sometimes live our lives through the lens of how the story will look to those we are trying to impress. 

Naturally, I’m targeting more myself than anybody else with this observation.  I frequently find myself wondering, what’s around the corner? What the next exciting adventure will be? Where the next mystical moment will come from? 

The irony is that all too often while I’m so keenly focused on these questions, questions that seem so important, I’m missing the very moments I claim to be looking for.  This realization hit me just this evening, prompting me – as usual – to want to write it down; so here goes…

One of the things that I will probably remember the most about my time here in Mali is the evenings with my son.  After his dinner and before his bath and early bedtime, I often take him out for a stroller ride through our quiet compound.  This is just the time of day when the blistering African daytime is releasing its stranglehold over the land, surrendering to the approaching night.  The air is still warm, but not oppressively so.  Off in the west, across the vast African skies (the sky is bigger here, those who have been to Africa will be smiling about now), the sun is plunging below the horizon in an explosion of oranges, pinks and yellows.  The gentle winds smell of burning wood and sometimes of diesel fuel if the generators are battling another blackout.  The air is filled with the crackling of the calls to prayer from the many minarets that appear to be holding up the twilit sky above the town.  Flying in the ever-darkening heavens above – in the hundreds and even thousands – are swarms of bats that are heading out for another long night over the city; swooping and shrieking in their endless pursuit to preserve life.     

As I was walking with my son this evening, it hit me; this is the moment I have been so keenly seeking.  While I thought and worried and wondered, I almost missed it!  My takeaway, for myself more than for you; it’s not necessarily in our epic struggles or grand moments when we find the most meaning.  In point of fact, most often we find our most intense significance as we walk in silence with our children under bat-filled African evening skies.        

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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