Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Friday, January 4, 2008

Letting People Be

"You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

When I was just out of my schooldays I took a position in a hotel for the duration of the summer. Three cardboard boxes filled mostly with books and a suitcase of clothing: those were my scant belongings when my mother dropped me off at the end of a three hour car journey. I had never lived away from home before and this had a special significance- I would be paid to live beside a beautiful ocean, a wonderful proximity to paradise. The hotel was nestled into a windblown nook on the Irish Coast. The roads were narrow, the sea wild and grey, the air salty- and all this on the doorstep of a crumbly old hotel for a while to be my home. I was one of a tiny handful of people working in that hotel.
On my first day off I set out rambling just after breakfast. There was no traffic save that of the feet of locals.
A while later I decided to drift back in the direction of the hotel via the beach instead of the road since it was a pleasant loop. I passed by a low stone wall and happened to hear a family of baby birds tucked into a crevice. By their incessant wittering they seemed as happy as I. I strolled slowly, slowly along the rugged beach and stopped for every pebble, wave and shell. I took three hours to reach the hotel, whereas it had taken less than twenty minutes to get from the hotel to the beach initially.
Upon my return, as I ate my lunch with my colleagues, somebody questioned me about my afternoon.
"I was walking," I replied.
They then wondered what I had done for the rest of the time.
"I walked," I said again. "I was walking the entire time."
There was a dull silence. One looked sideways slyly at another.
"That's only a twenty minute walk," one said, puzzled.
"I know. I walked slowly."
"Well, I wanted to enjoy the walk." It was a simple answer but there was, really, no other explanation, though had I been forewarned of the interrogation I may have taken not three but six hours in my meanderings.
"How could it take three hours?"
By then they were laughing at me and were not even listening to my explanation so no doubt informing them of my bird-wall discovery, my slow-as-tide straggling or my intricate descriptions of stones would have passed like a sleepy-eyed seagull over their heads.
I for one did not understand the problem. I appreciated a long roam by the sea; I had grown up rarely seeing a coastline; and mostly I did not fathom why these people would be so bothered by my taking a leisurely, aimless walk on my very own day off.
After two weeks, when it became apparent their attitude was standard fare, I could take it no longer. I telephoned my mother one evening and, bless her heart, she appeared to rescue me at sunrise the very next day with such stealth that I am certain the earthworms in the ground never knew a thing.
As it was, neither did my colleagues. Shortly after I flung my boxes in the car and we crept away, they stormed to my now empty cottage to investigate why I had not come to work, doubtless assuming I was on one of my interminable and meaningless walks.
The only thing that could propel me to leave such a magnificent place so soon was intolerance. It was not a bit pleasant having to constantly justify my actions when I only wanted to get on with my work and spend time exploring the countryside. I gave in and I left, the innocence vanquished and the peace tainted.
I will never grasp why we cannot leave people to their own devices and accept that some have different ideas about entertainment and enjoyment than others do.

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