In the sweet long-ago we tried many jobs – fruit-picker, security van driver, hotel domestic, arborist, back-country farm manager, labourer, demolition worker, secretary, bogus night auditor, bored ministerial speechwriter, river rafting guide, baker’s assistant, landscaper, geological mapper – and those rootless years were littered with abandoned careers. I had a talent for writing glowing personal testimonials about ourselves, fake references and employment histories too good to see us turned away, and work came easily.
For two seasons we chased the blue skies of summer, picking fruit up and down New Zealand, our clothes stained with the red blood of raspberries, the purple of blueberries, yellow juice of pears and peach, green sap of crushed leaves. We lived in a hired caravan, worked from dawn’s fading stars till dusk’s darkening skies, the green globes of apples and other fruits melting back into the orchards’ deepening shadows. When that wandering feeling came, we simply moved on, stopped at road junctions and tossed a coin – north, west, east?
One by one we were discarding all the usual choices of life, the hypnotic lies of material happiness, like a tick-sheet of unwanted possibilities and selves: not this, not this; no, not that. We took refuge in constant change, as though discoveries would be made and happiness found simply through perpetual motion. Restlessness, a sense of relentless questing, ran like a strong undercurrent through our lives. The future was open-ended, the blank slate of tomorrows held no certainties – whimsy, chance or the murky nudgings of fate would decide.
Years later we sat with Guru in a restaurant on Auckland’s Ponsonby Road, and Guru asked us a little about the bygone years. Guru somehow knew a little of my own regrettable past, the safari and hunting days, and he asked what animals I had eaten!
Before I could go into any awkward detail, Guru now mentioned all of the furred and feathered things he had once eaten – the fish, birds, animals of his childhood. Then he looked at Subarata and, with a lovely smile, confided to her, “Once I even ate some pigeon.” Before she received her soul’s name, Subarata’s western name had been Pidgeon Cunningham! Guru remembered very well, enjoying this little ambiguity.
For me, Guru’s knowledge of my past unburdened me of remorse and karmic wonderings. That door was now firmly closed and the past now truly dust, even if there was a lot of it. When Guru and God – are they not perhaps the same? – came into our lives and tapped us on the shoulder, we saw that everything else had been a readying, a preparation for discipleship. One kind of freedom had been replaced by the possibility of another, the great freedom of God-discovery.