The weeks leading up to the school summer holiday I was feeling a bit blah; nothing seemed to excite me, and I began to wonder what life is all about. In short, I was facing a smallish existential crisis – again. For I’ve had plenty of those in my life.
Flicking through the newspaper at breakfast I was met with more and more evidence that the world’s gone mad, and eventually, I left the morning paper untouched to spare me further depressing news.
A few days ago, we finally left London for a three-week break in the Swedish countryside at my parents’ holiday home in an old farmers’ village, where we visit every summer. That is where we are now and although I’ve hardly seen the sun since we arrived as we’re being treated to the kind of summer I so often experienced growing up: strong winds, cloudy sky and temperatures barely reaching 19 C. A typical Swedish summer, in other words.
So, what do you do when the weather doesn’t lend itself to a visit to the beach, and you’ve got two city kids complaining they’re bored since their dad confiscated their iPads?
“There’s a circus in the next village,” my mother says. “Shall we bring the girls?”
The girls cheer excitedly at the prospect of going to the circus, so that’s what we do.
I’ve never been particularly keen on the circus; I find the clowns creepy, feel sorry for the animals performing and can’t bear to watch the scantily clad women doing acrobatics on a trapeze, for fear they might fall.
None of this fazes my daughters though and these days only tame animals – poodles and horses mainly – are part of the show. Fortified with plenty of chocolates and popcorn, we take our seats in the first row and wait for the show to begin.
It is all very predictable: the clown with his banal jokes, the trapeze artists in shimmering outfits, the 60-something dog trainer dressed to the ninths in a gaudy outfit that not even a supermodel would get away with, and a number of comedic artists and jugglers whose skills are average at best. While the audience laughs and applauds, I take in the spectacle with a growing feeling of unease.
I breathe a sigh of relief when the circus director cheerfully announces a brief intermission, and we leave the claustrophobic tent. Outside, circus staff are inviting audience members to take a ride on one of the horses or, better yet, a lone camel that is part of the circus. My children repeatedly decline the offer, preferring to watch other children being led around a small enclosure on top of a placid animal.
That’s when I spot a little girl of about three or four, with blond curls and a pink t-shirt, being hoisted up on to the camel. As she rides around in a circle, her face radiates happiness, and I can’t take my eyes off her. I want some of that joy, too.
What is it all for? is a question I had been asking myself for the past few weeks and months, wondering what the meaning and purpose of life is. Well, perhaps it’s not the big stuff that matters, but little moments like this. For that young girl, riding on a camel was such a moment.
I return to my seat in the tent feeling more at ease and even laugh a while later when the clown cheekily sprays water on me.
Perhaps life isn’t about the big, important stuff after all; rather, we each build our life and its purpose moment by moment, creating something akin to a giant patchwork quilt.