My brother Matt gave me this vintage edition of Out of Africa for Christmas one year. I love everything about it: the graphic cover, the rough edges of the uneven paper, the library smell. The inside page says it's a Modern Library edition from 1952; there's even an old, folded up portrait of Isak Dinesen from a 1950s magazine tucked in the back pages.
I came home from my hike/walk today and got the book out, searching for a line that had been running through my mind all morning. Scanning through, I saw that I had marked a different passage about an orphaned pet antelope they had on the farm. It could easily be speaking to me, or you, or one of our children:
"Oh, Lulu," I thought, "I know that you are marvellously strong and that you can leap higher than your own height. You are furious with us now, you wish that we were all dead, and indeed we should be so if you could be bothered to kill us [note: well, maybe not that killing part...]. But the trouble is not, as you think now, that we have put up obstacles too high for you to jump, and how could we possibly do that, you great leaper? It is that we have put up no obstacles at all. The great strength is in you, Lulu, and the obstacles are within you as well, and the thing is, that the fullness of time has not yet come." (p. 72)A great thought--but it wasn't the one on repeat in my brain. No, that line (it turns out) is in the movie version. In this scene, Karen Blixen is trying to establish the farm in the wild hills of Africa, to grow coffee and dam up the river to suit her needs. Her head servant Farah shakes his head and warns Karen "this water lives in Mombasa, Msahib." (Later when the water breaks its banks, she concedes the point: "Let it go, let it go. This water lives in Mombasa anyway.")
Oh, I can relate to both of these dueling passages. Yes, there are some things that, like Lulu the antelope, we have the strength and wherewithal to leap over and conquer. Go for it, great leapers!
And yet, I think there also some things--in our kids, in our family life, in ourselves--that really can't be forced by our wills to be something else, not for long. Some things live in Mombasa, returning to their own courses despite attempts to change and control.
So why was I thinking of this line today on my hike? It's that I keep trying to change, prod, mold, and whittle this body into something that, I've come to realize, it just doesn't seem to want to be. Yes, I will be healthy, I will be strong, I will be happy with myself & keep working hard for the joy of it. But my curves, my shape? They just might live in Mombasa, Msahib.
(See also: some of my children and the state of their bedrooms. Mombasa.)