The prompting to this post came recently when I finished “Life after Life” by one of my favorite British authors Kate Atkinson. The wonderful book deals with decisions and choices and the big “What If” of life. It made me take a real hard look at my life choices so far. (Find an excellent summary of the book Here)
I think 1976 has been an amazing year to be born. Not a world war to fight, just some wiser Hippies to inspire our parents some way or the other. A lot of people whose work I truly admire where born that year. And who doesn’t enjoy Sherlock! Best actor to ever portrait him has been born in 1976.
Since I emigrated to South Africa, of all places, I wont be there for our 20 year school reunion. I see it like a huge international train station from which all of us born in ’76 departed to somewhere.
By now, we should have arrived somewhere and be able to assess if this is where we wanted to go, if this isn’t at all where we wanted to be, if we are well on our way to where we need to be or if we should make a serious U-turn!
Up to finishing High School (Gymnasium in Germany, qualifying for university) it is not really anybody’s choice what track we put our life on depends mainly on our parents. I was born in East Germany, behind the “Iron curtain”, as a child of Christian parents. The role of an outsider in an all-communist environment was not a chosen one.
I sometimes wondered what sort of person I would have turned out to be had I, lets say, been born into a wealthy British family who sent me off to a posh prep school.
No, I think the tough years in East German underground Christianity made me who I am today and I would say i am the better for it. Going to Africa helping kids and all that stuff rather than trying to find a perfect match or something. Just kidding.
One of the biggest questions I recently started to wrestle with was, however, had I made the right decision not to follow my absolute passion for acting, theater and film and do a MA degree in educational science and become a therapist instead?
As a small town girl with serious traits of Aspergers syndrome and impeccable grades I was absolutely being realistic about the life ahead trying to become an actress or even director without any connections whatsoever into the industry.
I had read every single book in our school’s library and been to 12 nations before my 18th birthday, including some dangerous adventures during a student exchange to Israel and mission trips into Eastern Europe as well as heading to the U.S. on my own at only 17, but I was very insecure in myself.
So I thought, instead of becoming one more embarrassing struggling wannabe starlet playing dorky roles in Berlin soapies (which I used to love as a teen since they provided me with the kind of insight into secular culture that I didn’t get in my pastor’s kid home), I would rather dive into the real world adventure and see if I can make a difference somewhere.
During my university years I spent 6 months in South Africa to do a thesis on post-apartheid education and almost wanted to die afterwards, having been confronted with some serious religious lunatics! So I took a break in my studies and “escaped” to the Caribbean, on my own, to try to find myself, God, and a positive outlook on life again.
I did a couple of university documentaries and continued Christian drama performances and leading youth, Royal Rangers, etc in my home town.
My first job, living with children that had gone through severe trauma, and assisting them coming back to a more stable lifestyle, was challenging. My second job as a children’s reverend in a large Evangelical church was even more so, and I found no matter how wonderful my intentions and no matter how much I enjoyed working with the kids, me and the upper class west German moms I had to answer to, didn’t have very much in common!
After a trip to Kenia, on my own again, I was faced with the wonderful opportunity to play the violin and do lights and multi media for the gospel band Vinesong and live with them at their headquarters in East Grinstead near London, UK.
I was a roadhand and performer at the same time. We traveled the UK, Scotland, USA, Nigeria, South Africa with out music, visiting many different venues and even performing in front of the Nigerian President. I enjoyed the different lifestyles of LA, Las Vegas, Tucson, Baltimore, Houston, Edinburgh, London, and even organized a tour of the German speaking nations on which I acted as an interpretor as well.
East Grinstead was a rather sleepy but charming town, a Manour house looking down onto a great meadow served fresh scones only a minute away from our homestead. Bike tours through these totally English landscapes complete with little hedges around the fields were awesome. We were even treated to a performance of Les Miserables!
What followed was a total shock to the system when I followed the call of an old buddy to come to South Africa where he was pastoring a small country church and help him assist the people in the trying times South Africa is going through. So in 2005 I became a pastor’s wife and in 2009 a mom!
In a nation where 2 people are murdered every hour and a child is raped every 3 minutes, you can imagine that counselors are bombarded with trauma on a level that movies would not be able to handle.
Just the previous thursday we sat with farmers at a home cell group and one of them testified how he had been victimized in an armed robbery, a bullet going straight through his head. His life was spared, he gives God the glory for it, but the shrapnel remains in his face as the surgery to remove it would be too risky to do. A few days later he had to be back at work, as there is no social security here to provide an income when you are traumatized from anything.
I am teaching the children of my preschool about staying safe, and am supporting the local Magistrate courts in their efforts to bring child abusers to justice.
I think the most celebrated actors and playwrights of our times would still struggle to take this all in. A few weeks ago I went with my kids to Germany to enjoy a few care free days just roaming the parks and visiting family, riding the trains and not worry about hijackings.
Did I make the right choice in career?
I am still dreaming, and that’s okay, right?
I’ve always wanted kids. I even wrote letters to my own children when I was 9, 12, 14, 16 and 19 years old!
I am glad I made the choice to settle down and have a family rather than feverishly chase some dreams that with my humble background wont be so easy to fulfill early. My father said a wise thing: up to 30, it’s your looks come from your parents. From over 30, your looks depend on who you have chosen to become.
Now, you do not have to die like the main figure in Kate Atkinsons wonderful book, to adjust your life.
I believed from a young age that I must be realistic about what I have, and slowly and steady build the life I want to have. Gain life experience, help people, make friends, build a foundation, give my children a better start into life then what I had. And then, even if it will be with 50 or 60, be ready to reach for my ultimate life goals.
So, while some have given up raising a family in order to pursue their dream in young years, I have put some of my dreams on hold to raise a family. Doesn’t mean I wont ever get a chance to pen down some great adventure story or walk up and down in the background of a movie hey?
Tomorrow I will be out and about teaching African preschool kids some life skills, and I can’t wait for the next season of Sherlock. The well-read, thoughtful personality behind the role is truly an inspiration and my kids will love the Penguins of Madagascar. I love this life, it never seizes to amaze me.
I wonder if I should maybe ask some actors to get involved helping down here in Africa, since the work seems to never end.