I was walking down a deserted beach in Kenya when I came across a young man dancing in the sand. I thought this was the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen, so I joined it.
Little did I know that this would be one of the most important discoveries of my life….
He First introduced himself to me as Joseph, and we spent long days dancing on the beach and wandering amongst the deserted streets of a tiny, run down town near Mombasa.
After we got to know each other a little better he told me his real name.
“Dean, my name is not Joseph.” He said to me one day, with a deep frown. “Joseph is name the Christians gave to me. My real name is Barakka. I don’t think it’s fair to take someone’s name away from them…”
He stared out over the ocean, watching the brooding clouds in the distance, and then he told me a story.
He had been in love with a beautiful local girl named Beckah and they had been happy, but she had been scouted to become an actress.
After a while she began having nice things and this made Barakka feel less of himself. He felt that if he could not give her nice things then she would not love him.
His hair was shaggy, his clothes were old and he could not take her to places she wanted to go.
Even though he was in love and had everything he had ever wanted, he was afraid of losing her.
He was afraid that she thought less of him for not having money, or clothes, or being able to give her nice things…
So he left her…
She still loved him and she came after him, begging him to come back to her, but he told her that until he had money, they could not be together.
So after telling me this he looked at me and said:
“Dean, I have a dream. My Father, he had a friend like you, an Englishman named Mr Phillip, and his dream was always to do business with this man. So one day I want to come to England, like you have come here. Then maybe I can have my Beckah…”
What could I say to Barrakka then?
After a few days I left that part of Kenya, but before I did, I wrote Barrakka a story and left it with him.
The story went like this:
There once was a dancer who lived by the sea. He had a happy life, content with what god had given him, but each morning he would walk on the beach and stare out at the ocean, dreaming of dancing on distant shores.
One day he was walking on the beach and he saw a strange man. This man was not like anything he had seen before. His clothes were different, his hair, his skin, but the man stared longingly over the seas as he did.
“Who are you?” asked the dancer.
“I am a traveller.” Replied the man, “and I have come from a distant land.”
“From where have you come?” asked the dancer excitedly, for he had never met someone from another place before.
“It is the land of dawn.” Replied the traveller with fond recollection “and it is good and righteous, for the people who live there make great things and do fine deeds.”
“Where is this great land?” asked the dancer, for he saw the strange clothes and manner of the traveller and wished greatly to see it.
“It is to the west, across the distant sea, under a bright sun.”
And for a while the dancer danced, content with dreaming of the land of dawn.
The next day he did not walk along the beach, but instead lay in bed all day dreaming, for each time he opened his eyes he saw only the plane things he had and wished to dance under a new sun.
Eventually, he could not lay in bed any longer and went down to the beach once more. There he saw the traveller walking and ran to him.
“Show me something from this new land.” He said, and the man brought forth a strange object from beneath his coat.
It was smooth and golden and moved without any effort from the man.
“This is a watch.” said the traveller “Each time the hand ticks, time moves forward.”
“Will it tick forever?” asked the dancer.
“No.” the traveller replied “Time is always running out and one day it will stop for you and I.”
And the dancer danced happily again, for he had seen a great thing.
The next day he did not walk on the beach, but he could also not lie in bed, for he remembered that time was always ticking and that one day it would run out. He paced up and down thinking all day about the new sun and dancing on a distant shore. In the morning he ran to the beach, for he could not wait any longer.
“How do I get to the land of dawn?” he asked.
The traveller looked at him gravely and said:
“It is a long journey across the sea and you would need a fine ship.”
“But how would I get a ship, for I have only plain things and know nothing of great deeds?”
“Cut down these trees.” said the traveller “And I will instruct you.”
Many days the dancer spent cutting down the trees, thinking about the new sun and dancing on distant shores, and when he was finished, he asked the traveller:
“I have cut down the trees as you have said. What now must I do to see the land of dawn?”
“Now you must cut the trees into planks and lay them side by side.”
“But how will I make the planks?” he asked, for he had no knowledge of such things.
“I will instruct you.” replied the traveller.
And for many months the boy cut the trees into planks and laid them side by side, thinking always of the land of dawn and of the ticking clock.
When he was done he asked the traveller:
“What must I do next to see the land of dawn?”
“Now you must make nails to hold the planks together and arrange them into their proper shape.”
“But how will I do all these things?” asked the dancer, for he had no knowledge of them.
“I will instruct you.” replied the traveller.
For many years the dancer worked on the ship and the traveller instructed him, until the traveller grew too old and would just stare out over the sea.
But the dancer continued, thinking always of time and of the completion of his labours. When the ship was finally finished, he asked the traveller:
“Now I have done all things you have told me, instruct me how to sail the seas and find the land of dawn.”
The old man brought forth the watch and turned it over.
“This is a compass” he said, “it will guide you to the land of dawn.”
And the traveller gave it to him.
“Will you not travel with me?” he asked.
“I am old and I shall travel no more.” he replied.
And so he left the traveller and sailed the seas in his fine ship. Long he sailed until he reached a distant shore to the west where the sun was setting.
“This cannot be the land of dawn.” he said “For it is the same as my homeland.” and he sailed on.
For many years he sailed the seas, searching for the land of dawn, always with the watch in his hand, but each time he landed, the sun was setting and it was just like his homeland.
One day, so conscious of time, he sailed all night and arrived at a new shore at dawn. There he saw a man dancing on the beach and asked him:
“Is this the land of dawn?”
“Yes.” replied the dancer, and the traveller climbed ashore, weary of his long journeys. “And where have you come from on such a fine ship?”
“I have come from the land of the setting sun.” he replied.
“Then perhaps you have news of my father,” asked the dancer “for he sailed for that place long ago.”
“I have met your father.” said the traveller. “This once belonged to him.” and he gave him the watch.
“What is it?” asked the dancer.
“It is time.”
“What shall I do with it?” he asked.
“Do with it what you will, for it is done with me.”
“Will you not dance with me?” asked the dancer.
the traveller looked out over the sea to the east longingly.
“I am old.” He said “and I shall dance no more.”
You see the problem is not just confined to you. It is not just you who suffer. It is a problem as old as time.
Everywhere in the world there are people who feel the same way.
They feel like something is missing in their lives and that they will find it somewhere else.
What else could I say to Barakka? Had I not left England searching for some other life? And now he wanted to go back the way I had just come to find a new life for himself.
We were both the same…
Do you know what his question was?
“Will I ever be free from doubt?”
So why wasn’t I happy? What was I searching for?
That’s the problem…I didn’t know.
I didn’t know what I was looking for.
Was it divine inspiration? Enlightenment? Some greater purpose to hold onto that was bigger than myself?
What was the answer?
I looked at Barrakka that day, tears ready in my eyes…
But he was smiling…
He had the same look as me when I first started out on my journey: He had hope…
In Part Eight…
I sat there on the precipice of a 1000ft drop, on a ledge so small…
All I needed to do was to lean forward and I would have been free of my fear…
In Part Eight I’m going to tell you the story of how I finally overcame my fear of death.
Subscribe to find out how in Part Eight: On the Precipice…