This advice was offered on her deathbed by the grandmother to a man whose spiritual advice I admire a great deal. He followed that advice. It cost him dearly.
Choosing to live outside the lines, live a different life will do that sometimes.
However, that man also left an extraordinary legacy of books, materials and an example that, like other Outliers, serves to inspire me.
My personal muse, however, is early 1900s African aviatrix and horsewoman extraordinaire Beryl Markham.
While many are getting to know her through the novel “Circling the Sun” by Paula McLain, for decades I have admired and studied Markham’s brilliant and remarkable life.
The first female bush pilot in Africa. The first woman to be given a license to train race horses in Kenya (and she beat the men at their own game with lesser horses). The first person to fly from Europe to North America. First. First. First.
She was tall and slim and gorgeous and outrageous and universally hated and loved. She competed with Isak Dineson for the affections of that wimp (and he WAS a wimp) Denys Finch-Hatton. In real life, Finch-Hatton was no Robert Redford. In fact, he was little more than a charming underachiever- nothing compared to the women he romanced. So typical.
But I digress.
Markham lived outside the norm. She paid for it dearly. Even today people rip her for her rollicking choice of lifestyle. Raised as a child to hunt with natives rather than attend charm school, she was from the very beginning a rebel, defined by different, a trailblazer.
Beryl Markham never did what others did. As a result she carved out a daring, amazing, extraordinary life that continues to shine to this day. She inspires the hell out of me, and with McLain’s new book, more will read her autobiography and other books about her. It’s about time she got her just rewards. Castigated by many in her own day but yet successful in so many ways, to me she is a towering example of a life well-lived. She was bullheaded and flawed and blunt. In other words, not a proper “good girl.” She was unapologetically powerful, even by today’s standards.
When I head to Winter Haven, Florida, for my high school reunions, I am reminded of why I constantly choose not to do what others do. The year I turned sixty I had been invited to participate in a combined sixty-year-old birthday party- what had been billed at the time as “One Foot In the Old Folk’s Home.” I’d never been invited to anything by my high school before (too much of an Outlier).
Unfortunately, I had to demur. The day the event was to take place, I was instead in Salta, Argentina, exploring the Salt Flats, with my guide, Angiena.
I sent photos. Salta is breathtaking.
Not surprisingly I’ve been dis-invited to similar events. But then, they’re likely to fall on dates that I’m going to be kayaking to see musk ox in Greenland, hiking to see polar bears in the Svalsbard Islands, riding horses in Kazakhstan…
These days my high school buddies “reward” me by carefully photographing everyone at the reunions BUT me. When the photos go out to the mailing list, I may as well have not attended. This is how people punish Outliers. It’s puerile, childish, and, well….high school. But there you are.
People don’t like Outliers. Part of this is that Outliers remind us of choices we might have made, the Robert Frost’s Road Not Taken. What if’s. They made choices I could have made, too. There is a cost incurred for all our choices.
These folks all have grandkids and deep families in Florida or elsewhere. I have deep families in Iceland, Argentina, Tanzania, Turkey, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Zamba, South Africa…you get the picture. My grandkids are everyone’s grandkids. My cousins, everyone’s cousins. When I walk a village in Uganda and greet an old woman respectfully by calling her “Mama,” I mean it. She knows it, which is why she smiles at me so broadly. Our embrace is one of recognition, not of strangers.
It’s an uncommon life. One pays dearly for such a life. There is no better or worse way to live, no judgment implied. It’s just what I chose.
There is no “right” way to live. I do know that trying to emulate some Hollywood twit whose life is likely a mess of divorce, drug abuse and depression is not my idea of being inspired. Those whose examples have called to me most have dared disapproval, denouncement, and denial.
But oh, the lives they have lived.
I’m with them.