On Finding Your True North


Too hot to sleep, I got up in the middle of the night last night and went outside to try and cool down. The stars were unusually bright for where I live in the city, and as I drank in the gentle breeze and the familiar, comforting presence of Orion’s Belt and the Southern Cross I thought of a question my daughter had asked me a few days back. She said, ‘Mommy, if you’re lost somewhere can the stars guide you home?’ I replied, ‘yes, they can. Wherever you are in the world, if you look up at the sky the stars can point you to true north.’

And it’s a beautiful thought. I was also worrying that the #PennySparrow thing was going to slip through the cracks of our broken society, and in my head I was composing my letter to Jawitz. I needn’t have worried, nor underestimated the power of social media. At 5:45am I awoke to a storm of outrage, and the conversation that started a while back in response to racism in restaurants had been picked up again and was in full swing.

Reading the comments and tweets and contributing a few of my own I started to think about the fact that when you live in South Africa you are not allowed the luxury of political neutrality. Whatever you say and do comprises a statement. And the complicity inherent in saying and doing nothing when you were born white makes the loudest statement of all. Many people don’t like what I have to say, but they are strangers and their opinions don’t bother me overmuch.

But towards the end of 2015 I lost a friend over my political views and that hurt a lot. I spent many hours thinking about what had happened. I think that for her I posed a problem; created a kind of cognitive dissonance: she liked me personally, but she hated my politics. Her solution, in the email she sent me, was to continue our friendship on the proviso that we ‘agree to disagree.’ Presumably, that we pretend my blog doesn’t exist and she would try to distance  the ‘me’ she liked from my thoughts and opinions.

In a way the whole thing turned out to be a bit of a gift because it forced me to think about what this blog actually means to me and the role it plays in my life. Can I be separate from it? Are my views and I different things? Can I be something other than what I think and write about? And the booming answer was ‘no.’ While I am irreverent sometimes, what I write in this space is the truest essence of who I am in this world. I don’t do this for money or fame or attention; I do it because I am compelled to. For me, there are few things that matter more than figuring out my truth and putting it into words. I guess, in a way, this blog is my ‘true north.’ The thing I am in my soul and what I was put on this planet to do.

One of the reasons I love being 40 and not 20 is because I fit myself so much better. Of course I still want to be liked, but I don’t worry as much that what I am is ‘wrong.’ Anyone who asks me to tone myself down and be less of who I am doesn’t belong on my journey, and neither should do they be on yours. I would like to thank all of you, my engaged, warm, supportive and amazingly loyal readers for walking this road with me. What I wish for myself and all of you in 2016 is that we become less compromising about locating and following our own personal ‘true north.’ Sometimes it’s about being still for a moment and gazing up at the night sky and thinking about the direction we’ve been traveling in and whether it’s really where we want to go. And if it’s not, perhaps considering the possibility of changing course. Happy new year to all of you. Here’s to finding our way home.

23 thoughts on “On Finding Your True North

  1. Wonderful post! The funny thing is even at 20 I was not very compromising about who I am. Unfortunately, being that way was not the popular choice. I even found that older women either thought I was arrogant, or wise beyond mu years. Why? I don’t know. It’s unfortunate that being unapologetic about who you are is frowned upon. Here’s to you and comfortability in one’s own skin!

  2. It absolutely hurts to lose friends over differing views. When it happens it can feel like you’re the only one to have done it. Thanks for including it in the post. All the best to you in 2016 :)

  3. … And that is the reason why I like your blog! You are not scared to express your point of view, albeit different from what your friends may feel. Yes! Go for your True North, Susan! May you find it in 2016, and just keep going!

  4. Thanks for the bit of introspection, Susan. I’m saving one of your statements in my ever-expanding quotation file: “Anyone who asks me to tone myself down and be less of who I am doesn’t belong on my journey.” Here’s why it resonates. What if you’re the youngest in your family and don’t THINK ‘old’? (my eldest siblings are 20 years my seniors.) What if you’re in this weird Time warp somewhere between “You’re too old-looking so you can’t hang with us” and “You don’t think ‘old’ like all the rest of us your age, so you don’t fit HERE, either.” I chose some years back to stop trying to ‘fit’ anywhere and with God’s help to create my own niche and be being the most excellent ‘me’ I can. I find it worthy of the Time I invest in it each day. Thanks again.

  5. Good on you! From an Aussie who was once a South African and a German and a Tanzanian and is the sum of all those. I love your blog and your honesty and bravery. It’s really good to read about the various hues of South Africa when I can’t be there anymore. It’s still in my soul so i get it and i like the way you write.

  6. You are my unthought thoughts. Your writing mirrors my most innermost being and you put into words what I can only feel. My conversations are in my head, you put them on paper for me. Never ever stop. I am sorry for your loss. It hurst irrespective of the reason. But in the walk of finding our truth somethings we have to leave behind, if only to know who we really are. To know black you have to know white. Your friend offered that for you and for that reason it was perhaps a pivotal friendship in your journey. But as journeys go some landmarks are left behind. Thank you for your blog. Keep going.

  7. I was not raised to speak my mind. And I was definately not raised to think differently to those around me. So being 40 and realising it is ok for ME to be ME is wonderful. It is awesome to find someone else who thinks on these things also.
    I love your blog. Thanks.

  8. Thank you for this beautifully written post. I had a friend with whom I had to end a friendship due to our differing views. Years later, after coincidentally bumping into her and finding that she grew dramatically, we reconnected. I think we were fortunate however, because the reality is that sometimes the gap in a friendship is far too great to reconcile. Thank you for fiercely standing for your views.

  9. Well said. I do wish we could learn sooner that the real tragedy is putting up with people for much longer than we have to. I would have wasted so much less time.

  10. You say it like it is, that’s why I enjoy your blogs. Keep writing and Happy New Year to you and your family.

  11. Well said. We shouldn’t compromise on our “true north” but it’s not easy if you lose a friendship along the way. There are only a few people who get my “true north” and me theirs and their friendship is worth a great deal to me.

  12. As we grow older we loose friends, that is normal. We also learn better who is who. Most important is to stay humble, honest and respect others, at all times. A happy and prosperous 2016 for you all. Stef from Iraq

  13. While trying to not be patronising: well done! Your “become less compromising about locating and following our own personal ‘true north'” really is wonderful.

  14. Eventually #PennySparrow hijacked my Twitter timeline. By the next afternoon, I was exhausted by tweeting my views, acknowledgeing others and just hoping nobody kills each other in the process! My political views have not changed over the years, neither is speaking up, but I’m plenty more relaxed about how others react to me.

    Truly enjoyed your blog. All the best for 2016!

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