Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
– Invictus / William Ernest Henley 

Invictus – undefeated or unconquerable. These are the words that kept Nelson Mandela going during his incarceration and supported his resolution to rise every morning with renewed strength and hope.

“And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.”

Zaragoza2a
Zaragoza at Dawn ©MTHerzog

Pain, Doubt, Struggle, Loneliness, and Fear, are constant travel companions on my life journey. I often wish for better company, but in this case, they were already on the road long before I caught up with them. My mother warned me early on that I would inevitably run into them, since they have a nasty habit of turning up when you least desire them to. She was right.

Pain, I have met before, as well as Loneliness. I naively thought we had parted ways in my youth, so imagine my surprise when I heard the knock on my soul’s door one day and there stood Pain, looking all smug and fresh, not a day older than when we had last met. Right behind him stood Loneliness, arrogant and aloof as ever, but clinging to Pain tighter than before. They made a splendid couple, but were not really interested in my opinion. I never invited them in, they simply pushed me aside, shamelessly waltzed into the hearth and heart, and made themselves comfortable in my life.

Politeness required me to be a good host, so I could not sit idly without offering them a a cup of coffee, though I must admit I was sorely tempted to poison the brew with a few drops of faith and courage before serving it up to them. It would have been the sweetest revenge if they choked on my misery. Pain took a sip and declared it “Superb!” with a twinkle in his eye, and I suddenly discovered why. Looking up to the window behind the couch, there was another face peeping into my soul and knocking rudely on the pane. I opened the door again and in walked Doubt, with Fear at his heels With this unexpected lot making themselves unhurriedly at home around me, I felt overwhelmed and unprepared for the onslaught of emotions that followed. The hollow conversations and mechanic movements kept me going, but I was consciously aware that I was sacrificing precious time by entertaining them when I could have been outside on a tryst with Destiny or Life.

Before I knew it, I was all grown up and saddled up for another journey, this time with Responsibility, Motherhood, and Struggle riding alongside me. They stuck up deep and meaningful conversations as we travelled, but every time I looked over my shoulder, Pain, Loneliness, Doubt and Fear were always there, shadowing my every move, snickering at my stumbling, and preventing me from running away and spreading my wings.

Finally, one fine day I woke up to a message from an old friend of my parents, Regret. I had never met her, but my mother had told me all about her deep secrets about a life un-lived because of her. She was her phantom of the life opera Mommy never sung. The message was:

Dearest,
Now that you are in your midlife, it is time for me to pay you a visit. If you do not wish to meet me yet, then get rid of your present travel companions and go on that long overdue date with Destiny and Life.
Don’t make me show up unannounced at your doorstep escorted by Death.
Lovingly Yours,
Regret

The message scared me, and I had no intention of meeting up with Regret. Instead, I pressed the speed dial for my long-forgotten friends Adventure and Risk, and told Pain to take a hike. I am still working on getting rid of the rest of the uninvited travelers, and luckily Courage volunteered to take on the role of cleaning up my mess.

Thank you, William Ernest Henley.

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Ego Invictus.