A question I often ask myself — and I suspect others ask too — is why I didn’t just opt for a normal life. To be subsumed into the dominant culture, to go to the pub like everyone else. To join the rat race and obsess over a football team, just like any other normal English bloke. Why did I head off in this other direction, breaking with everything I once knew?
But this is a question which forgets reality. It presupposes that I was on a normal trajectory and that all of a sudden, out of the blue, I decided to do an about-turn and throw everything I had away. But I wasn’t. The decision to take up this path was part of a continuum, going back years.
The reality, through school, college and university, was that I was always on the periphery, never part of the mainstream. I certainly tried to be a part of that world, but it never worked out. My face didn’t fit. My personality wasn’t right. I spent the majority of my youth walking alone. To then take up a lonely path was nothing new to me.
I’ll confess that the early years on this road with my family were tough. Without a doubt, my decisions caused real tensions. I was indeed setting myself apart from them. I made family gatherings awkward by avoiding meals at the pub, although my Methodist grandmother was always on my side, rooting for me.
Ironically, despite our family culture having been orientated around the church our entire life, I was considered the religious fanatic. Until I announced I was getting married, they believed I was still going through the “ethnic phase” they really believed beset me. It was meant to be a passing phase I would soon grow out of.
Of course, everybody misread the situation completely. They didn’t see it as a continuation of my eternal awkwardness, of my feeling of otherness, of not fitting in. They didn’t see it as the culmination of those doubts I vocalised on a mountaintop on the Isle of Iona five years earlier. They didn’t know of the intense loneliness and feelings of rejection that I carried inside. They didn’t see where I was being carried until I was carried there, and therefore it came as a shock and surprise.
But the writing was on the wall if anyone cared to pay attention. It’s just that no one ever did. Nobody ever thought to join the dots. I had been assigned a narrative which for everyone around me held true: “We’ve always had a problem with that boy.” I was lazy. I just wouldn’t get on. I was in my own world. But the truth? No, I was just being carried somewhere.
So there, the answer to that question. Why not a life more ordinary, subsumed into the dominant culture? Why not embrace a life of ease? Well, in truth, this is the life of ease. In this life I found my comfort, refuge and solace. In this life I could finally find and be myself.
This life is my normal. The natural way.